Survival Of The Lowest: Now What

Today we’ll talk about the song I just posted on my music blog. Driven by 8-string guitars and littered with time changes, it’s about as close to standard Ed fare as one can get. But at any rate, let’s dig into the bass parts.

First, HERE is a link to listen to the song.

Let’s start with the main riff, which first appears at the very beginning. As is my usual approach, I stayed in the guitar’s range when I had to and dropped down to the normal bass range when I could. It doesn’t make for a particularly sexy bass line, but it works well.

Main Riff

Main Riff

In the verses, I just sucked it up and stayed in the guitar’s range. I could have made the alterations, but things just made more sense this way.

Verses

Verses

Since the guitars move off of the 8th string for the bridge, I could happily stay in the normal bass range here. To make the section a little more interesting, I threw in the main passing tone between the two chords (D5 and F#5, for the record) halfway through…

Now What 3

…and arpeggiated a D5 chord at the end.

Now What 4

Hope this all makes sense. As always, if you have questions, ask away. Thanks for reading and until next time, keep playing and You Shall Be Heard.

Survival Of The Lowest: Gristle McThornbody

Today, we start our Survival Of The Lowest series with a look at one of the first tunes I ever wrote on my 8-string guitar – “Gristle McThornbody”. I’ll talk about this song again later this week for a different reason (hint: scales), but let’s have a listen now:

I’ll put words to this song someday, I swear.

So let’s talk about the bass line. I can either de-tune my bass to keep that octave relationship (and risk playing what would feel like rubber bands on an instrument that would be impossible to keep in tune) or just double the riffs in the guitar’s own octave (and really have to stretch since that low F-sharp is at Fret 2 on the bass’ E string). Since neither of those seemed appealing, I went with Option Three: doubling the guitar’s octave when I had to (i.e.: almost every part where the guitar was below fret 5 on string 8) and dropping down to my own territory when I could.

Here’s the main riff. Guitar is on the top, bass is on the bottom. Riff is in 6/4 time:

Gristle1

As you can see, the first five notes of the riff can be played in that normal octave relationship – the first note is C, which, when played down the octave, is the lowest fretted note on a 5-string bass in standard tuning. Those last four notes – all F-sharp – force the bass up to the same octave as the guitar…

And here is the verse riff – also the only part of the song in 4/4:

Gristle2

Guitarists, here’s a good riff to work on if you feel like you’re not using your fourth finger enough on the fretboard. We all have a choice to make on this one – either change position or use finger four. For me, that choice has changed – I switched positions on the recording but use finger four when I play it now.

The advantages of adapting like this are twofold. For one, it gives the bass player some space, which can be an issue in metal. The other big advantage is movement – you can play both of these riffs on bass while barely changing positions. When you play finger style with no extra effects like I do, these – especially the former – make a ton of difference.

If you have any questions, fire away in the comments. Otherwise, thank you for reading and until next time: keep playing and You Shall Be Heard.

INTRODUCING: Survival Of The Lowest

Hello friends. Today, we begin the first of a series for metal bass players. This series won’t be talking about playing with a pick vs. fingerstyle – that’s a whole different beast there. Instead, I’d like to talk about a certain scenario that is more common than it used to be – Low tuning and extended range guitars.

If you have listened to my music recently, you may know that I have picked up an 8-string guitar within the last year or two. As it is, this brings up one problem – the pitch of that low open string is found on fret two on the bass’ E string. So what do you do? Well, you could tune down to compensate and keep that “octave apart” relationship, but there’s a problem or two there. For one thing, your new low F-sharp is not only lower than any note on a piano, but you’re also near the very bottom of an average human’s hearing frequency range. And that’s not even talking about your strings feeling like rubber bands unless you set your bass up right and/or use a bass with a longer-than-normal neck. Well, crap. Now what?!

In my listening, I found three possible solutions. Meshuggah’s bass player actually tunes up so he’s playing in the same positions – his playing style and either amp or effect settings cement his place in the mix. The bassist from Ever Forthright plays a 6-string tuned down a fourth, giving him that octave relationship while still having a good range for the band’s many clean sections. Finally, the excellent bass player from Intronaut works around the super-low tuning (F# F# B E G# C#) by simply using a fretless 5-string bass in standard tuning. All of these work fine, but I have my own solution.

So how do I deal with my 8-string riffs when I’m playing bass? Well, it’s a fairly simple process. I alter them to fit my instrument, playing down the octave when I can and playing in the same octave whenever the 8th string gets involved. In the coming weeks, I’ll provide plenty of examples, complete with tabs and maybe even some video. I’ll see you next week with the first example, from my tune “Gristle McThornbody”. Until then: keep playing and You Shall Be Heard.

Guitar Block System: Block 3-1

This week, we’ve reached the end of the blocks. Finally! We end this system with the “really stretch your hand out” block. This one, like Block 2-2, stretches out over the major 3rd, but the half-step between the second and third notes tends to make things more complicated. From a mechanical standpoint, this block is great for working your pinky finger onto the fretboard – something most guitar players need.

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. I quickly mentioned one at the end of the the post for Block 1-2 and I have provided another at the end of Block 1-3). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 3-1 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 3-1 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 3-1 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 3-1 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

Exercises are great, but feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – Your next mistake could easily turn into your next riff. See you next week for…uh…something else.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Guitar Block System: Block 1-3

This week’s block is a weird yet fun one. It may not be the most used, but it’s still worthwhile to look at for two reasons. For one thing, the minor third between the second and third notes of the block forces the average player to either really stretch their hands or use their pinky finger on the fretboard (unless you have freakishly big hands). The other fun thing is this block gives us the foundational sound for a really weird scale that seems to have a hundred names – you may have heard it called “Spanish Phrygian”, “Phrygian Major”, or “Phrygian Dominant”, depending on what you were reading at the time. Either way, that scale – which I’ll certainly talk about later – is used in music ranging from traditional Jewish songs (“Hava Nagila”, for instance) to rock (Dick Dale’s classic instrumental “Misirlou” is a great example).

