Guitar Style Studies...Essential Elements

If your goal is to be an in-demand and versatile guitarist, you'll need to master the essence of several musical styles.

It can be a daunting task to learn new styles, but if you follow this 4 step process the task becomes much simpler.

1. Melody - First, analyze the melodic qualities of the syle you're learning. Do melodies in this style contain lots of stepwise motion or are they more angular and intervallic? Are melodic phrases repeated? What kind of range do the melodies cover?

2. Harmony - Next, analyze the harmonic qualities of the style. Are the harmonies mostly diatonic (staying in one key) or are there chromatic elements? Are modulations a common element? Are the chords simple triads or more dense sounds with upper extensions? Is there any harmonic sonority that shows up more frequently than others (for instance, dominant 7 chords in blues)? Are there signature chord progressions common to this style?

3. Rhythm/Meter - The third step is to analyze the rhythm and meter of the style. Are duple or triple meters more common to this style? Simple or compound meter? Are 8th notes straight or do they swing? Do meter changes happen? How much syncopation is used? Are rhythmic motifs repeated throughout the song? Are there any rhythmic cliches in this style?

4. Tone/Specific Guitar Techniques - Once you've analyzed the melody, harmony and rhythm/meter of the style, it's time to put it all together. This final step involves listening to how guitarists play in this style. Pay attention to the tones they use. Listen for any specific guitar techniques that are frequently used. Then do your best to replicate the sound and feel.

I'll leave you with a quick example. Let's say you want to learn country guitar...

  • 1. Melodies are usually based on diatonic major scales. Frequent stepwise motion with simple repeated melodies is the usual thing.
  • 2. Harmony makes frequent use of 1 4 5 progressions. In some cases (especially older country tunes) dominant 7 chords are used quite a bit. Soloists mix major and minor pentatonic scales with chromatic passing tones to get that "rough around the edges" country sound.
  • 3. Rhythm/Meter is primarily duple meter, 4/4 being the most common time signature used. In a country shuffle the 8th notes swing, but otherwise 8th notes are straight. The players are usually on top of the beat with a driving rhythmic feel.
  • 4. The standard country tone consists of a Tele plugged into a clean Fender amp. Compression, a bit of drive, slapback delay, tremolo and amp reverb are the most commonly used effects. As far as specific techniques, you'll hear a lot of chicken picking (plucking with the pick and fingers of the right hand), double stops and string bending. Of course, with modern country anything goes as it's become pop/rock more or less. Players like Brent Mason, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Gary Burton and Johnny Hiland are great to study.

    What styles do you play? Do you tend to stick to one or two styles or are you working to become a master of many styles?

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