Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another DGAD revelation - harmonics

Amazing, what sits right in front of your face until you just notice it.

This morning, out of the blue, it occurred to me to actually take a structured look at the second, third and fourth natural harmonics (that is, harmonics on frets 7, 5, and 4) on the GAD strings and see what, if anything, it told me.  (I've been improvising by ear for a little while now, but hadn't really analyzed the "just what notes are available?" question.)  So I wrote it out.


How about that complete D scale?  (And by extension, notes in the mixolydian mode of A, lydian mode of G and aeolian mode of B.)  And if the tuning is actually DGAD, that D scale can be sounded entirely in the same octave, with the major third (F#, in this case) available on the fourth string as well as on the first.

Brain spinny.  Cogitation and experimenting to follow.

Hm.  Now I'm wondering about the use of two Xtenders, one on the fourth string and one on the third.  A basic tuning of Bb1-F2-D3-G3-A3-D4, with the fourth string dropping to C3 and the third dropping to F3, would seem to give lots of options:
  • BbFDGAD.  With partial capo 110000, it's D/B with some cool options for Bm.  With partial capo 220000, it's CGDGAD.  With partial capo 440000, it's DADGAD.  The tradeoff would seem to be dealing with the major sixth interval between fifth and fourth strings up the neck, which would be disruptive to scale runs.  That is:  this tuning would probably dedicate the two bass strings to a bass function, and focus on both harmonic and melodic figures out of the DGAD strings.
  • BbFCGAD.  This is simply CGDABE a whole step down, by which I am still very intrigued.  A full set of four strings in fifths allows fifths-thinking for melody (including the separated fifth on strings 3 and 1), expansive chords in the bass and GAD chords on top.  The only things this would seem to give up are the conveniences of that "D-scale-in-harmonics" and the comfortable root-on-top seventh shape that DGAD provides.
  • BbFCFAD.  CFAD is standard-tuning intervals a whole step down, and brings the conveniences of a Dm triad on the top three strings and the relative major (F) triad on 4-3-2.
  • BbFDFAD.  This may make a great Dm tuning, with multiple inversions of Dm available on open strings.  
I just need to get my hands on a couple of Xtenders and nut and saddle blanks from GraphTech (for best lubricity on the detunable strings), and try this stuff out.  :-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Exercises and improvising

Have taken some precious guitar time in the last few days, split between diagnostic exercises and improvising.  Tunings have been CCDGAD ("Aerial Boundaries"), BF#DF#C#C# ("Raindigger") and CGDABE

The exercises have mostly been centered around 1) the two-finger approach to fingerstyle scale playing, and 2) more work with GAD triads.  Man, do I have a lot of work to do with all this, but I grow more convinced that it's something I want to add to the repertoire and perhaps even specialize in.  There is a real "rightness" and pure visceral pleasure to playing this way, and the options for development seem limitless.

The improvising has been fantastic, if brief.  I would never have guessed how quickly I'd take to improvising in multiple different tunings, but some really cool things have even been coming out of the "Raindigger" guitar.  (Cool to me, of course.  It's absolutely in the "wankery" category and just as well that I develop it much more before subjecting others...)  I'm taking time to see how I can get second, third and fourth harmonics to play off stopped and open notes, and with that tuning in particular, dramatic inserts are almost always available to an open finger.  With the harmonics in particular, it's amazing how many different timbres you can get from "the same note" by using 1) fingernail only upstroke 2) fingernail/fingertip upstroke 3) fingertip upstroke 4) fingernail flick downstroke 5) thumbnail 6) thumbnail/thumb tip 7) thumb tip or 8) finger tap--and any of those can be at various angles.  Fingerstyle gives a lot of options for dynamics as well, that I hadn't anticipated.  Pretty cool!

On the "GAD" tunings, I'm starting to reach a basic comfort with the triads and am starting to diagram the most convenient diatonic sevenths.  I'm still not totally sold on whether it would be best to go with "DGAD" or "CGAD" on those intervals, and it may hinge on whether or not the seventh forms on the GAD strings are usable in themselves, or whether I really need a fourth string.  (e.g., a m7b5 form arguably needs all four tones to distinguish itself;  are there enough such needs that it would outweigh the utility of a four-string group all in 5ths for melody work and for mandolin-like chords?)  What is becoming apparent is that I like some of the features GAD gives me, for improvising.  I find myself making use of that flat-five pivot on the second string, and being able to sound a whole-tone interval in harmonics is really nice in some contexts.

We'll see what comes next.  Right now I'm pretty limited in what I know about the tuning, and yet some really nice stuff manages to sneak out, easily.  As I get the top strings sorted out, I'm looking forward to seeing how to add some independent bass lines, and then also to see how melodic things work when I transfer back and forth between the regular-interval strings and these top ones.

Should be fun!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A moment.

Took a little time at lunch today to try approaching fingerstyle scales using the "two-finger" method I've read about.  In a nutshell, the logic seems to be "devote two fingers to the scale run on any given string", starting with i-m, but could also be m-i, i-a, a-i, m-a, or a-m.  There's actually a lot more variation in that than might be immediately obvious, and one can get a little intimidated by the "what to use when?" question.  I suspect the logic here is that when playing a run your goal is to reduce the possibles (also at that point it becomes like the up- and downstrokes of plectrum playing);  what I'm less sure about is when and if three fingers becomes a preferred option--is this at all tied in somehow to the idea that most string intervals are a fourth or less, and therefore you'd never need more than three notes per string?

