First published to StickNews in September, 1999.
Pity the poor keyboardist who can't play his scale notes in tune, though
he can modulate to distant tonal centers to his heart's content. Debussy
composed his orchestral music while improvising on piano. An orchestra
later added an overlay of just intonation onto his musical outlines,
according to the common practices of each musician on his or her particular
instrument. Debussy himself was merely throwing switches from a linear
array (with some passion, I should add), hurling hammers if you will.
Envy the Italian operatic vocalist who sings sharp, sings flat, and
inflects his voice according to any desired mood or folkway, all the while
maintaining complete freedom to modulate to other modes and tonal centers.
Is this not the best of all worlds?
What other "instrument" rivals the human voice in this capacity? My
answer, it's the guitar and thus The Stick as fretboard instruments that
not only enable all of the above, but are chordal and polyphonic as well.
Isn't that why people of such diverse musical cultures love the guitar?
OK, this is how I do it on The Stick. I love to improvise harmonically,
not just melodically. I made The Stick for that reason (at least as
concerns my music). Debussy is still my favorite composer. I have to
modulate and relate given notes to shifting keys, both near and far along
the circle of fifths.
At the same time, I can't sacrifice the expressive qualities of pitch
variation. Now, when I'm confronted by a dilemma I choose both ways out.
The direction is usually straight up, to the next higher conceptual level.
At least, that's where my instincts lead.
To get any desired microtone within the perfect matrix of the twelve tone
even tempered scale, I do what guitarists do - blues guitarists, rock
guitarists, country pickers, Flamenco and other soulful ethnic guitarists
(and then there's Steve Vai). I use "false fingers" and "false frets".
A "false" finger is one that's adjacent to the proper finger in your scalar
routines. Conceptually, you remember the real finger for the note you're
playing. That way, you can keep your place in whatever fingering system
you prefer. It feels and sounds "false" in the context of your musical
line as you play the note at the next lower pitched fret, bending up toward
the pitch. Horn players use a form of this fingering/blowing technique.
Vibratos add expression here. Or, play the note on the proper fret and
bend sharp with vibrato (a normal occurrence for fretboardists).
You can get a huge variety of microtonal variations at any scalar tone and
never bend more than a half step (especially good for Stick players using
heavy gauges). You can drill your idea home repeating the same "treatment"
of a particular note in the scale you're playing, adding a strong thematic
element to your melody or bass line. This sub-technique is both
conceptual and physical in nature, and soon becomes a reflex and therefor
an intuitive element in your music.
It will build a better world, and war will become obsolete as people
discover that guitar is more fun - Naaah!
All the Best, Emmett.
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