Monday, August 12, 2013

The Revolving Songwriting Challenge

The idea behind the Revolving Songwriting Challenge is to have a different challenge every month or so, chosen by the nominated winner of the previous month.  Hopefully these challenges will have you thinking outside your usual routine, and listening to the submissions of others could give you some new ideas or even collaborations.  Who knows, you might even strike gold; Chris Cornell's song Seasons was inspired by a mock song title written on the track listing of a prop album for the 1992 film Singles.  Participation willing, I'd hope to keep this going for a while with a new challenge fairly regularly.  So here's the nitty-gritty, subject to change as we get deeper in...

The challenge: to write a guitar-driven song following the theme of the challenge to be voted on by your peers.

The rules:
1.) The song must follow the specified theme; ie: key, tuning, mode, time signature, etc.
2.) The song should have a structure with at least 2-3 distinct parts, such as verse-chorus-verse-chorus, A-B-A-B-C, and so on.
3.) Other instrumentation is acceptable except where prohibited by specific challenge rules, though guitar should always be essential to the composition.
4.) Songs must be submitted within the timeframe dictated.
5.) Winners will be voted on by other contestants and the composer selected best for that challenge will set the rules for the next challenge.

Submissions can be uploaded to the Smiles and Gimps Soundcloud dropbox by clicking the link below.  At the end of the submission period a poll will be posted here and will be active for one week.  The winner will be announced at that time.
Send me your sounds
If you don't have a Soundcloud... Get one here!  It's free and easy to set up and doesn't only let you share your music online but lets you discover other music as well!  You can even record directly to Soundcloud from your computer or Smartphone.

Voting guidelines:
1.) Songs should be judged first and foremost by their adherence to the challenge posed.
2.) Other factors that should be taken into account include originality of material, skill of the musician, and overall feel of the song.
3.) To make these challenges more accessible to all guitarists, quality of recording should be omitted from judging criteria, as someone with a full home studio will inevitably end up sounding better than the guy who recorded his submission on an iPhone.
4.) Constructive criticism only; anyone who posts otherwise risks having their submission discarded.

Challenge #1
So to start, I propose the challenge of composing a song tuned to Low C Tuning (C-G-D-G-A-D).  At least one guitar should be in that tuning and should be present throughout the song, whether as rhythm or melody/lead.  To keep things simple, all other aspects of the song are up to the composer.  For a kick start, check out my post the Low C tuning showcase for chord shapes and various scale diagrams.

Since this is the first go 'round and I'm still trying to recruit challengers, I'll put the extended deadline as September 20th, with a winner to be announced on the 27th (and hopefully a new challenge ready to rock by the first week of October).  

Submit your recordings to the Soundcloud link above, and be sure to check out the competition while you're there!  Check back often for new submissions and updates here on the blog.  Questions, comments, or suggestions can be posted here as well. Let's try and start something here people!

As always, long days and pleasant nights!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tuning Showcase: Low C

A favorite of Celtic finger style guitarist El McMeen, Low C Tuning was originated by an English guitarist by the name of Dave Evans, purportedly as a variation of a common Hawaiian tuning, CGCGAD.  In essence, this is a bastardization of Open G tuning, with the first five strings ringing a G suspended 2nd chord.  The sixth string, normally the fifth of the open tuning, is tuned down an extra whole step to C.  The result is an added 11th in the bass.  The vaguely Celtic feel of the tuning is reminiscent of the more common DADGAD, or Dsus4, tuning.

Starting in the bass, the two lowest strings are tuned to perfect fifths, C to G and G to D, respectively.  Next is a perfect fourth from D back to G, and then the common anomaly of open tunings, the perfect second from G to A.  We finish off with another perfect fourth, from A to D.  These intervals allow for fairly accessible chord shapes and scales that don't require too much jumping around.

The following image shows common chord shapes in Low C tuning.

And a few movable shapes for major chords:

Minor chords:

And some other quandaries:

I've made two sets of scale charts here, the first is from "standard" position, or starting with the root on the fifth string, as one might do for Open G or Open A.  The second has the root in the "bass," or starting on the sixth string.  This gives an array of scale options for this versatile tuning.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chord Formulary

It's been a busy week and I haven't managed to scrape up any material for a real post, but I didn't want to break my goal of a post a week, so here's a list of various chord formulas from the basic to the obscure.  Enjoy!

NAME              |FORMULA           |NOTES
     ~basic~      |                  |
major             | 1-3-5            |
minor             | 1-b3-5           |
major 7th         | 1-3-5-7          |
dominant 7th      | 1-3-5-b7         |
minor 7th         | 1-b3-5-b7        |
    ~advanced~    |                  |
diminished        | 1-b3-b5          |
augmented         | 1-3-#5           |
     ~no 3rd~     |                  |
suspended 2nd     | 1-2-5            |
suspended 4th     | 1-4-5            |
5th (power chord) | 1-5              |
     ~added~      |                  |
add6              | 1-3-5-6          | The 5th can be dropped
add9              | 1-3-5-9          | (ie: 1-3-6; 1-3-9)
   ~quandaries~   |                  |
minor 6th         | 1-b3-5-6         |
diminished 7th    | 1-b3-b5-bb7      | One whole step down
augmented 7th     | 1-3-#5-b7        |
minor/major 7     | 1-b3-5-7         |
  ~extended 7th~  |                  |
nine              | 1-3-5-b7-9       |
eleven            | 1-3-5-b7-9-11    |
thirteen          | 1-3-5-b7-9-11-13 |
major nine        | 1-3-5-7-9        |
major eleven      | 1-3-5-7-9-11     |
major thirteen    | 1-3-5-7-9-11-13  |
~first inversion~ |                  |
major             | 3-5-1            |
minor             | b3-5-1           |
dominant 7th      | 3-5-b7-1         |
 ~2nd inversion~  |                  |
major             | 5-1-3            |
minor             | 5-1-b3           |
dominant 7th      | 5-b7-1-3         |
 ~3rd inversion~  |                  |
dominant 7th      | b7-1-3-5         |

That's it for now, I'll try and add more as they come up, but that's a fairly complementary list to start!

