The book String Theory all started with an email from drummer Billy Ward asking, "why don't you fly out to New York and record some songs with the old band?" A few years back both Billy and bassist Bill Urmson were living in Los Angeles where we had a great little trio happening. We never got around to recording the music we played so this would be a perfect opportunity to do some documentation. Billy just upgraded his New York studio making it now possible to record so I was eager to start searching through my songs to find the ones that would work best with this trio. We finally agreed on ten songs that are in this book and proceeded to record them all in six days. We wanted the CD to be a true representation of the band so only a few overdubs were recorded. Soon after our recording session Billy mentioned that I should do a guitar book based on the songs. I thought my music with the variety of time signatures, modern phrasing and chord changes, would make a unique learning experience for the guitar student. I then began writing down every note I played on the recordings, including the solos which were all improvised. I played the music with not much problem, not letting my mind get in the way of rhythms or notes, then going back and figuring out what I played exactly was mind blowing to me. It made me wonder if there is some higher source in the universe doing this because I don't remember playing this. That is one reason why I love music so much and also when playing with great musicians like Ward and Urmson, it's an incredible experience.
I sincerely hope you find this music interesting enough to practice and wishing you the best in your guitar studies. Barry Coates
Donations are greatly appreciated.
String Theory Intro
This was a piece I wasn't going to use in this book at first, but then I realized that it would be a good exercise to practice 5/4 meter. I played each part all the way through starting with the lower part first and then overdubbing the higher harmony. This is also a lesson in repetition as it is challenging to keep the figure going constantly for the duration of the piece. You could also alternate playing the two different guitar parts for added practice. Once you feel comfortable playing this intro section, I think the song String Theory will make more sense and be easier to figure out. You could also solo over this intro using a D major scale for added practice. I talk more about how to count the piece and other ideas in the next paragraph so read on if you like.
uses the interval of a fifth throughout the piece and also incorporates 5/4 meter in many sections. I have always liked the sound of this interval and the way it can be used over just about anything. I first started learning about this while working on the "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" by Nicolas Slonimsky, where he shows many permutations using this interval.
A few years back before he passed away, I got to meet Nicolas Slonimsky who was ninety three at the time living in Los Angeles. I had read that Coltrane and Miles had used his book and also heard Frank Zappa would send a limo to his house to pick him up to go hang out. I thought since there can't be that many Slonimsky's in the phone book maybe I could call him. Sure enough his phone number was in the book so I called. He said I could come over and so a few days later I did. It was a real eye opener for me and he turned out to be one of the coolest people you could ever meet. He started our visit by testing me with intervals saying we are on G, now go up a 3rd, now down a 6th, now up a tritone etc. Finally he would say what note are you on. Wow, I was so nervous I blew the first answer so I pulled my guitar out for reference and then it was much easier. I could of pictured the guitar neck in my head and most likely done it but since I had my guitar there I used that because I did not want to screw up anymore. It was a good choice as he eased up on me an actually said I did better than many doctorate of music people he had tested. He then began showing me some of his own musical ideas like breaking two octaves into three parts by using the C triad, the Ab triad and the E triad. The notes are C-E-G-Ab-C-Eb-E-G#-B then back to C. If you play those notes then come back down starting on C (8th fret/1st string) using the same pattern a half step higher, it is a very interesting sound. It really breaks up key centers which he liked to do. I had written a song a long time ago called "Slonimsky Funkimsky". I thought he might get a kick out of it so I showed it to him. He wasn't all that impressed with it mainly I think because it was all in the same key but he did like the title. He suggested ways to make it better by changing key centers, which was amazing for me to watch. He then showed me a scale I call 3-2-1 because it is built by using 3 half steps, 2 half steps, 1 half step, then repeating. Starting on C it would have the notes C-Eb-F-F#-A-B-C. Another group of notes he showed me was built on major thirds and divided three octaves into four parts. Starting on C it would have the notes C-E-G# A-C#-F F#-A#-D D#-G-B. I thought these were great ideas to check out so I hope you find them interesting as well. Later that day I got a few pictures of Nicolas. It was one of the best musical experiences I have had in a long while. He also signed my copy of his book which I will always treasure.
Getting back to String Theory which has the challenging 5/4 meter in the intro and solo sections, I count it 12123-12123-12123-12123 which can equal one bar of 5/4. You notice that there are four groups of five, giving the feeling of 4/4 in some ways. If you play it enough it starts to feel more natural and you then can solo over it using the D major scale. The hard part is tapping your foot five quarter notes as you play or say 12123 four times. Remembering they are all sixteenth notes equal to each other may be helpful. If the parentheses are the down beats it would look like this (1)212(3) 121(2)3 12(1)23 1(2)123. When reading through the tune you could also sub-divide the quarter note and count eighth notes to feel the time more accurately. When you play over the solo section it may be helpful to work out some five note groupings that you play four times which would fit over the 5/4 bar then two bars of E minor in 4/4 is simple to blow over. In the next solo section I use a G diminished scale over the Gb13(+9) chord and the D major scale for the rest except G(13 sus4) where you can use a C major scale. Of course there are other scales you can use but this is a good starting point if your not sure.
