Of course, the larger question is whether or not you want to play a song exactly like the original artist. In some cases, leaving things as they are maintains the original intent of the writer and the song sounds just fine as it is. Nothing wrong with that. Some songs demand a minimalist approach to be effective. Sometimes though the recipe need a few more spices. This is especially true if the chord structure already has interesting nuances beyond the straight scale-line triads. Wait a minute, Gene? What are those?
I’ve written about the importance of understanding scale-line triads before (search back through my posts for a complete explanation) but in a nutshell it comes down to this. Almost all popular music is based on the major diatonic scale. There are many other scales of course, and many are used in formats like jazz, world music, and blues. But the major diatonic scale (we know it as do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do) is the melodic base of much of the Western popular music heard and played for at least 100 years. Each note in that scale has a corresponding triad chord, which is built using notes in the key. The formula goes like this:
I (major), II (minor), III (minor), IV (major), V (major), VI (minor), VII (diminished, or with flatted root, major).
Adding notes to those chords or moving one of the notes in those triads up or down one half-step or a whole step adds some musical spice. Keep in mind however that our brains have been programed to know and be most comfortable with chords that are built entirely of notes in the key (those scale-line triads above). The more notes in a chord that are NOT in the key, the more disturbing – or some might say, interesting – that chord will sound in relation to the others and in relation to the major diatonic scale on which the melody is most likely based. Good songwriters almost always “resolve” one of those outside chords on the very next change with a chord that IS in the scale-line. This makes our brains go…. Ahhhh…. that’s better! In other words, embellished chords are usually used judiciously.
So here a just a couple of examples. In my opinion, the most commonly used embellishment is the suspended chord. To change a major chord into the suspended version, raise the 3rd of the chord by one-half step. This can be quite dramatic and interesting if the chord voicing you’re playing includes two thirds, usually an octave apart. An example would be first position C Major. From the lowest note to the highest, you’re playing the chord like this: Root, 3rd, 5th, Root, 3rd (C, E, G, C, E, strings 5 – 1). By raising the 3rd on the 4th string from an E to an F, you’ve developed some subtle dissonance in the chord (play just the F and the high E string together to hear it by itself). Players will often then resolve that suspended note back to the original note in the chord. Many songwriters use the suspended chord for “coloring” in almost every song they play. James Taylor is one example. Joni Mitchell also does it in the many open tunings she uses. Listen to the change at the end of just about every line of “Both Sides Now” and you will hear her do it and then immediately resolve the sound to the previous chord.
It’s worth learning the suspended version of all the Major chords you commonly use and try inserting one here and there, especially on chords that last more than two beats. A nice effect, for sure!
The next embellishment you’ll hear again and again in modern singer/songwriter tunes involves adding a note to existing chord, either Major or minor. These are the minor 9th and Major 9th . Understanding this is a bit more involved because in guitar music players sometimes refer to a 9th chord (which includes the dominant 7 note plus the 9) when they really mean a Major 9th but that one is another critter altogether. It’s not important to understand that right at this moment, although it is worth your time to delve into chord construction that involves four or more notes in a chord at some point if you’re going to truly understand chord theory.
No, we are talking about taking a straight Major or minor triad and adding the 9th to it. The 9th is the note that is one whole-step above the root. Here are some examples. In some cases for ease of fingering, depending upon the inversion or voicing of the original chord you are playing you may have to eliminate one of the notes in the triad. That is a huge can of worms that I don’t want to get into to avoid giving you a headache so for now anyway, let’s just accept that on face value. Some will sound better than others, that’s the bottom line….for now!
Two very common Major 9ths I’ve seen used lately are CMaj9 (C, E, G, D, E, strings 5 – 1) and FMaj9 (A, F, G, C, F, strings 5 – 1). Many of the younger singer/songwriters like Sarah Jarosz, Iron & Wine, Joan Shelley, others, use these and other Maj9ths frequently, in some cases more often than the straight major chord.
Minor 9ths (no 7th ) add a nice almost jazzy touch to a minor chord. Two of the most common are Em9 (E, B, E, G, B, F#, string 6 – 1) and Am9 (A, E, A, B, E, strings 5 – 1). Resolving the Em9 to Em (lowering the F# back down to the open E natural on the 1st string) and resolving the Am9 (raising the open B back to a C – the 3rd of the chord – on the 2nd string) can be quite dramatic, especially if you’re finger picking.
