Some of my previous tutorials have advocated sculpting your sound in order to benefit the band. In this tutorial, however, it’s time to go the other way and make as much noise as possible.
When More is Better
In my first band I was the only guitar player, which was extremely liberating as you’ve got the room to play whatever you want.
I quickly discovered a problem. My rhythm playing consisted of big chords, usually with generous amounts of distortion, which created an impressively huge noise.
But when the solo came around, that very sound diminished significantly, producing not just a drop in volume, but a loss of energy. Crucially, the song dipped when it should’ve soared.
My problem was lot of notes in my chords versus single notes for my solo. I had to restore the balance and what follows are some ideas to overcome this issue.
This is often categorised as something done by twin- and multi-guitar bands, such as Thin Lizzy or Lynyrd Skynyrd. A single player, however, can achieve some very good results with a little knowledge and some practise.
Here are some useful harmonies to try out.
This is the most common harmony. In very simple terms, if you’re playing the first note of a scale, the third note would become the harmony.
For example, the key of C major looks like this:
C D E F G A B C
You would therefore play the notes of C and E simultaneously to achieve the desired harmony.
Another way to consider it is ‘pick one, miss one, pick one’. In our example, pick C, miss D, pick E.
You can apply this idea at any point in the scale, giving you:
- D and F
- E and G
- F and A
- G and B
- A and C
- B and D
You’ll hear this harmony in Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. The basic guitar melody in bar two is G, A, B, A, G, but these notes are then harmonised in thirds, giving a fuller, sweeter sound.
In terms of guitar, it’s played on the B and E strings, and are either one or two frets apart. It’s an instant, easy harmony.
Although I’ve highlighted major scales here, it works equally well in minor keys.
The one finger harmony for guitarists, as, with the exception of the G and B strings, our instrument’s tuned in fourths. Not as sweet-sounding as thirds or sixths, this is just about creating fatness.
The mother of all examples has to be Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple. Fourths are perfect here, as single notes wouldn’t have had the same impact, and full-blown chords would’ve been too much information.
More commonly known as power chords. However, just because they’re associated with chugging away on the low strings shouldn’t limit you accordingly.
Try playing them on the B and E strings. The shape is identical to that used on the low strings, and you’ll find it adds a powerful brightness.
Another really popular harmony, used a lot in country, blues and pop tunes.
This involves playing notes that are two strings apart, such as the D and B strings, or G and E strings. You can play these in a single strum provided you mute the aforementioned string.
I would recommend hybrid picking, as this produces a cleaner sound, more balanced sound. A typical example is from bar 3 of Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Although it’s more commonly found in major keys, it can be used for minor keys as well.
A common harmony found in jazz and funk, this instantly creates a ‘doubling’ effect, and is a great way of lifting dull, low-sounding phrases.
On the E and A strings, the octave’s found two strings over and two frets up. For example, the octave of A on the E string, fret 5 is the D string, fret 7.
On the D and G strings, the octave’s two strings over and three frets up. For example, the octave of A on the D string, fret 7 is the B string, fret 10.
These creates great support for any lead phrase, and there are two main ways to employ them.
AC/DC’s Thunderstruck features a descending phrase on the B string, but with the open string being played between every fretted note.
One string is played open whilst a phrase is played on an adjacent string. She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult features an open D string played against the phrase on the G string.
Popularised by Eddie Van Halen in the 70s and 80s, this is a surefire way of producing a lot of notes. In its simplest form, you’re spelling out an arpeggio or scale on a single string.
To achieve this, the picking hand joins the fretting hand on the fretboard, with the picking hand fretting the higher or highest note of the phrase. You can outline entire chord sequences and aren’t limited to playing a single string.
There are so many excellent examples, but the track that launched a thousand tappers remains Van Halen’s Eruption.
The important thing to take away from this is to be creative. Employing any of these ideas, especially if they’re new to you, should broaden your abilities, and may even steer you towards finding your signature sound.
In summary, look at employing:
- Harmonies, such as thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, octaves
- Drone sounds using open strings
The next tutorial will look at equipment you can use to sound like more than one player.
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