Long days and pleasant nights!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Creating Chords in Alternate Tunings

I see a ton of posts on various guitar forums about chord shapes and charts for this tuning or that tuning.  And inevitably the most prolific responses are: figure them out yourself.  Truth be told, there really aren't a lot of resources out there for alternate tunings, especially the more obscure ones, and the best way to learn the chords is to, well, figure them out yourself.  But that may be easier said than done without the right tools in your box.

In my last post, I explained how chords are constructed and how that plays into open tunings.  Now I'll talk about how I come up with chords for those tunings.  Some people are blessed with pitch perfect ears, and I curse you if you are one of them because I am not!  So if you're like me and can't just fiddle with the guitar and find a C#m7 chord or whatever, then this is for you.

I'll use a tuning I saw on a forum earlier this week for the examples here, since I've never seen it tuned precisely this way and I get a little tired of writing and rewriting chords I already know.  The tuning is Dsus2:


Notice it's close to Open D (DADF#AD), but the 3rd (F#) is dropped in lieu of the 2nd (E).  You could just leave it there and still have Dsus2 as DADEAD, but for this particular example the high D is also tuned up to E.  The original post said it was used in a song by Boyce Avenue, so we'll stay true to that.  It's also interesting because, as I mentioned in a previous post, generally tunings that make a chord have 1st and 5th with only one string tuned to the "accent" note.

When I first sit down to come up with some chords for a tuning, I usually write out the first 5 frets of the guitar with the appropriate notes, as follows:

   1fr       3fr       5fr
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |

So now you have a visual representation of where all the notes lie across the fretboard in Dsus2 tuning (I'm a visual person, so this works well for me).  Next, I come up with the chords I want to work out.  Major and minor are obvious choices, and dominant 7th as well as minor 7th are also common.  I use a lot of suspended chords in my music as well, so I usually work those out and some oddballs like add6 and add9, maybe some diminished and augmented as well, but for this example we'll stick with major and minor.

If you need a refresher on what notes in the scale make up each chord, check my previous post on chord theory.  Since the alphabet is arbitrary anyway, let's start with A major.  The notes that make up the A major triad are A, C# and E.  Now just look at your fretboard layout and find the best way to play those three notes.

   1fr       3fr       5fr
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |

Or in a more aesthetically pleasing form:

You'll notice there are quite a few E notes in there, as there happen to be a lot of open E notes in this tuning, so you could even drop the first string and mute the third string if you wanted.

Now let's make an A minor.  We know that a minor chord has the same formula as a major chord except the 3rd is minor, or dropped half a step.  So you can reexamine the fretboard if you want, or just realize that you can drop the C# to a C and get this:

Also feasible to play.  You'll notice I dropped the high E like I'd suggested before.  No reason, just all those Es have a droning effect, which may be what you're looking for, so do what sounds right to you!  With that, I should also mention it's a good idea to have your guitar close at hand and appropriately tuned since what looks good on paper might not sound so good to the ear!  And might be a stretch when it comes to actually fingering it.

Next let's move on to D to make some points about open tunings and multiple voicings.  Since this is Dsus2 tuning, then playing all the strings open gives you, surprise surprise, a Dsus2 chord.  Now think about that a minute.  With one or two frets, almost anywhere on the fretboard, you can achieve really any variation of the D chord.  The second fret on the first and third string would give you a D major; moving that down to the first fret gives you a Dm.  Up to the third fret and it becomes a Dsus4.

All you're really doing is moving that middle note around and leaving the 1st and 5th as is.  So say you want something really crazy, something that you're maybe transcribing from a piano to a guitar, like Dm7add13.  Unsightly on paper, unplayable in standard, but let's break it down.  The formula for a minor 7 chord is:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7

Then the added 13:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 13

In D, those notes would be:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 13
D   F    A   C    B 

So taking a look at the fretboard layout (and adding a few frets) we could come up with:


You could split hairs here and say the F played on the 8th fret is too high and makes it not technically correct, but this example suffices to make the point. 

One final note here: going back to D major.  You could play it as mentioned before, but you'll notice a few other ways you could play it:


As you can see, these are all D major chords, but just like standard tuning they can be played in different positions.  The take-home message here, however, is that the first measure chords are all in first position, so there in more than one way to play the right chord!

So have at it!  Use what you learned from the last post and apply it to whatever tuning floats your boat.  If you want some practice, work out some chords in Dsus2 tuning and I'll post at least a partial list below.  

Dsus2 Chord Chart

As promised, here is my chord chart for the most common chords in Dsus2 tuning.  I went for variety here, choosing different shapes in place of repetitious movable chords, especially with the sus2 chords, though as I said before, there are multiple ways to be right!  

 The chords at the bottom can be moved anywhere on the fretboard, the two "power chord" fifths, then a couple ways to play octaves (which can give a really full sound to riffs).  I also included moveable shapes for suspended 2nd and 4th, because as I was working out the shapes I realized that the 2nd is the 5th of the 5th, and the root is the 4th of the 5th...  all that means is that playing all the strings at a given fret makes a sus2, playing all of them but the 6th string makes a sus4.

   Gsus2  Dsus4

Long days and pleasant nights!