Those are just two ways to add some embellishments to your chords, there are dozens of other ways (single note scales between chords, chromatic tones inside chords, etc.) so the trick is to experiment. Also, study what some of your favorite artists do; you’ll often find the little things they do to chords happen again and again in various songs. This is loosely called…..style. Find your own!
Peace & good music,
Gibson and Gary Clark Jr. have collaborated once again to create a new signature guitar, the Gary Clark Jr. Signature SG:
The all new Gibson Limited Edition Gary Clark Jr. Signature SG guitar captures the spirit of creative inspiration. Finished in an exciting, vibrant Gloss Yellow and featuring a trio of aggressive Gibson P90 pickups, this guitar embodies the organic and sonorous sounds of one of this generation’s most influential guitarists, vocalists and songwriters.
Gary Clark Jr. is perhaps more widely associated with the Epiphone Casino, which Epiphone celebrated in the Blak & Blu Casino Signature model they made for him in 2015. However, he has been playing an SG quite a bit since collaborating with the Foo Fighters on their Sonic Highways album in 2014. Clark has stated that Foo Fighters’ guitarist Pat Smear gave him an SG during those sessions.
Earlier this year, Clark was seen playing a new SG at the Grammys show. It turns out that it was a new signature model.
This model differs quite a bit from the typical SG in that it has three P90 pickups. Gibson SGs have had P90s before, of course, but you rarely see them in a three pickup configuration. It also differs from other SG models in that it is gloss yellow, has 24 frets, and the controls are laid out in a three volume + one tone configuration.
Everything else appears to be fairly standard for SGs:
- mahogany body
- slim-taper neck
- 24 3/4″ scale
- rosewood fingerboard
- nitro finish
- ABR bridge
Aloha! Let’s say that, for some CRAZY reason, you’ve never heard any music from the 1990 but because people love it so much, or request it so often, or reference it in some way, you’re looking for a crash course in it.
Or, alternatively, you’re a sucker for 1990s music and want a treasure trove of offerings from the decade.
Either way, The 1990s (from The Ukulele Decade Series) is the book for you. It’s a pretty massive tome of 80 songs with chord boxes, musical notations, and verses written out. It’s a full-size music book with about 312 pages of music and, because of this, it’s a little cumbersome. But once you get over the fact that it’s not meant to be traveled with but rather used to pull individual songs from to learn, the content really shines.
The music included is just about everything you could love from the 1990s when it comes to instrumentation. It’s got early 90s cheese (“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”) to meaningful alternative (“Runaway Train”), odd-duck music that would have a tough time surviving in any other decade (“Santeria”), one-hit wonders (“She’s So High,” “Sex and Candy”), to songs from movies (“My Heart Will Go On”).
While Meatloaf would be an interesting pick for ukulele, most of the songs in the book seem like a natural fit and be fun to play – especially for someone who’s really into the decade. If you think about all the different offerings from all the different genres and sub-genres, you could use this book alone and put together a pretty interesting show with enough variety to be plenty interesting and enough of a theme to be fun.
Personally, this is one of the first uke books that I ever wanted. I thought that it was awesome to take a greatest-hits approach to a music book, and this one fits me so perfectly that I couldn’t NOT enjoy it. It’s my desert-island music book – the one book that I would grab and bring along if I knew it was going to be the only uke book I could have because it’s more than just the song count, it’s the quality of those songs and how much they mean to me. This book is the soundtrack to my childhood and the songs mean a lot to me. I’m sure we all feel the same way about the music we grew up with (even if you didn’t grow up in the 90s) so it’s nice to have so many fantastic songs to pull from.
And with a list price of $22.99 (and a cheaper street price), it’s a steal. I think that, as my daughter gets a better grip on the ukulele, she’ll be looking to learn some of the songs she grew up with me singing and playing to her and this is going to be appreciated like crazy. True, it doesn’t have TAB or CDs you can play along with, but I think the quantity and quality of songs makes up for it.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend it more.
Until next time!
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We already knew Angel Vivaldi had mad shred skills but in his new video for “Serotonin” off upcoming album Synapse, the New Jersey guitarist also shows off some smoking dance moves.
The song features a guest solo from Alice Cooper guitarist and We Start Wars founder Nita Strauss, and Strauss appears in the video also, throwing down on the guitar with Vivaldi in dance battle fashion.
Vivaldi conceptualized and designed the well-choreographed shoot, and you can enjoy it below …