It's How You Say It: Pete Anderson Transcription

I like to check out a lot of different kinds of music even though my focus as a musician is Jazz. Recently, a Dwight Yoakam song caught my ear, one, because it was a good song all on its own and two, his guitar player's outstanding solos.

If you're a jazzer, you're probably thinking, "what can some country player teach me about improvisation?"

A lot. Here's a couple of things to start. Firstly, working within the confines of just two chords (not even a IV chord?!), Pete Anderson, the guitar player, manages to wring out a beautifully phrased, perfectly formed Country solo. The strength of the solo relies on two things-- the simplicity of the idea that he works with and repeats throughout (see bar 3 of the transcription for his basic idea) but even more importantly, it's the articulation of this idea.

In my transcription, I have a basic harmonic analysis of what Pete's doing as it's good information for structuring your own solos, but it doesn't even begin to approach what he's doing here. Pay attention when listening to his attack and phrasing, how he bends these notes and uses pull-offs to shape the lines rhythmically. That's how you make Pentatonics sound like music.

If somebody put this chart in front of you and you played the notes in perfect time, like the way a computer would read it down, without bends, without the slurs and pull-offs I guarantee you'd think it was a terrible solo. Too square, too obvious, too simple-- boring. But the way Pete articulates these simple lines is what gives the solo life. His phrasing is killing. He swings.

That's something to remember in your playing. A lot of times we think we'll be saved if our ideas or lines or chords are complex and hard to play. Surely everyone recognizes how hard it is to play that Pentatonic stuff you've been shedding for the past couple of weeks. How come no one's banging down your door? Cause it's how you say it that matters.

Some of Miles Davis' greatest solos were basic modal lines full of whole and half notes. Very easy to play, but the magic was in the phrasing and articulation.

Check out Pete's swinging solo in the video. It starts at around :53. The transcription and analysis is below and I'll have the second solo transcribed for next week.

Click on chart for full-size

I'm a Beginner

If you haven't listened to WBGO's "The Checkout," do yourself a favor and add it to your rotation. They have a podcast on iTunes or you can listen to it directly from the site linked above.

I was listening to some archived shows recently and ran across an interview with the members of Sangam: tabla master Zakir Hussain, saxophonist Charles Lloyd and drummer Eric Harland.

The always excellent interviewer, Josh Jackson, was talking to Lloyd and I thought his response was amazing:

Josh Jackson: Master Lloyd, Charles Lloyd...

Charles Lloyd: I'm a beginner.

Josh Jackson: (Laughs) I believe that, in some sense.

Charles Lloyd: I have beginner's mind and as Zakir often reminds me of a statement I made in one of the joint interviews we did -- I think it was in Switzerland -- someone asked me about the music and was I gonna do this or do that and I told them I had never gotten good enough to quit, yet, and so I'm still looking for those sounds that will deliver me home...

I've been posting transcriptions and writing about technique and ways to make both yourself and myself a better musician. When you're practicing, sometimes it's easy to get frustrated by things you can't do yet or things you think you'll never be able to do. It might even make you want to quit. Ego takes over and you start to believe you're worse than you actually are.

Charles Lloyd is 71 years old and refers to himself as a beginner. I think every time you sit down to play or to practice, it's helpful to think of yourself that way. There's always more to learn, always something you can't do yet. We're all beginners, every day.

"Peg" Gets Pegged by Jon Herington

In my ongoing effort to transcribe everything around me, I decided to deconstruct Jon Herington's live solo on the YouTube video of Steely Dan's "Peg" I wrote about in a previous post.

Unlike Drew Zingg's approach to this tune, Jon quotes from the original Jay Graydon solo and then expands on what he was doing. This solo is more in the spirit of the studio version but with definite modern and personal touches from Jon.

