Monday, April 27, 2009

Beginner Lesson Gumbo:
Easy Carter Picking
Pickup Notes &
Palindrome Form

Here's a little two chord chord progression for beginning guitarists. If you are making your D chord fairly well, and you can transition from D to A or A7, this song is for you. Even if you are still mastering that transition, this common harmonic convention is a great way to practice it.

The right hand work here is an example of what some would call Carter Picking. Strong beats are bass notes. Weak beats are strums. In common time, the odd beats are bass notes and the even beats are chord strums. Played well and with some subtlety and taste, this technique can sound like a fairly solid country rhythm section. And all with just a pick.

Click on the pic to ENLARGE:

Where the Magic Happens: Every Downbeat is an Open String. One thing that helps us in this piece is that the first note of every 'new' chord is an open string. You have a full 1/8 note at the beginning of every measure with which your left hand can be utterly irresponsible and rest. In that time, if that pesky fretting mitt of yours isn't slacking, it has ample time to transition to the next chord.

Hallelujah! It's Easy, and it Sounds Good: Carter Picking is a technique for creating polyphony in your rhythm guitar playing. Even though it may sound a bit dated to some ears, beginners can learn a lot about timing and taking advantage of open strings from this technique. Highly recommended.

Peep The Form: It's Eye Palindrome Eye

Measures 1 -4: 2 Bars of D, two bars of A7:

Measures 5 -8: 2 Bars of A7, two bars of D:

Again, 2 bars of one chord, followed by 2 bars of the other. However, bars 5-8 are not a repeat of 1-4. They are its mirror image. The end result is musical symmetry in the 'feel' or 'flow' of the harmony. It feels somehow natural. The tide is low, you let go and go to A7, the tide is high again and you flow back to D.

Palindromes are beautiful, but the symmetry is somehow inherently confusing. If the back is the front backwards, where is the front? Where does a circle start? To mark the cycle of the form, we can use an age old musical trick: Pickup notes.

The Here We Go Signal: Pickup Notes

Pick up notes are lots of things. They are a musical signal in more than one way. They are a way of 'calling your shot', musically, if you are leading a band: telling the other players what chord comes next not by yelling it at them over the din of the drummer, but by using a musical signal.

Imagine that the notes colored blue in bars 8-9 of the form here are the words 'And Here We Go!':

Count: 2-3-4-1!
Say: And Here We Go!

Go occurs on beat one of the next iteration of the form. Pass go, collect $200, sing the form again. In this context, the pick up notes are a signal that we are going back to the beginning of the musical form. They are the countdown to relaunch the next stanza. Until the "Last Verse! Same as the First, a Whole Lot Louder and a Whole Lot Worse!"

Pickup notes became so prevalent in the sound of country music that Waylon Jennings famously drew a gun to dissuade his his sidemen from using them. Though I'm sure young Waylon played pickup notes aplenty when he was plunking upright for The Crickets.

Practice Rx:
Practice transitions. Slow and smooth and soon you are on your way.
Practice getting your 'Carter Groove' on. Be able to bounce from bass to strum with panache.
Practice the pick up notes.
Put it all together.

Have fun with this little riff I call Gumbo in tribute to one of the greatest songwriters ever, Hank Williams, and his simple 2 chord riff, Jambalaya:

Advancing Guitar Lessons: Washington, D.C.
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