Monday, January 16, 2012

Poor Man's Tremolo: Modern Primitive Guitar I

Note: This is one of the first lesson articles I ever wrote, circa 2001. As a result, given the brevity of the text, the material is probably a little more difficult than I would attack today. That said there is a lot of useful information here and a fun excerpt from my song, "Nearer to Nothing". If any of you would like to see a full transcription of the song just drop me an e-mail. 

You may also note that this piece is labeled, "Modern Primitive Guitar I". I plan on doing a series of specific blog entries on this style, outlining and demonstrating its distinguishing characteristics, e.g.: Dark yet Playful, Sophisticated yet Naive, Technically Demanding yet Sloppy, Haphazard yet Exact.

Poor Man's Tremolo

Tremolo is one of the most difficult and time-consuming guitar techniques to master. Most often associated with classical and flamenco guitar, many steel-string fingerstyle players have also incorporated this technique into their playing. I am not one of them. As much as I have practiced I have never found the discipline it requires to achieve this skill. So allow me to introduce what I call “The Poor Man’s Tremolo”. But first let’s make sure we all know what customary tremolo practice is.

Example 1 shows traditional tremolo picking. This technique can be achieved two ways. The most common picking pattern is P-A-M-I, for the hand naturally performs closing motions towards the direction of the thumb. P-I-M-A also possible but, generally, not as effective. Example 2 shows a Flamenco tremolo which adds one more note! Usually plucked P-I-A-M-I.

Now back to my Poor Man’s. Poor Man utilizes only three fingers, P-I-M or P-M-I, and two strings, example 3. Of course the effect is not the same, how could it be? You are playing one to two notes less than the standard tremolo. So what? It still sounds great, it still sounds fast and it still sounds interesting. Interesting is what I’m most drawn to, not “correct” or “traditional”.

Examples 4 & 5 come from my song, “Nearer to Nothing” (C minor tuning: C G C G C Eb) from my CD “The Art of Modern Primitive Guitar”. The first example shows the tremolo utilizing an octave note. The second example shows how to incorporate a bass line melody line while continuing the tremolo.

By the way, “Nearer to Nothing” was written specifically as a “show-off” piece. The title hints at my feelings at the time that I wrote it...I thought of it as little more than a cheap, flashy trick. But when I listen to the recording of it now I think, “Hey that guy’s pretty good.”

                    Download, "Nearer to Nothing", or the entire CD, from iTunes. 

Join the Shawn Persinger is Prester John mailing list. Get free music and tabs!


The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

Note: To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guitar Reharmonization: Simple to Complex to Outside

How Harmony and Melody Work Together
Twinkle, Twinkle Harmonized and Reharmonized

Before we begin I offer two oversimplified definitions: 
Melody: the part you sing. - Harmony: the chords.

While there is a significant body of music that consists of melody without harmony, for example early church music or a saxophonist busking solo, most Western music will inevitably find a harmonic compliment. This harmony will initially be determined by the composer but all songwriters; classical, pop, metal, etc. have an almost endless number of chord choices for any melody. It is arguable that there is one (perhaps two) “correct”, obvious choice, a preference that is naturally pleasing to the ear, but that does not discount the fact that any note can played against any chord. 

Though my melodic example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, may seem corny I chose it due to its familiarity and to show, by example 5, just how far out you can take your harmonies. Once you understand the concept you should take this technique and apply it to any your own compositions or any other songs of your own choosing.

Example 1 shows the melody and chord progression for “Twinkle, Twinkle” with its traditional harmony (in all the examples the melody is the top [highest] note of every chord). Example 2 on the other hand offers a variation using the relative minor chords (note: for every major chord there is a sibling minor chord that shares two of the same notes, C = Am, F = Dm, G = Em). And just in case it isn’t obvious you can use a combination of both (with a few neighbor key chords also thrown in), Ex. 3. 

By the way this kind of playing, chords and melody at the same time, if often referred to as “Chord Melody” in jazz but there are countless examples of it in country music (Wildwood Flower), contemporary fingerstyle (Tommy Emmanuel, et al.) and rock (Hendrix’s Little Wing). That said the two final examples have heavy jazz leanings. 

Example 4 uses common jazz chords to harmonize our melody but I will be honest my choice of chords was complete arbitrary and random. There are plenty of books available that give detailed instruction regarding “correct” functional harmony, with voice leading devices and rules of counterpoint but I chose to ignore all those formulas and just go with chords I liked. Example 5 on the other hand does have a secret blueprint. Perhaps you know that the melody for “Twinkle, Twinkle” is also the one we use for “The Alphabet Song” (if you did not know this do not be embarrassed, once a month or so I blow someone’s mind with this exquisite tidbit of information), with this is mind the bass line follows the lyrics to that song, as far as musical language will allow me, and then descends using the leftover, accidental, notes. 

On a final note I am not suggesting that you have to use all of these very “outside” harmonies in your everyday playing. The unambiguous triad alternatives in Ex. 3 can enliven a tune just as easily as the radical examples in 4 & 5. I am simply offering various alternatives to the prosaic harmonic environment we often find ourselves in. 

Join the Shawn Persinger is Prester John mailing list. Get free music and tabs!


The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

Note: To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Intervals for Guitar (and others). Free sheet music too!

This week's blog is simply a handout I use for the theory classes I teach. That said, it is chocked full of useful musical information. Though not specifically guitar-centric (all musicians can learn from this) the sheet music is written in notation AND guitar tab. 