Check it out (Jon's solo is the last one about 1:41 into the video):

Like Drew's, what stands out to me is the clarity of his ideas and his fantastic phrasing of them. The structure of Jon's solo is impeccable. He alternates at the beginning between quoting Graydon's signature double stop opening with open G-string pull-offs, back to the double stops and then more pull-offs, only pausing to drop in some nice string bending technique, the last one with an added right-hand tapped note to a high B to nail the 3rd of the G chord in the harmony. This is like a rock soloing 101 class.

The rest of the solo is Jon showing his taste and chops with melodic bends and phrases interspersed with some really nice line playing and even returning to some more open string pull off lines. Interestingly he finishes the solo with a chromatic sequence that is not that different from the one that Drew Zingg employed in his solo. Maybe Donald Fagen requests that of all his guitarists.

Check out the transcription, my analysis is below each staff in blue.

Click on score to see full-size

Les Paul

Les Paul died today. I don't have a whole lot to say about it above what others have said already.

My first, good guitar was a Les Paul Custom that was heavy as hell and sounded amazing. I saw the man himself play last year and he was a fantastic performer. He was a little rough around the edges, guitar-wise, but the guy was 94. If we could all be that fortunate. Rest in peace Les and thanks for changing everything for the better.

(Photo by Ric Molina at Molinaville)

Kurt's Sonic Part Two: Pentatonic Revenge -- The Shredding

Where were we?

Oh yeah, tearing up some Pentatonic lines.

One thing we learned from my last post on this subject is Kurt Rosenwinkel has spent a bit of time getting his Pentatonic playing together. I'm guessing probably a little more than a bit.

If you're brave, check out the YouTube video about 1:40 into it.

Here, Kurt again tackles playing minor Pentatonic lines rapidly, over minor 7 chords going up in whole steps (Eb, F, G, A, B, C#), generally sticking to a harmonic rhythm of one chord per two beats.

A couple of things about this part of the video and his performance struck me. The range he plays in is quite low and he keeps to a pretty narrow zone on the neck. This again really demonstrates the wealth of harmonic possibilities available in a very limited area and shows you don't need to be jumping all over the place in order to grab the notes you want. Like McDonald's, there's probably one near you.

Notice the shape of this extended line too. He has a nice ability to make what would otherwise be a dry demonstration musical by not just moving in one direction and using the same patterns. The line grows and shrinks organically, peaking at the end when he hits the high C and comes back down. He's making music out of an exercise. Pretty cool.

And along those lines, if you look at the transcription carefully, you'll see there's some fudging. He's not strict about two beats per key, there are a couple of passing tones here and there and at the end he essentially plays an Am11 figure, not fully keeping to the strict idea of the demonstration. To me that's reassuring-- he's not a robot, he's making music out of this challenge. That's what you should do too.

Here's the transcription (tempo is not indicated as he speeds up pretty quickly into it):
Click on the score to see it full-size

Mads has a nice blog about Kurt's music that addresses this seminar as well. Check it out:

Like a Boy Scout

Be prepared. That's what I learned this week.

While I was in the middle of a project in midtown, I got an unexpected call from a musician who is, shall we say, famous. "Can you be at a jam session in a couple hours?" he asked.

No warning, no music- no instrument, even- I was just told where to show up and there would be a guitar waiting for me.

A couple of things went through my head: "I can't believe who I'm talking to." and "I'm going to look like an idiot in front of these people."

I looked for a comfort zone and asked, "Can I get a recording or music beforehand?"

"Nah, you don't need it," he replied. "We're just going to play."

Was I crapping my pants? Yeah. But then somebody close to me reminded me of a few things: that through studying improvisation I had in fact practiced to expect the unexpected, and learned how to thrive in it. She reminded me that unfamiliar situations were what I had prepared for and that's all this was, just another unfamiliar situation. Also that I should take at least 10 deep breaths.

The truth is, it was hard to keep all that in mind, but I did decide to let go of being intimidated by the situation and instead, just grasp the opportunity- and I'm happy to say for the most part I did. By the end of it, I realized the advice was right. Because I had constantly kept practicing and primed my myself for challenges and unexpected performances, everything turned out pretty well.