As you can see from this song, it all started with just a riff using the fifth interval as my idea for composing. As I played it over and over again the 5/4 meter started to take shape. After that I tried playing it in 4/4 and made that riff letter A. By then my ideas were beginning to make sense and soon I had the makings of a new song.
was originally written on a twelve string acoustic guitar. I sometimes tune the low E string down to D then one of the top E strings to B giving you a fourth interval between the top to E strings. When I finished writing this song, I went back to rearrange the music to work on electric guitar synth.
My guitar synth is a Roland GR-700 which looks like a strat. It is plugged into a Roland GM-70 which triggers a JV-1010 synth module. All the synth sounds from this book are made using this synth but I still use a Roland D-550, Yamaha TX 81Z and lately a Roland XV 2020 module. The Roland guitar has some extra switches and knobs that are midi assignable. That might be one advantage over just adding a synth pickup to your regular electric guitar. The tracking for this set up may not be perfect, but since I like to use the synth more as a texture, rather than fast single line notes, it has not been a problem. I have spent many an hour tweaking the sounds to track and sound the way I want them to, but the end result is worth it to me. The guitar synth is a great writing tool because the sounds can be very inspiring. I have written many of my songs by first hearing a patch I like, then everything else starts to fall into place.
When writing a new song I sometimes get a set of chord changes going and then figure out a melody, but on this song the melody and chords all came to me at the same time. The chord voicings used on this piece are standard except maybe the G6(add 2), which has a five fret stretch. Maybe from years of trying to play piano voicings and also my fingers can stretch, I use these voicings more often. If that creates a problem for you, then you can always voice that chord without holding down the bass note or put the E and A on the second fret (fourth and third strings). You would be missing the open G string but it would be easier to play. I used a Line 6 DL-4 delay pedal for the backward guitar sound in some of the sections. I set the pedal up before we started playing then I just turned it on and off as needed. It's a great pedal for practicing as are all looper pedals. Also great as a writing tool to hear what a bass line or melody will sound like against a set of changes.
The A section of the song has a melody stated followed by a chord being held out. I often use this style of writing because it gives me time to play both parts. I will also play the chord first, while using the hold pedal on the synth, then play the melody over it. This all helps the song sound more complete in a guitar trio context. In the solo section of this song you could use the G major and C major scales as there is only one note difference between the scales. The note F# sounds fine over both chords of the solo section.
Out The Door
Has some interesting rhythmic changes. The bass line at the beginning is playing a sixteenth note ostinato where it feels like double time, yet the quarter note pulse is once every four notes. It can be tricky to play because your natural tendency is to count twice as fast. This also happens in the solo section where it is easy to think the bars are going by twice as fast as they really are. The two bars before letter A give you a two against three feel and you would count those bars twice as fast because the quarter note becomes an eighth note. It took me some time to figure out those three bars because originally I had written it in 4/4 and didn't realize that there were fifteen eighth notes in those three bars. That equals seven and one-half beats. This reminded me of a music camp I was at a long time ago where a great music teacher had invented a seven and one-half time signature. It was kind of a joke but he counted it one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-and-a half. It does work and I almost used it but then decided to use what is written in the music( two bars of 6/8 and one bar of 3/8). Finally at letter A we feel the true quarter note or half time feel. The quarter note pulse has stayed constant up until the bar of 3/8 before letter A, then it is shifted back and eighth note at letter A and then remains constant up until the same thing happens at the end of the song. This is one of those songs I kept changing right up until we recorded it. I remember telling Bill the bass player to play the lick you hear at the beginning of the song and I would improvise something and then on cue we would play the last three bars of the tune and then we would be at letter A. Although that is what you hear now, it wasn't written down when we recorded it.
Many of the chord voicings skip the third string so you almost have to play it with your fingers to make it work. I find I am usually switching back and forth between my fingers and a pick in order to play these songs the way I hear them. Skipping that third string feels strange at first, but soon it feels more comfortable. I got the voicing idea from a Thelonious Monk piano voicing which sounded cool. Someone had given me a transcribed piano part of his and there were some really interesting chord voicings I had never thought of playing on the guitar. That is what sparked my creativity to write this song. There are two stretch chords I use for the Eb dominant sounding chords which occur right before letter B1 and at the fifth bar of B1. The first one you could also play with first finger bar across sixth fret (4-3-2 strings) and fourth finger on G (tenth fret/fifth string). It is still a stretch, but somewhat easier to play. The second one has no alternate fingering that would be easier to play I think so try your best.