To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:


A good way to internalize the sounds of the various intervals (the distance between any two pitches) is to use a melodic mnemonic (memory) device. For example, the song "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" begins with the interval of a Major 3rd (1-3) and the first three notes of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" are the scale degrees 1-3-5: Mi = 1, chael = 3, row = 5. Below is a list of familiar songs containing all the intervals found in a one octave chromatic scale. If you're not familiar with these particular songs (some are more ubiquitous than others) find songs that you do know very well to use as your personal mnemonic devices. 


Ascending: Happy Birthday, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Jingle Bells

Descending: No descending.

As a double stop: Boud Deun Train, Rain, Zero

Minor 2nd = m2

Ascending: Jaws, As Time Goes By, “A kiss is just a kiss…”,
Nice Work if You Can Get It

Descending: Joy to the World ( the opening line is actually a descending Major scale),
Für Elise, Fly Me to the Moon

As a double stop: Boud Deun Train, Rain, Zero (also uses the unison). 

   Major 2nd = M2

Ascending: Frere Jacques, Silent Night, Do-Re-Mi,
Stairway to Heaven, “There’s a lady…”

Descending: Three Blind Mice, Mar-y Had a Little Lamb, The-a First Noel

Minor 3rd = m3

Ascending: Smoke on the Water (Riff), What child is this?,
Iron Man (Riff), Georgia on My Mind, “Georg-(i)a…”

Descending: Hey Jude,  (and then it goes back up a minor 3rd [same notes], This Old Man, Here Comes the Sun,
A Day in the Life, “I read the news today…”
The Star-Spangled Banner, “O’ say can you see…”
Fros-ty the Snowman, Sesame Street Theme, “Sun-ny days…

Major 3rd = M3

Ascending: Oh, When the Saints, Kum-ba-ya,

Descending: Beethoven's 5th, Summ-er-time (also goes up),
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,

Perfect 4th = P4

Ascending: Auld Lang Syne, O Chris(t)-mas Tree, A-ma-zing Grace,
Here Comes the Bride, Some-day my prince will come which is very similar to “Some day you’ll know…” I’ll Follow the Sun, All the Things You Are, “You are the promised kiss of springtime…”

Descending: Theme From A-Team, Eine kleine Nachtmusik,
O Come All Ye Faithful, I've Been Working on the Railroad, All of Me

Tritone = #4 or b5 = Augmented 4th or Diminished 5th

Ascending: Maria, Cool, “Bo-(o)y…” Simpson’s Theme,
Purple Haze (Intro Riff: harmonized)

Descending: Jets theme (West Side Story), YYZ

Perfect 5th = P5

Ascending: One by Metallica, My Favorite Things,
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Theme from Star Wars
Theme from 2001, Blue Skies,

Descending: Superman theme, The Flin(t)-stones Theme, Feel-ings, Mozart's Minuet in G. It Don’t Mean a Thing

Minor 6th = m6

Ascending: Be-cause the world is round… The Beatles, In My Life (Intro Hook)

Descending: Where Do I Begin? from Love Story,
Please Don't Talk About me When I'm Gone

Major 6th = M6

Ascending: NBC Theme, My Bonnie, Two of Us: The Beatles (Intro hook), Take the A-Train, “You must take the “A” train…”
My Way, “And now the end is near…”

Descending: No-body Knows the Trouble I've Seen,
Cra-zy: Patsy Cline (Willie Nelson)

Minor 7th = m7

Ascending: Somewhere from West Side Story: “There’s a place for us.”
Star Trek Theme, New Year’s Day” “All is qui-et…” (Each note sung twice: AA GG), The Take Over, The Breaks Over (Fall Out Boy)

Descending: Watermelon Man,

Major 7th = M7

Ascending: Take on Me (A-Ha), Bali High from South Pacific NOT a Major 7th, it jumps an octave then descends one half step to the Major 7th,
 “Ba- li High

Descending: I Love You (Cole Porter)

Octave = P8

Ascending: Some-where Over the Rainbow, When You Wish Upon a Star
Let it Snow, “Oh the weather outside is frightful.”, Paper Moon

Descending: Bulls on Parade intro Rage Against the Machine,
Wil-low Weep for Me

Songs with interesting and/or uncommon chord to melody notes relationships.
(Note: These examples are a bit advanced theory heavy…that is to say, not easily explained in a short sound bite. Feel free to e-mail me with questions:

1.    Moon River: B over an F chord, b5

2.    Viva la Vida: B over a C chord, Major 7th

3.    I’ll Follow the Sun: Eb over an F chord, Minor 7th

4.    Misty: Descends a Major 7th chord

5.    Mrs. Robinson: (Note: this song is capoed at the 2nd fret, my key/chord examples are without the capo). Verse descends an E mixolydian scale (A Major) starting on the D, the 7th, over an E Major chord. That means they start by singing the dominant 7th note. The next two chords get similar treatment. Over the A chord they sing A mixolydian, over the D chord they sing D mixolydian, that means the song changes keys three time over three chords!

6.    The Sound of Silence: “Hell-o dark-ness my old friend…” is an ascending Minor arpeggio, each note sung twice, DD FF AA (G). The second line is a Major triad, same idea, “I’ve come to talk with you a-gain…” CCC EE GG (F).

7.    Casper the Friendly Ghost: Descends a C Major triad.

8.    Song from West Side Story

Join the Shawn Persinger is Prester John mailing list. Get free music and tabs!


The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: