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Blues Guitar Lessons: Vocalization

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Now we're gonna continue
talking about phrasing.
And phrasing is gonna be
a theme from here on out.
I mean it already has been in rhythm.
We're always talking about phrasing.
Phrasing simply means playing musically
in the same way that we speak and
that we breath, it's the way that we talk,
its the way that we sing.
And one way that to kind of build
in a stronger feeling of phrasing
and link what you're doing mechanically
with your fingers to what you're imagining
in your mind,
just use your voice as a kind of
intermediary there to help translate what
you're hearing to what you're playing.
What you don't wanna do, and this is very
common, is that when you're playing,
you're kind of watching your fingers.
I notice this a lot, I've taught hundreds
and hundreds of students over the years.
And often when somebody's thinking about
mechanics and about scale patterns and so
on, you can tell that they're
kinda watching their fingers
not quite sure what the next
note's gonna sound like but
saying well I'm in the pattern,
so I guess this is okay, right?
When you play blues, you absolutely don't
wanna go down that road because what that
does is separate what you're
playing from the music
that you wqanna have in your head and
even more basic than that is the feeling.
Why are we playing music?
Because we're expressing a feeling.
You want that feeling to come out in
the form of melody and rhythm and
all of the other components
that make up the music.
So by vocalizing or singing, what we do
is we just create this automatic link.
Now if you've seen well known
blues guitar players on stage or
even on video, sometimes if you listen or
if you get close enough you can tell that.
Often, not always, but often,
there actually singing or
at least making some kind of animal
sounds [LAUGH] while they're solo.
It's something
like this
Now the idea is not that
I'm using my voice and
then instantly saying, I sang that note.
Now, where's that note?
Where am I gonna find
that with my fingers?
It's that I'm singing phrases
that I've incorporated.
I learned them and
I've internalized them to the point
where they just sound natural to me.
What I'm really doing when
I use my voice is I'm
using my voice as kind
of a breath controller.
Where if I say to myself, I'm only
gonna let my fingers move when my voice
is moving, then I build in that breathing,
because I have to breath when I sing.
I don't have to breath when I play.
That's why my fingers can just go off,
and I can watch them all day long.
But it's not really music.
So, here's the idea,
is that you're gonna sing a phrase,
at the same time that you play it.
Now, when you see somebody do it,
like I just did,
it's very fast, and it's like wow,
how do you make that happen?
Well, it starts with the basics.
You sing what you know and
you play what you know and
it's the two that come together
using the voice as the control.
So even with one note.
Bop bop bow.
Bop bop badow badop.
Bop bop bop a woo bop.
Badow dab dadup.
Badep day dop.
All right?
Now, I'm making choices about which note
I'm gonna play slightly before I play it.
This is the essence of what
we call improvisation.
Improvisation is the spontaneous
reorganization of musical ingredients.
Now if you don't have things
internalized that you can
sort of call up out of your memory,
it's very difficult to improvise because
you don't know what you're gonna organize.
Once you have some phrases under your
fingers and in your head then you can
start to move them around a little bit and
make those decisions on the fly.
So, what I just did there is
I played that one note lick.
Bop bop bow, bop bop badah badawp.
Now I'm thinking it'd be good to
vary that melody a little bit.
Bop bop bah ba do bawp.
Here's come the 4 cord.
In my mind, I'm playing a 12 bar, right?
Where's the fourth note of the scale?
Boop bawp okay bah dat dat dah.
Bo da ba di bop, da du bop boba du bop.
Here comes the five.
Ba da ba da dat.
Ba da bu dat dat daba da bop.
Ba da bu da bop.
What I've got going on my mind is
a soundtrack of a 12-bar blues.
It's kind of way in the back there.
And I've played the twelve bar blues
often enough I can just hear the bass and
drums going, and then I'm imagining my
solo as it would fit over that background.
And when we cue up the track there,
it's gonna sound pretty much the same.
So, I'm making choice,
I'm making musical choices and
on some level it is a technical choice.
Yeah there's the fourth,
there's the fifth and all that.
But if we dig a little deeper,
we kind of get back to the roots of blues.
Where did that blues sound come from?
Where did the melody come from?
It definitely did not come from a musician
sitting down with a piece of staff
paper and saying, I bet these notes would
work over that chord, let's try this out.
It was people singing.
People without instruments singing,
people that had no knowledge of music
theory as we understand it today,
no background.
It was irrelevant.
And people are singing and
trying to pour out their feelings, just,
And using their musical background and
using melodic sounds or
scales as we described them, they have
a certain kind of an emotional quality.
So what we wanna do when we play that
scale, it's the pentatonic scale,
it's a mechanical thing.
It's a box.
But each note has content and
as we learn the skill,
as we learn phrases, we gotta be sure that
we never get away from that basic idea.
So, when I'm playing in the key of A,and I
play the A minor pentatonic scale,
every note kind of has a little
message that it sends.
There's the root.
Now what's the feeling
that I get from the root?
Well, when I listen to the root
I just feel like I'm home,
it's solid, that's just strength.
So when I land on that note I say yeah,
I'm done, I'm home, I'm resting.
When I play that minor third.
[SOUND] Well, in our musical system,
we associate the minor third with sadness,
[SOUND] right?
And we associate the major 3rd with
happiness, very simplistic but that's kind
of true, songs at a minor key kind of make
it a little wishful then when you're in
a major key it's more like your nursery
rhymes and all that kind of stuff, right?
Now the blues sound, as we're gonna
discover, is a mixture of both.
Very subtle.
But that minor 3rd has
a certain kind of weight to it.
It's a little dark.
When I play that note,
I'm creating kind of a dark quality
So I'm not choosing it because it's
the next note that my
finger's going to hit.
I'm choosing it because that sound has
the kind of quality that I wanna hear.
It's creating the message.
The fourth,
against the root.
Sounds a little unsettled, I'm not quite
sure where I'm going, I'm kind of hanging
up there and, yeah, let's go somewhere
else if we're gonna resolve.
We can go home, or
we can go up to the fifth.
Now the fifth sounds
pretty strong as well,
that's like the second note to
the root in terms of strength.
The seventh.
The seventh has that kind of unsettled
quality too.
It's like, I'm not quite there.
I'm reaching.
I'm almost home.
I'm back home again.
All right?
So even within the five note pentatonic
scales, a lot of emotional color.
That you can pull in, and
when you choose your notes,
that's what you're kinda going for is to
think of the melodies not
as a series of scales or
tones, but
rather as little emotional messages.
Now, it isn't like you're gonna sit
down and write those things out.
Well here's the message I have in mind.
Hear the notes that match,
it's not quite that simple.
It's about feeling the scale,
hearing the sound of the scale and
then using your voice as if
you were just gonna sing.
And it doesn't matter if you
can sing in tune or not.
You're gonna create your
melodic solo using your voice,
and then attach your fingers to that.
It gets more to the heart
of the sound more quickly.
Now this kinda brings up a topic which
is also a technical musical topic,
which is ear training.
And if you go to music school,
you will study ear training.
Ear training is a very valuable skill.
And you can be taught in a very organized,
methodical way using intervals,
and scale patterns, and so forth.
But in the blues sense, what we're really
talking about here is hearing the notes
that we're playing and
singing in relation to one.
And in the key of A, A is one.
So it's relative pitch,
I don't have perfect pitch myself.
Perfect pitch means that you could
throw a fork up in the air and
when it hits the floor you say
that's a C-sharp, you know?
I can't do that.
So when I hear a piece of music,
I don't really know what key it's in.
But I know where one is
because we play tonal music.
Tonal music always is centered
around a certain tone, which is one.
So, if I hear a melody,
I can hear that melody.
I can hear that it circles around and it
seems to resolve on that note right there.
Now I don't really know
what that note is but
I can pick up my guitar and
I can search around.
That was a D.
So that melody that I just
sang was in the key of D,
Now ear training means that once I know
where one is I can find the rest of
the notes by their relationship
to one relative pitch.
Bah, dah, bah, dah.
Bah, dah.
Well I played that before because
I play the minor pentatonic.
Bah, dah, dah.
That is the next note.
Dah, dah,
dah, dah.
I'm using a little technique.
The bending technique to kind of
match the quality of my voice.
But the idea is that
when you hear melodies.
When you hear blues melodies.
You start to listen to the relationship
of the notes to the tonic, the one.
And start to absorb that relationship so
that it isn't like the melodies
over there somewhere, you're internalizing
it and one of the best ways to
kind of get that idea of the relationship
between the melodic tones and
in the one, in the relationship of one
to three to four to five to seven and
so forth, is to do an exercise
like singing a phone number.
Might sound really bizarre but
phone numbers,
they're a string of numbers and we've one,
two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,
nine, zero, those are all the numbers
you're ever gonna find in a phone number.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,
those are the notes of the major scale,
9 is the second note above the octave,
and then 0,
we can call that 10,
that's the third note above the octave, so
if I was to sing this full number here,
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0.
Now, I get a phone number.
I came up with an imaginary
phone number here.
If you can see this, 8585134531.
Don't call that number.
I don't know whose number that is,
I just made it up.
But this is a way of
practicing ear training and
you can do it anywhere, anytime.
You can do it with license plates,
you know?
So I say okay eight's the same as one so
I just pick a note out of the air.
I'll, I'll use A in this case
cuz we're comfortable with that.
But, A, A, okay.
Now, A.
Where's five?
One, two, three, four, five.
Eight, five, eight, five,
one, one, two, three, four,
five, three, one.
Eight, five, eight, five, one,
three, four, five, three, one, wow.
I just sang myself a phone number there.
I actually use that technique
to memorize numbers.
I convert the numbers into melodies.
And it kind of helps me remember the
numbers better rather than just trying to
think of them as a string of digits,
you know?
So the idea there is that
you're starting to think about
the relationship of notes to the tonic.
And it doesn't matter what key they're in.
They're all organized
roughly the same way and so
by singing number sequences,
you're familiarizing yourself
with the relationships of all these
notes of that central sounds.
Now, strings of numbers are random
often and they don't have any musical
relationship and often they're kind
of abstract and they're hard to sing.
The twos and the sevens, and so forth.
But that's ear training.
You're training yourself
to hear those numbers.
So in this long round about loop
that we've just taken here.
The point of this little
lesson on vocalization is one,
sing what you play and play what you sing.
[SOUND] All right?
And two, start to listen to music
as a series of relationships.
And each note in that series has a certain
emotional quality which is related to
that central sound, which is the tonic.
And to practice that away from the guitar,
anywhere you are.
You can be walking down the street.
Think about any string of numbers and
convert it into a musical relationship,
and then when you come back to the guitar,
if you can memorize that pattern, pick up
the guitar and play that relationship
in a scale, and see, did you get it?
Did you match it?
And over time, you'll find that
you can be incredibly accurate.
So you can hear sounds anywhere,
and hear the relationships.
You hear a car alarm, and say
One, two, three, four,
five, one, five, one.
You hear a phone ring.
And you'll say
One, two, three, three, one,
three, one, three, one.
And all along the way, you're kind of
creating this link between the sound,
between the relationship to the tonic and
the emotional quality that you
get from that relationship.
And that in sort of an abstract way is
the heart of what blues is all about.
We're really singing.
We're just singing through the guitar.