So how did the one hour jam session go? It ended up being closer to three hours, and I think we wrote two songs. I didn't really keep track, though. We really were just playing and enjoying the moment.


Now, check out Ricky Skaggs shred on some Bluegrass in preparation for the weekend. I'll be back next week with another Rosenwinkel Pentatonic transcription.

"Peg" gets Pegged by Drew Zingg

I came across this video on YouTube where people are asked to rate these different, live guitar solos over Steely Dan's "Peg."

Jay Graydon's original solo on the studio album is one that's become a classic and now is inexorably linked to the song. (Imagine a different solo at the end of "Stairway to Heaven." Same kind of thing.)

Interestingly, if you've seen the documentary on the making of "Aja," you'll know that Jay's was one of a few different solos that were competing for the final mix on the studio album.

Among these live solos on the YouTube video, three caught my ear.

Admittedly, I'm biased towards two of them: Wayne Krantz' for his brave take off and total disregard for the original (disclaimer, I'm friends with Wayne and took a few lessons with him when I first arrived in New York), and Jon Herington's model of how-to-improve-on-a-classic (second disclaimer, I'm friendly with Jon on a professional level).

But, Drew Zingg's drew (har) my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it was easy to hear what he was doing due to the clarity of his phrasing (and the recording for that matter) and second, he does a really nice job of working in some chromatic, and extended harmonic lines over the original harmony while employing some classic blues figures. Good reason for a transcription to figure out what he's doing!

Have a listen (Drew's is the second solo in at about :25):

Nice job Drew. OK, here's the transcription with my quick analysis (written in blue below each staff line). A PDF of the solo with TAB is at the bottom of the article (Edit: sharp-eared reader Walter Gross in the comments below pointed out that I missed a couple notes in this. Below is the corrected transcription. Thanks Walter!).

Click on chart to see full-size

So what's going on here?

Drew is using a general G tonality for his "base" and extends his lines from there, mostly returning to it for harmonic stability.

He begins with G blues lines for the first four bars and then begins opening it up. For me, the most interesting section is measures 5-8, specifically measure 5. Notice he begins measure 5 with a G triad over the CM7 chord (making CM9), pushes up a tritone to a Db major line, then back to a G triad (with a #11 passing tone) then back up a tritone, this time using a Db minor sound. This is all within the space of 1 bar.

Cool right? Make no mistake, this is planned out and practiced. I doubt he played this solo the same way every night, but his ideas are very sharp and phrased clearly which tells me he's not just blowing-- he's thinking about what he's doing here.

Here's a good chance to get this into your playing.

Practice switching between two tonalities using a metronome or, to really hear the harmonic superimposition, over a sequencer playing these chord changes (two beats of CM7, two beats of Gsus2). The idea is to do a consonant tonality over beat 1, an "out" tonality over beat 2 for tension, back to a consonant one for beat 3 and so on.

So, for beat 1 (the CM7 chord), play a G triad or G major type line, beat 2 switch to a Db major triad or Db major type line, beat 3 back to G major, beat 4 back to Db major.

You'll notice if all you employ is triads, the lines won't necessarily be as melodic, that's why Drew is mixing up playing triadic based lines with scale based ones. There's nothing wrong with doing just triads, it's its own sound -- you'll see what I mean.

What will happen after practice is you'll start to see the G major triad/lines as your home base and a comfort zone and you'll be able to look ahead to your next leap to a more out tonality like Db major. When you get to that point, you'll know your starting to nail it.

Experiment with other triads or scales as your out target as well. This is a great way to introduce harmonic complexity into your playing while still keeping some logic and melodic things happening.

Coming soon, a transcription of Herington's solo...

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Edit: July 8, 2010 -- edited for clarity. Alert reader and guitar player Mark Schuh caught a couple accidental accidentals in the wrong place. I blame Finale.

A .pdf of the solo with TAB is available here.