If your goal is to be an in-demand and versatile guitarist, you’ll need to master the essence of several musical styles. This is especially true if you want to become a session guitarist. Versatility is a non-negotiable in the session world.
It can be a daunting task to learn new styles on guitar, but if you follow this 4 step process the task becomes much simpler.
Let’s get right to it. Here are the 4 steps you need to know to quickly master new styles and become an insanely versatile guitarist.
1. Analyze The Melody
The first step is to analyze the melodic qualities of the style you’re learning. Do melodies in this style contain lots of stepwise motion or are they more angular and intervallic? Are melodic phrases frequently repeated? What kind of range do the melodies cover? Take note of any recurring themes you hear when listening to songs in the style you’re learning.
2. Analyze The Harmony
Second, analyze the harmonic content of the style. Are the harmonies mostly diatonic (staying in one key) or are there chromatic elements? Are modulations a common element? Are the chords simple triads or more dense sounds with upper extensions? Is there any harmonic sonority that shows up more frequently than others (for instance, dominant 7 chords in blues)? Are there signature chord progressions common to this style?
Chart out several tunes in the style you’re learning and look for these patterns. It’s work that will certainly pay off, not only for mastering a new style, but for ear training as well.
3. Analyze The Groove
The third step is to analyze the rhythm and meter of the style. In other words, the groove. Are duple or triple meters more common to this style? Simple or compound meter? Is a certain beat emphasized more often than not. Are 8th notes straight or do they swing? Do meter changes happen? How much syncopation is used? Are rhythmic motifs repeated throughout the song? Are there any rhythmic cliches in this style?
Once you’ve made some general observations about the overall rhythm and meter tendencies of the style, listen to how the guitar plays into the groove. How does the guitar lock in with the drums and bass?
4. Analyze Guitar Tones and Stylistic Idiosyncracies
Once you’ve analyzed the melody, harmony and rhythm/meter of the style, it’s time to put it all together. This final step involves listening to how guitarists play in this style. Pay attention to the tones they use. Who are the masters of the style? Dig into their catalog. Listen for any specific guitar techniques that are frequently used in the style. Then do your best to replicate the sound and feel.
Transcription is extremely helpful here. Take a couple tunes in the style you’re learning and transcribe every single guitar part. Do your best to match the tone. Do your best to copy the articulations and the phrasing. The more detailed your work here, the better.
I’ll leave you with a quick example. Let’s say you want to learn country guitar…
- Melodies are usually based on diatonic major scales. Frequent stepwise motion with simple repeated melodies is typical of country melodies.
- Harmony makes frequent use of 1 4 5 progressions. In some cases (especially older country tunes) dominant 7 chords are used quite a bit. Soloists mix major and minor pentatonic scales with chromatic passing tones to get that “rough around the edges” country sound.
- Rhythm/Meter is primarily duple meter, 4/4 being the most common time signature used. In a country shuffle the 8th notes swing, but otherwise 8th notes are straight. The players are usually on top of the beat with a driving rhythmic feel.
- The standard country guitar tone consists of a Tele plugged into a clean Fender amp. Compression, a bit of drive, slapback delay, tremolo and amp reverb are the most commonly used effects. As far as specific techniques, you’ll hear a lot of chicken pickin’ (staccato plucking with the pick and fingers of the right hand), double stops, and string bending. Of course, with modern country anything goes as it’s become pop/rock more or less. Players like Brent Mason, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Gary Burton and Johnny Hiland are great to study.
Put this process into practice and you’ll see your versatility (and value) as a guitarist go through the roof. Every new style you become competent in opens new musical opportunities for you.
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