The solo section can use an Ab major scale over the Eb dominant chord, then Db major over the Bb minor chord and Eb major over the C minor chord. The repeating four bar solo section at the end of the song can use Ab major and Db major scales, but the tricky part is playing Ab major for a bar and one-half then Db major for two beats followed by Ab major for a bar and one beat to a Db major for the last three beats. That all fits over the four bar repeating chord changes at the coda.
Three On The Tree
is a song that has gone through many variations before arriving as you hear it now. It is actually a combination of two different songs that I had written and then took the best parts to form this song. I struggled a long while on the form of the song, but finally I think I got what I wanted. I like the fact that you only hear some of the sections only one time like the intro, letter C and letter D. The heart of the tune (letter A) is repeated and also used for the solo section. This is the one song on the record where I overdubbed a background rhythm guitar part after doing the solo live because I wanted to bring out the way the chords move through this section. Notice the third in the bass of the chords in section A and the chromatic walk up at the end of the section. When I am soloing over these changes I tend to use the notes that really spell out that particular chord. For instance, the A augmented chord has a C# in it and none of the other chords in that section do so I will try to play a C# in my solo over that chord. The G9 chord has a B in it and none of the other chords really do, at least not as strong as in the G9 chord. There are also notes that fit every chord like an F, or to a lesser degree G. Since you have a chord change almost every bar, having a few of these ideas can help greatly. You have a couple of resting spots like the two bars of Bb major(9) and at the end with two bars of Eb add2(+11). I can fit this progression on my looper pedal and practice soloing over the changes which I think is a good idea. The B section is a transition to something new coming later and uses some guitar voicings like Ab7/Db and Bb7(add11)/Ab that are different than your average guitar voicing. The C section brings out one of my favorite aspects about using the guitar synth, which is hitting a chord and pressing and holding a sustain pedal while you solo over it or play the melody. I specifically wrote that section to incorporate that idea. It sounds like there could be a keyboard player with the band but it was all done live without one.
has some interesting rhythmic punches throughout the song and a few 5/4 bars to keep you on your toes. You have to really lay back on the rhythms, especially in bar ten through twelve of letter A, as it's easy to rush them. The solo section has that 5/4 bar that takes awhile to get use to soloing over. I play the rhythm in that bar and solo over the last bar using an E major scale. You can also use C minor scale for the first three beats of the 5/4 bar then E major scale for six beats. I like the tonality change from an F minor sound in the first three bars of the solo to the A dominant chord with C in the bass in bar four. Even though it's got a C in the bass I am playing more A dominant over the top. You can really play a lot of different things over that chord because the tonality is kind of in two different places. You can also play a Bb harmonic minor scale over that chord. There is a great place to play your whole tone scale ideas in bar four of letter B and where it reoccurs. the melody in that bar is an E whole tone scale. The voicing I use (E7b5b9) in bar 4 of the B section is one of my favorites. This song uses more of a chord melody style of playing like you might do with a jazz stndard. It is one of the more difficult songs to play, so you could work on parts of it separately and then put it all together once the details are worked out. When we were recording the record, some of my more authentic jazz songs just didn't make it. Maybe they were to bebop or whatever so I was pleased that this song was selected because it's one of my favorites. To me, it embodies the traditions of jazz yet sounds modern. I could hear a big band playing this song if I could only write all those parts out.
means peace and I got the idea to write this song after attending a few yoga gatherings where music was played. I really enjoyed the simplicity and devotion the people had for the songs and was inspired to try an write something with that same music quality. This song is basically just G-C-D-C with some added jazz progressions I decided to use. The intro picking sections may need some practice to play evenly and smoothly. The mood changes for the solo which has an eight bar repeating chord pattern,. Instead of just having your typical E minor to A pattern, I put a C7 to A7 in the fourth bar then C7 again for two bars then D7 for two bars. That changes things up just enough to make it more challenging to solo over. The voicings I used for the Em and A7 chords are different than I normally use. No matter how simple I try to make things I usually write a song with something in there to challenge me. I may of strayed a little to far from the devotional songs that inspired me on this one, but I still like where it ended up.
has a set of chord changes at the beginning that I had originally used as an intro to Wayne Shorter's Pinnochio. I always like to come up with original intros and endings to standards to make the song more my own, since so many people have played them. I remember while in the studio recording some well known standards a friend had mentioned that I should just write my own song out of the changes I came up with, then it would be my song. This made me start thinking that although I love playing standards, making it my own song would be better. I remember reading about Ralph Towner saying he was re-harmonizing all these standards when he also came to the conclusion that if he changed the melody, he would have a new original song and so he did. Some of my originals are born out of playing a standard and then changing it until it becomes something new and then I go off in a different direction that was inspired by the standard. Of course, you have to be careful not to let your song sound to much like the original. I have a few songs that when I play them with other musicians, I am always waiting to see if someone says this is so and so song and you copied it. Fortunately, that has not happened but I've come close a few times.
