Nah, better to draw a hard line between personal and private (though lots of posts from this and other blogs will be recycled in the new blog. Better to reserve this one for stuff like going to out to sessions with my Dad while recovering from a cold and without having touched my guitar in days and then forgetting the melody and changes to Things and Anoza Yuu on the bandstand. It didn’t help that the rhythm section didn’t know the classic bebop intro to Things. My solos were swinging though, because I could hear the changes, even if I forgot them by name.
My GB-10 sounded great, too — better than Peter’s, actually. His was feeding back, but we couldn’t figure out why. His guitar had a fresh set of flats strung a bit tighter and higher than mine. I doubt that would make a difference. When I joined him to play Tenor Madness, I noticed he was plugged into the HIGH input on the amp. Since the pickups on the GB-10 are so hot, I plugged into the low input. That certainly might make a difference. I didn’t notice whether Peter plays with flat or crooked fingers. Flat-finger players dampen the lowers strings more often, which would also make a difference.
Whenever I pick up my guitar and start noodling, the lines and changes take the form of the blues. It’s just what I’m hearing. The blues, and they will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first cool thing I learned to play on the guitar, AND improvise over, but I want to play other music and master other forms. I ask my friend Pete Montgomery how to do this, and his answer surprised me as it usually does. He said it’s cool that I have something like that to start practicing, but that I should try playing in different keys, like Eb for example? I do, but not all of them. Eb is one of those that I don’t usually play. My keys are F, Ab, G, Bb and E.
As an exercise, I decided to play the blues all the other unfamiliar keys: Eb, Db, Gb, B and D. One cheat I used was to start from the familiar keys, and “move it one fret up” or down. For example, instead of F, I’d go to F#. That would be a really train-wreck on most other instruments, but it’s easy on the guitar. Playing the I-IV-V is a breeze because those chords are because you can grab the same fingering for any key without moving your hand horizontally. The part that I had to learn in the unfamiliar keys was the turnaround. The nice thing about learning it is that it gets you out of your “home” position.
One rule I made for getting into the turnaround was calculating the distance between the I and the III. I still usually build chords on either the 6th or 5th string. When the root falls on the 6th string, obviously the turnaround starts as 3rd away on the 5ths string. When the root is on the 5th string, the turnaround is a minor 6th down. This is a bit trickier. Trickier still is when the turn around (which could require up to five frets to execute) falls below the nut, as in Ab or Db. You need to find chords in higher positions or build them on the 4th string in those keys.
The goal is to become more familiar with the fretboard, and related chord changes in general. Learning the blues in all keys also lets you hear what those keys sound like on your instrument, or in that particular room. We don’t use twelve keys just to make things complicated. We use them because they sound different. Playing in one key all the time would be almost as bad as just one note all the time. Now that I’m more familiar with turnaround and keys, I’m better equipped to learn other forms like rhythm changes (which is really one long turnaround…)