I will definitely need some more work with the "descending" patterns of the RH fingers (so:  the a-m, the a-i, and the m-i), but I can see where they might come in handy.

After focusing on this for a few minutes, I let it vary a little bit, and started improvising on the CCDGAD guitar I happened to pick up.  Not five minutes into this, a moment happened.

I was playing mostly out of a G natural minor scale over the third and first strings, and observing my right hand, I started to see the third finger enter the mix, naturally and spontaneously.  That is, sometimes I'd be using two fingers, quite naturally over the two separated strings, and other times that third finger would just show up when it was needed, and not necessarily just for rhythmic changes.  It would then drop out for a bit and then re-engage as "necessary".

! ! !

I can't speak for anyone else, but moments like that can pump me for weeks or more.

Playing devil's advocate, I shifted gears a bit, and started to try moving back-and-forth between playing "out of the chord" with three fingers, and playing these scale runs with two (all while keeping my idle thumb as relaxed as possible).  Okay, I don't have a lot of history or facility with this yet, but it sure felt logical.

And the same thing happened.

This is fascinating.  It reminded me of something Tony Geballe once told me, when we were discussing playing without looking at your hands.  "You know where you want your hands to go, so just put them there."  Maybe that's what's happening here.  I do know what I want to hear, and where the notes are, so maybe at some level I'm just enlisting the attention of my fingers subconsciously.  That would make me very, very happy.

The irony is that this will probably impel me to do more drills, not less.  I'm not one of those who thinks that technique will somehow limit the creative impulse;  rather, the more I can learn the more I can get my conscious brain out of the way, so that I can play what the muse wants without having to think about it.  It frees me up to listen.  :-)

What about CGDABE?

After playing with the DGAD concept for a bit now, the thought suddenly occurred to me:  why not CGDABE for a tuning?  Some interesting attributes, compared with the CGDGAD option I've been considering as a general-purpose tuning:
  • Six individual tones, as opposed to four.
  • A true four-string group (6543) in all fifths.
  • Fifths-based scales available on five strings, simply skipping the second string to do it.
It retains all the advantages of the DGAD relationship that matter to me, and the partial-capo options would seem to offer a great deal of flexibility with these tones, while retaining the ability to play up-the-neck with consistent available intervals.

Interesting thought.  I may string up the SoloEtte that way, and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The iPad as do-it-all musicking device?

Musicians, please check my logic here, and post comments either way.  I make no pretense at grand wisdom here, but rather am trying to learn.


I've been putting a lot of mental energy into trying to re-approach what I want to do with "music gear", taking as holistic a view as possible and trying to find the best balance between capability, simplicity, and expense.  I have recently started using an iPad 2 as part of my "day job" work, and in looking at what is available for that device, my existing mental conversation about re-approaching gear has been rather turned on its ear.  After a few weeks of cogitation, I'm now at the point where I am trying to figure out why I wouldn't make the iPad the central figure in this quest.

So, I'm going to write it down here and ask people to help me shoot arrows at the idea.  If you find it interesting or know someone else who might, please, by all means point them here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Erik Mongrain, "Raindigger"

Spent a little time this evening working on the score for Erik Mongrain's "Raindigger", which is a thoroughly inspiring piece of mood-work. (Enough so for me to purchase a score, certainly.) Keep in mind that one of the reasons I decided to acquire a few new scores (currently from Mongrain, Antoine Dufour, Davy Graham and Michael Hedges) is so I can study them a bit to see how these folks play fingerstyle and maybe learn something myself. I'm hoping that by broadening my look a bit I can both deduce the common elements and also maybe see who has what signature style bits.

Here's where Erik Mongrain is really interesting.

A little while back I sat down with the piece for the first time, with a dreadnought strung up with the appropriate tuning (a beautiful Bm add9 voicing, B1-F#2-D3-F#3-C#4-C#4) and figured out his "Note 1", which covers the running rhythm figure for the piece. Once you "get it", it's actually much easier to play than to describe, and I was happy to get the basic gist and see what to work on. Tonight, I reacquainted with the basic rhythm and wanted to add at least a couple of items from the gorgeous main theme.

Wow, what a magnificent bastard Mongrain is.

If you watch the YouTube video of Erik playing the piece, you note that his left hand stays hovered right over the octave for a lot of the piece, which makes sense since that running rhythm is all over the first-harmonic notes at the octave. What is so ridiculously brilliant is all the incredibly subtle, nuanced things he does with his hands there. In addition to the "barre the octave with the ring finger, then deaden the fourth string with your index finger on the downstroke and then use it to pull off the harmonic afterward" subtlety of the running rhythm, here he has you play the melody note strongly (with a right-hand finger instead of the thumb, which is occupied with the rhythm) and then it pulls off the third string harmonic underneath. You've got to have some pretty fantastic control of your fingers to do this, but when you "get it" you hear it right away, and it's amazing.

And this is just the beginning of the subtleties, I think. I am not yet sure if the score is 100% consistent, as it does not always jibe with my ears, but one of the things he might be doing is--get this--doing this "pull off the harmonic with an 'extra' finger while the ring finger maintains the barre at the octave" technique as a double-stop, with one finger pulling off above the octave and one below it, on adjacent strings. HFS. I know what the basic sound should be (it's very strong) but I'm not convinced I've got it yet, so will reserve judgment until I get some more time and a little study of the video.

Exciting stuff--it's a beautiful piece in an unusual tuning, with Mongrain's style all over it. Worth studying, and I look forward to "getting it" enough that I can perform it.