Comfort Me was originally written for quartet with vibes playing the melody. It took some time to figure out how I could play the changes and melody together in a trio context. Some of my songs just didn't work in a trio and I thought this song might be one of them, but in the end, it turned out being a great song for the record. Letter A and B might take some time to get under your fingers as your jumping back and forth between hitting a voicing and playing the melody. Letter D incorporates my synth holding down a pedal chord while I play the melody on top. Originally, there were two melodies going on in this section so I had to merge them together and leave some out in order to be able to play it. The solo section uses an ostinato bass line that may seem like it does not fit the changes, but I really like the way it sounds against the chord voicings I am using. I have that open B string on two of the chords in the solo section and then the Gmaj7(+5) is just a B triad over G, which uses the E melodic minor scale.
Song For Jo
can be played solo guitar style or with a group like we did on the record. When I play it solo guitar, I have used the line 6 pedal to set up an eighth note ostinato alternating between F (fourth string/third fret) and F & C together (second string/sixth fret and third string/fifth fret). If you play the song over this background, it works nicely for almost the entire song, except the ending. I turn it off on the coda, right when I hit the G/B chord, playing what is written from there to the end. There are no complex voicings in this song and the solo section can use an F major scale. Playing a ballad is more about picking just the right notes rather than chops, so that may be something to work on. The time factor plays an important role, because it's got to flow smoothly for the song to be effective. I think guitar players, me included, tend to rush things more often so remember to relax. The intro section can be played in time, which is what I have also done when using the ostinato and playing solo guitar.
When I write a song I always try to incorporate something new musically that will challenge me so I can get better, For example, trying new voicings I have not played before or chord changes I haven't played over before all can help in becoming a better musician. In this song it was also about writing techniques like the out of time sections at the beginning and at the end, the guitar riff in the middle section where the band drops out and writing a ballad, which I find harder to do, but most rewarding when things work out.
is a song that has gone through many changes to get where it is now. It all started when I was reading an interview with Pat Metheny and he was talking about his baritone acoustic guitar and how he tuned it. I had heard him play it live and thought the sound of it was incredible with the lower strings sounding like bass strings and the upper ones like a regular guitar. He said that the baritone guitar is tuned down a fifth, but he had also done a Nashville tuning on the three upper strings, which is tuning them an octave higher. I remember when I was in a studio recording some acoustic guitar and the engineer handed me an acoustic with just the high 6 strings of a twelve string guitar on it. It was like splitting a twelve string guitar into two guitars, one with the lower strings and one with the octaves. it sounded very nice, but a little strange to play with all thin strings. The engineer had remarked that it was called Nashville tuning so that is where I first heard about it. I do not own a baritone guitar so I decided to tune my guitar synth like Pat had done on his baritone guitar. I was not changing the pitch of the strings, just the synth notes they would be triggering so when I hit the low E, it would play a lower A (fifth below). In this instance, I had the balance set all the way to synth so I would hear just the baritone tuning. It ended up working pretty good, or at least it gave me the inspiration to write a song. Then I realized you could play all your chord voicings and everything the same way as on a regular guitar because tuning this way does not change the relationship between the strings. That really amazed me because it sounded so different. It also makes me really want to buy a baritone guitar one of these days. After coming up with the chords and bass part for this song I recorded it and started playing melodies until I found something I liked. Then I transposed the whole song back to regular guitar. Finally, I tried to play the melody and chords together, which was difficult and took some time to figure out. After a lot of work I finally got it all going but it is not an easy song to play. It was a totally different way for me to write a song but the result is hopefully worth checking out. One of the few overdubs on this record is at letter B where I added a background guitar part, which I think really adds to the song. For the solo section you can use C blues scale or try playing Bb major scale like your playing over an F7 chord.
Beddy By Time
is one of my favorite songs to play. I just really like the vibe with the simple yet expressive melody and not to many notes going on. It sets a mood for sure and you can play it as a solo guitar piece also. When I play it solo I transpose the three bars before letter A1 down an octave, which sounds nicer on acoustic guitar. I also sometimes play letter A more in the open position for something different either the first time or on the repeat. The solo section is all about mood and feel and not about blowing a lot of notes so I would keep it simple. I still remember an older guitar friend when I was growing up saying to me that you should think of the notes your playing as pearls. Each note can mean so much if you play the right ones. That has always stuck with me and this tune is a perfect place to use those words of wisdom.