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. I quickly mentioned one at the end of the the post for Block 1-2 and I have provided another at the end of this post). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 1-3 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 1-3 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 1-3 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 1-3 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

As mentioned before, there are other ways to play these three-note blocks. If you REALLY want to test your fretting hand, play these exercises again, switching the first and second note in each block (6-5-9 for the first two examples, 6-9-5 for the last two).

Exercises are great, but feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – Your next mistake could easily turn into your next riff. See you next week for THE FINAL BLOCK.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Weird Scales: The Whole Tone Scale

This week, we begin a series of Weird Scales. Major and minor scales are pretty normal, but those are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Reaching out from major and minor is where the fun can really begin. During this series, we’ll talk about modes, diminished, and even some exotic scales. The first scale: Whole Tone.

The Whole Tone scale is nothing but whole steps. No half steps, no other intervals, just whole steps. Major and minor scales contain two conveniently placed half-steps, so when we take them out of the equation, we get this fun little guy. BONUS FACT: There are technically only two whole tone scales. If you start example 1 at fret 7, you play the same notes as the starting-on-fret-5 example itself – you’re just beginning and ending in a different spot.

There are two ways to play this scale. First one is a combination of Block 2 and Block 2-2.

Whole Tone 1

The second one almost exclusively uses Block 2. It’s a little easier, but it involves a lot of position changes.

Whole Tone 2

Have fun! Use as an exercise, try to use it in a solo or a riff, and above all enjoy the weird sounds. See you next time.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Guitar Block System: Block 2-2

Well, we’ve had enough with minor for now, haven’t we? This week, we turn to the “major” sounding block. No half-steps within the block here – just a whole step followed by another whole step. And, for those of you keeping score, two whole steps put together gives you a major third. So, there we have it – the major block. Other fun thing: if you shift up one fret when changing strings, you get my favorite weird scale – the Whole Tone Scale. In fact, I just might talk about that next week…

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. I quickly mentioned one at the end of the last block post). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 2-2 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 2-2 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 2-2 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 2-2 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

Exercises are great, but have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing and don’t be afraid of messing up – Your next mistake could easily turn into a good riff. Until next time…

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

The Rock Drummer Boot Camp

Allright, let’s talk hypotheticals for a minute. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you played drums for quite a while in an uptempo band. And let’s say that the band broke up and you moved to a situation where you couldn’t play the drums at all. NOW, let’s say, hypothetically, that the band was getting back together for one night and you had to get your chops back in short order. What do you do? Well, fear not. This “hypothetical” scenario happened to me and today I’m sharing what I did to get back into playing shape. I call it “The Rock Drummer Boot Camp”.

What’s that? You still can’t play your drums without people being angry? No problem. For this exercise, all you need is a pair of sticks, a metronome, and a practice pad. If you don’t have a practice pad, then find some sort of surface that can act as one (a cushion-y chair works great for this). Once you get that together, we’re ready to go.

First, pick a mid-tempo place to start. I always start at 140 bpm, but you can adjust for your comfort. The sticking pattern is simple – since rock drumming is  almost all single strokes, that’s all we’ll be doing here. First note is played with your dominant hand – R L R L for the righties, L R L R for the lefties. Of course, feel free to switch it up if you want a challenge. Here you go (click to make big):

Rock Drummer Boot Camp

To clarify some notations: Play the first measure four times, then the other measures eight times each (except for measure five – that’s only played once). Don’t stop between measures – just keep moving. After you play the full example, bump up the speed (add 5 bpm or go up to the next “click”, depending on what type of metronome you have) and start over. Stop when either the notes become uneven or sixteenth notes start to go missing.

One final note: While you are playing, make sure your hands are relaxed and your grip is loose. Ideally, you should have as little tension as possible, especially in your hands and wrists. See you next week!

Guitar Block System: Block 1-2

Hey, did you like last week’s block? Did you like the “minor” sound to it, but wished you could have something that sounds even more “minor” than that? Well, you’re in luck. This week, we move the half-step earlier in the block, giving us a shift from minor to Phrygian mode (natural minor with the second degree lowered). I’ll talk about modes in depth later, but I must mention that I like to call Phrygian mode “The Heavy Metal Mode”. For a quick example to show what I’m talking about, check out the opening riff to Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction”.

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. We’ll talk about the others later). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 1-2 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 1-2 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 1-2 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 1-2 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

As mentioned before, there are other ways to play these three-note blocks. If you REALLY want to test your fretting hand, play these exercises again, switching the second and third note in each block (5-8-6 for the first two examples, 8-5-6 for the last two).

Exercises are great, but feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – Your next mistake could easily turn into your next riff. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Guitar Block System: Block 2-1

This week, I’m going to talk about a common  guitar fingering pattern: Block 2-1. So common that it already showed up last week, this block simply starts on a note, moves up a whole step, then up a half step. If you want your line to have a “minor” sound/feel, then this is a fantastic tool. In fact, if you play this block on consecutive strings (provided not on strings 2 and 3), then you get the first six notes of the natural and harmonic minor scales (we’ll get to those later).

As before, there are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. We’ll talk about the others later). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 2-1 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 2-1 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 2-1 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 2-1 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

Exercises are great, but feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – sometimes the best ideas emerge from mistakes and accidents. This block, in particular, can be quite fruitful for new ideas. See you next week!

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.