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Rock guitarists: A little tip thanks to Steely Dan

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  • Rock guitarists: A little tip thanks to Steely Dan

    Background: I'm a fairly well-versed guitarist and musician, with a background that includes a short stint at Berklee and an eventual bachelor's in Music. That having been said, like most guitar slingers out there, I tend to fall into a lazy pattern of playing rock and blues licks and chords that exist within my comfort zone.

    So, how to break out of the rut?

    I've been learning and playing guitar-only arrangements of Steely Dan tunes. You can find them all over the place... online, in the guitar mags and so on. And it really doesn't matter if you're looking at sheet music, tabs, or simple charts. I've done "FM", "Black Cow", "Aja", and several others.

    The point is, with most SD songs, you're going to find yourself playing chords that you don't normally reach for (lots of 13ths, Maj/Min 7ths, #5's and whatnot). And since many of these arrangements are taking piano/keyboard parts and forcing them into use for the guitar, you're going to find some new fingering patterns for serious jazz stuff while remaining somewhat in the familiar rock zone.

    Anyway, you don't need to be a big Steely Dan fanatic to get a lot out of this. I've found I'm using some of these chords, modulations and phrasing in my own new compositions, and they're a breath of fresh air.

    - Jeff
    Music, thoughts, stuff, and... I guess that's all

  • #2
    I got a SD sheet music book and taught myself the solo for Kid Charlemagne... and I did learn a lot from that. Unfortunately, I'm still not a very good guitarist.
    **********

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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    • #3
      Black Cow goes mu

      I had a Steely Dan songbook years ago that included a typically smart ass introduction by Walter and Donald in which they allowed Denny Diaz space to describe the mu major chord. Denny's primary advice was, if you want to play the particular inversions SD insists on, be sure to "rest your left hand for 5 minutes" after each attempt.
      Stuff: Savoir Ferret

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Deef
        Denny's primary advice was, if you want to play the particular inversions SD insists on, be sure to "rest your left hand for 5 minutes" after each attempt.


        Mu can definitely be a tougher one for extended play, for sure. Good hand tone and flexibilty are key and it really helps to be good and warmed up!


        Rick

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        • #5
          Great idea. I was surprised to find out how easy Peg is when you know the specific chord voicings.

          When I worked a lot of concert production in Nashville I worked with The Oak Ridge Boys quite a bit on corporate shows, fan appreciation shows around Fan Fair (Oh, excuse me, the CMA Music Festival. .)

          At one point they finally had an entire band with a deep appreciation for Steely Dan. As the stage was set for soundcheck, the drummer would begin playing a Steely Dan song, the bass player and key players would show up and tune, then join in and so on until the entire band was onstage playing the song. They were so good I was fooled into thinking they were playing along with a CD through the monitors. It was the preset monitor mix, only turned up after several musicians were onstage. It was wild! I mean, this was for The Oak Ridge Boys!
          That's my opinion and it oughta be yours. - Makk Trukk, WSIX, Nashville, Tn.

          If I experience any more personal, emotional or spiritual growth I'm gonna puke. - DJP, 10/05

          Yeah, exactly! There's some things that maybe you DON'T want to fix at the source!! - Ken/Eleven Shadows on the Castrati, 3/06


          Ghost Train playing Shake, Rattle & Roll
          Goofball web page featuring Sunshowers/Sparkle Shoes.
          It's WMA format.

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          • #6
            So... I always wondered what to call that +9 / +2 thingy... Mu, ehh? Cool.

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            • #7
              I'm not a guitarist, but I play a little finger style for song writing and to expand my mentality on the bass. Recently have been taking bossa nova lessons, which has had a similiar impact to what you are describing Jeff. Simpler pop rythmns with a ton of jazz chords. Its really helping to expand my vocabulary. Good Idea. I hate it when "guitar gods" only play that favorite little pentatonic.
              Fusion Tycoon

              Mercury Catfish Myspace

              Mercury Catfish

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              • #8
                Yeah, I get locked into pentatonic land too so I learned Emily Remler's rendition of A Taste of Honey and John Williams' rendition of Var. on a Theme by Mozart, and relearned a good deal of Villa Lobos' Etude #3 that I used to know years back but I let it rust in my mind and fingers. That pretty much satisfied my need to learn any more virtuoso tunes this year.

