What’s Your “Basic Concept?”

“They call me mad, but I’m actually a HAPPY scientist!”

There’s an interesting thread over on the Forum, started by reader Double D, who asked:

“Do you have a central core concept or inspiration that drives your playing? Are you squirrelled away with obscure harmony texts, or practising modes till your fingers bleed? Do you have go-to chord substitutions that define your sound? Do you have a creamy harmonic centre?”

Like most great questions, it’s really hard to answer (though some folks managed to reply in extremely articulate and compelling ways). I’ve been pondering it myself for the last few days, and the best answer I can come up with is something along the lines of what I hinted at in this recent post on chromaticism, namely a liquid sense of modality based on the notion that most of us Westerners really only perceive two modes — major and minor — but that there’s a vast amount if “wiggle room” when it comes to placing individual scale degrees.

To put it another way, most of what I play is based on simple tonic triads, major or minor, but the placement of all the other scale degrees is highly negotiable. For me, the advantage of viewing scales this way is that they remain grounded in harmony, and vice-versa. As opposed to the way many of us were taught modes: as purely mathematical sets of intervals divorced from their chordal implications — or just a bunch of diatonic scales that start on the “wrong” notes.

Hey, why is everyone nodding off, staring out the window, or checking their phones? Wake up and talk about the methods of your madness!


8 comments to What’s Your “Basic Concept?”

  • Well, thanks for putting this up front.  I know it’s a big and difficult question, which is precisely why I asked it.  I really like how you stated “the placement of all the other scale degrees is negotiable”.  I would add “and fluid”, as I rarely feel beholden to a single voicing, and prefer to move through the chords than sit on top of ’em.

    Nice to have a place to discuss such things!

  • Oinkus

    I think if by “concept” you mean all young guitarists want to get laid, it would be a much easier question ?So many of us don’t even have thoughts much less a concept about things that don’t actually exist in our process of playing.

  • Jeff_H

    I consider myself a “Noodler” when it comes to original guitar pieces. I basically use the pentatonic scale patterns most of the time. However, I have also really enjoyed moving chord-shapes up the neck. I never really thought about this until now, but I rely on the D/Dm and E/Em chord shapes on the top 3 strings.

    The D/Dm chord-shape on these strings consists of : 5th, Root, 3rd(major or minor). The E/Em chord-shape on these strings consists of: 3rd(major or minor), 5th, Root.

    So, in a way, this is similar to Joe’s use of triads. :thumbup:

    Wow – I gotta think about music theory more while I play. It seems that if I could get my fingers to do what I want, I’d have more energy for my brain to think. Back to practicing!:turtle:

  • Aceman

    I really try to work a basic concept of “Don’t eff up”

    Overplaying is also one of my fundamental concepts.

    Other than that, I am a HUGE aficionado of the Dimebag Darryl “Chromatic/Pentatonic” approach. I didn’t get it from him, but he stated it most clearly.

    But seriously – attitude and play something simple, but play it well is what I strive for.

    • joe

      Pity I never mastered the “Don’t eff up” technique. 🙁

      Hey — what is the Dimebag Chromatic/Pentatonic approach? I’m not being facetious — I really want to know!

      • Yeah, so do I, ’cause on face value it kinda’ sounds like my deal and yet I’ve never had the ability to sum it up neatly. Mind you, why would you ever want to belong to a club that would have you as a member???

    • Aceman

      I was reading an article (in a REAL mag Joe!) and Dime was dissecting his style. He said he never really learned any scales, but that he knew the pentatonic and threw in anything else (often chromatics) that he felt fit the mood. Give Mr. Abbott a listen, you’ll hear it right away.

      I use a ton of chromatic little blazers mixed in with more “name that cliche” licks. It really disguises the cliche, and good landing notes are never far away.

      • joe

        Oh, Dime was a real good player. Plus he’s responsible for one of my favorite musical quotes, one I’ve “borrowed” and used in many contexts. (I think it was from a Guitar Player story, though it could have been World.) Anyway, he was talking about the momentarily popular band Presidents of the United States and their signature four-string guitars. He nodded his head sadly and muttered, “That ain’t fuckin’ jamming.” And you know what? So many things in life aren’t fuckin’ jamming.

        I was once on tour in Europe, and our bus driver had previously driven Pantera. He said he kicked them off the bus and left them by the roadside somewhere in remote Norway because of some incredibly unacceptable on-bus behavior, but he was too much of a gent to specify. I, however, am not enough of a gent to refrain from repeating this second-hand, unsubstantiated gossip. 🙂


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