Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Two quartets

Much of my time recently has been devoted to the new songwriting book which I hope to finish in the next month, at which point I’ll post some information about it. It is due for publication in 2014. Over the next couple of months I’m teaching some tutorials on Ralph Vaughan Williams and Igor Stravinsky. Last weekend I gave a lecture on the biographical tradition associated with John F. Kennedy for a Kennedy day school run by Oxford University Department of Continuing Education.

The title of this blog alludes to two things. First, the film A Late Quartet which I saw recently and can recommend. It’s a film about a string quartet that have been playing together for several decades and become famous. Suddenly, for reasons of age, one of the players develops a medical condition which means he can no longer play. This initiates a landslide of internal problems within the quartet. In the latter stages of the film the plot becomes almost Jacobean in its perversity and strained in its ingenuity. But nevertheless it is an engaging drama about adult themes such as long-term relationships, partnership, self-denial for the good of the group, redemption and of course music-making. One of the best things about this film is that it takes music very seriously and as a thing of great value – which these days is to be welcomed. The title is a playful allusion to the celebrated late quartets of Beethoven which are widely considered one of the greatest achievements of Western music and as possessing a particular profoundity sometimes manifested by artists in their last years.

My other quartet is an English rock band, the wonderfully named Wishbone Ash. I’ve been re-listening to some of their classic early 1970s music, including the album Argus which was voted Album of the Year 1972 by readers of the music paper Melody Maker (quite an accolade for the period given the competition). Argus has been remastered twice in the last decade. By all accounts the 2007 Deluxe version is the one to get. The band were famous for developing twin-lead guitar arrangements, where each guitarist takes a single melodic line in harmony with the other. Their sound was hard rock but with a curious lightness about it, helped by the mild distortion on the guitars, and strong melodies supported by harmony vocals. I like their very Englishness, which at one time might have been held against them, but now seems authentic and full of character, and the lyrical sweetness which sometime surfaces in the music – most notably in a track like ‘Persephone’ and the doubled lead guitar solos on ‘Throw Down The Sword’.


4 responses

  1. Shane

    I have all of the other songwriting books and look forward to this one.
    Can’t you tell us the subject matter this time? Lead playing for songwriting
    was mentioned once. Is that it? Thanks.


    November 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    • Hello Shane, thanks for your interest. Yes it will be about songwriting and playing solos. I’m a few weeks away now from finishing it and then I’ll blog about it properly. It should be out next summer. Rikky

      November 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

  2. Shane McHugh

    Thanks Rikky. One thing that bugs me is how some people think theirs is the only
    way to play. If you mention scales at all to Carol Kaye (the famous wrecking crew
    guitar/bassist) she’s chew your head off saying how only chord notes were used
    back in the day (even though its clear Chicago blues guitarist were using pentatonics
    back in the 50’s). On the other hand some are so Berklee oriented that they
    use every obscure scale and never get anywhere.
    So I ask you the following. If someone plays a choral scale such as 1,3,5, and 7th notes
    and adds extentions (9ths, 11ths, 13ths) how does it differ from playing say
    a pentatonic scale or mode? Isn’t it two ways up the same mountain?
    I for one love Gary Moore but he obviously used scales a lot with a good ear
    and as long as you don’t overdo it and mix it up it should come out fine a la
    Brian Setzer. Just don’t say it to an old Jazzbo or they’ll flame you for sure.
    Fred Sokolow achieves a nice balance with F D and A shapes as a refrence
    point to play both chords and solos off the triads (a modified version of the
    caged system as IMHO the G and C positions of the caged system is too
    similar to the A and D positions mentioned earlier.
    What are your thoughts on this? I have had most success with the F-D-A
    as Herb Ellis taught it and Charlie Christian used it as well as Fred Sokolow.
    Playing a cycle using just chordal notes and seeing the others as simply
    travel tones too me leads to chaos and good luck memorizing a whole
    bunch of dots. I can play Pentatonics, Major scales, Modes or various
    chords with a root 6 (F shape), root 5 (A shape) or root 4 (D shape).

    What do you think about this kind of fretboard guides? Do you use anything
    similar? Some say your ear won’t develop if you play anything other than
    triad arpeggios. I don’t believe that but am wondering what your experience is.

    Shane BTW I got thrown off the Carol Kaye board yesterday just for asking
    this same question very nicely. Great legendary player but its like religion,
    when someone has done something a certain way, they can’t see any other
    way of doing it!


    November 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    • Hello Shane, thanks for your post -sorry the reply has taken awhile. I pretty much agree with what you’ve said. I am not keen on excessively theoretical approaches to lead-playing at least in the context of songs and popular music (I’m not interested in jazz). The best guide is usually your ear, and in songs it is likely that the chords you’re soloing over won’t be much of a problem. I don’t think I’ve ever used a system. I don’t use the CAGED method as too much of it is mere duplication – just as when it comes to movable chord shapes A and E are fine, maybe C and D occasionally – G is too awkward. When I’ve recorded solos that have come out in a way that pleased me it was sometimes just spontaneous, once I’d got a sense of the chords and what they required in terms of basic scale. I certainly agree people get too dogmatic about approaches – they forget that all of this is in the end subservient to the music, and that alone counts. I’ll be posting some info about the next book shortly. Best wishes, Rikky

      December 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

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