                Now I'm using my POD's 2 seconds of delay memory set on infinite repeat to layer together chords a guitarist just can't normally play, including overlapping chords. Then I'll record that as a wav file and load it into a sampling program called DirectWave where I can play that monster chord on a few keys of the keyboard, one or two notes playing one or two giant chords. Its also interesting to treat the sample with effects and load them into patch as well.

                Steve
                War is over if you want it.
                - John & Yoko -

                Nothing fails like success.
                - Alan Watts - (based on Samsara)

                "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
                -Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, 1931-

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                • #9
                  I agree that some SD recordings lack a certain energy.

                  However, I consider the arrangements to be some of the best stuff written in a long time.

                  Some have incredible complexity hidden in apparently straight forward tunes.

                  Ive tried some of the sax solo's - but im not quite there yet.
                  Psst... Wanna check out some free tunes?
                  http://www.broadjam.com/artists/home.php?artistID=3448

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                  • #10
                    Back about 10 years ago or so, when I was working at a music (instrument) store, a couple of us got a hoot out of the fact that there was about a page-and-a-half of guitar chord fingering diagrams for "Gaucho" in a Steely Dan songbook before you even got to the song transcription.

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                    • #11
                      I used to play Aja in an acoustic duo, we rehearsed that for months !
                      Professor Tom

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                      • #12
                        BTW - I forgot to mention...

                        I was big into add9 chords long before I attempted any Steely Dan thanks to fingerpicking James Taylor songs. James loves 9 and add9 chords, among other sweet, rich chord voicings.
                        That's my opinion and it oughta be yours. - Makk Trukk, WSIX, Nashville, Tn.

                        If I experience any more personal, emotional or spiritual growth I'm gonna puke. - DJP, 10/05

                        Yeah, exactly! There's some things that maybe you DON'T want to fix at the source!! - Ken/Eleven Shadows on the Castrati, 3/06


                        Ghost Train playing Shake, Rattle & Roll
                        Goofball web page featuring Sunshowers/Sparkle Shoes.
                        It's WMA format.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Cool, I'm glad you folks see where I was coming from on this.

                          While I am a Steely Dan fan, my goal in this wasn't "learn some Steely Dan songs". But the act of playing the arrangements is a great time to break away from the pentatonic, like Jimbroni references above. And then that seeps into your own performances and compositions.

                          - Jeff
                          Music, thoughts, stuff, and... I guess that's all

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                          • #14
                            Jeff,

                            I stay away from chops O' others, unless it's a a book form.

                            I have several Jazz method books from the Colony on 49th in NYC.

                            Never was a copping sort myself, but found the written lessons intriguing as a way of opening up nuances, and eventually the learnin' would show up a riff at a time.

                            I float from method book to method book, and back.

                            The gist so far, is composing in the three minute time frame of radio, with non cliche compositions, wether it's a Jazz standard ( Iok a month to finesse three minutes) or Country.

                            Jim Collins told me a couple years ago, that he was told by an old timer, to take the biggest idea you have and make it happen in three minutes and that if it's longer then three minutes, it's not worth a crap...

                            Sage advice when writing.

                            Rob

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Robman2
                              I stay away from chops O' others, unless it's a a book form.


                              Well Rob, you get inspiration wherever you can. If I'm reminded to play some interesting inversions or stack some cluster chords together, it helps break me out of any tendency to go I-IV-V for every chorus, ya know?

                              That's why I especially enjoy covering the keyboard parts on guitar (as opposed to the great leads and rhythm comping you find from the Dan's many six-string gods).

                              - Jeff
                              Music, thoughts, stuff, and... I guess that's all

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