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Lesson Series

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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 1 - Part 10: Shifting Pitch

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 10 **

In this guitar lesson I want to introduce a favourite pro lead guitar technique of mine, which mainly concerns shifting the pitch of notes, chords and general lines we all know and love. Little microtonal string bends as you phrase lines and guitar licks give real big colour to your playing. It is a real hard technique to get sounding good, because you are in the realms of possibly sounding out of tune and it's a really fine line you walk when you are sending notes sharp or flat in the name of musical expression.

This also means you might have to start using that curious thing on your guitar called a tremolo (or as its affectionately known, 'the whammy bar'). Just so that you all don't go into shock, I have kept it fairly simple to begin with, restricting the use to some simple 'shimmering' and some controlled downward movement, thereby shifting the pitch. I have also crept in some interesting sounding double stop bends that only involve the whammy bar for a little shimmer at the end of the idea. Its all revolving around the key of G, mixing major and minor pentatonics and a tiny bit of mixolydian here and there.

A lot of you may already be familiar with how much I use the whammy bar and I have always loved the possibilities it gives you. I guess over the years I have honed it to the point where I don't really have to think about it as I play, to the point where it is as second nature as vibrato and string bends. I was working on this style from my early days as a player, long before I really noticed how other players such as Scott Henderson, Michael Lee Firkins, and the genius that is Jeff Beck were really doing it.

Where I really stole a lot of my swoops, dips and shimmers is from a couple of unlikely sources that I insist you guys check out. The first player that really made me pay hard attention to whammy bar possibilities was a fantastic session guy from the 80's called Alan Murphy. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but if you haven't heard of him or heard his playing, I strongly suggest you Google and research his style. He was just fantastic! The other player I learnt a lot from, not just about the whammy bar, but about tone, sound, phrasing, and general versatility, was a fantastic player called Steve Farris, who at the same time I was signed to RCA records, was one quarter of a band called Mr Mister, who were signed to the same label and having hit after hit. We became good friends and used to hang out in that strange town called Los Angeles. He used to beat the crap out of a Floyd Rose, but in a real musical way, not a hideous '80s cheese way, and coincidentally, his big whammy bar influence was Alan Murphy! I urge you to check out Steve's playing on the two big Mr Mister albums, Welcome to the Real World and Go On (ignore the now dated drum sounds and just try to take in what the guitar is doing).

Jeff Beck has obviously taken this whole whammy bar philosophy and made it his own. Scott Henderson will twist your understanding of what a guitar should be able to do. Michael Lee Firkins has the whole 'sounding like a slide' thing down to the point where if he was to use a slide, he would sound like he is using a whammy bar. So although in this lesson we only introduce some simpler whammy bar technique, It might set you off thinking about the possibilities, and open yet another colour or creative concept you might want to explore. If you haven't heard of anyone I have mentioned, then to be honest, you are probably not that into using a whammy bar, and are more of an old school Les Paul kinda guy, and Jeff Beck is just that guy that sang Hi Ho Silver Lining!

Next issue I will take the microtonal string bends and the whammy bar madness a step further. If you cannot wait that long, I do have the Ultimate Tremolo Techniques DVD out on Licklibrary, which explores everything whammy bar in depth. Please bear in mind that although I have talked a lot about trem usage, it is also a lot about those microtonal string bends and more demanding double stop ideas. We have explored some cool string bends in previous pro concept columns, but I have given you some more in this tutorial.

Hope you enjoy the demos which were all pretty much done in one take, so some of it will be more 'out' of tune than it should be, but I wanted to keep it real, and even when things are slightly out, it can still sound cool and vibey. Or, it can just be out of tune!!

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