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The following typical circle of fourths (A7 to 07 to G7 to C progresses by going up a fourth

interval) is a fertile setting far nicely connected dyads.

C A7 07 01
......--...... e

e A7 07 G7
-- p@ e

C A7 D9 G7 e

e A7 09 GI 3 e

' ' lf '
C A7 07 G7 e

What fun!

Example #63e is worth a closer look. As we travel up the circle of fourths4 playing dominant
chords (major triads plus the 7) we can move this 1-fret reverse slant position chromatically
downwards. Analyzing the scale steps in each chord reveals that with each move down a fret the steps
invert from 3/ 7 to 7/ 3 and then back again. This kind of discovery seems to imply that there are other
interconnections inmusic that might be found with such analyses (and there are).5 The scope of this book
limits how thoroughly we can explore this type of arcana. There can be a sense of true accomplishment
when you start to hear and understand these relationships.

'In art music, pedagogues count down and the same pattem is called a circle offifths. If you count down the scale a fifth interval
you get to the same chord as counting up a fourth. lt is called a circle (or cycle) because if you continue, eventually t.he chords
start repeating. Try it.
How about this suggestive bit of information about #63e. In addition to being the 3/ 7 of A7, Sl-Fl 1/S3-F12 also can serve
as the b 7/ 3 ofEb7. And 1 fret down gives the 3/ b 7 of the dominant chord a fourth interval higher, A b 7. Jazz players get a lot
of mileage out of substituting a dominant chord a flattedfifth interval away from a given one, like E b 7 for A7. This works because
of the interconnectedness of the 3 and 7 notes of these chords.

Shot Jackson, shown playing his seven-string Sho-Bud circa 1975. (photo: Car! Fleischauer)

You will discover that the various intervals between notes have typical aural properties. The
sixths are the most sonorous with the thirds only a bit less so. As a result these are the double stops most
often employed. However, something more dissonant is sometimes needed if only to offset the
sweetness of the sixths and thirds. Fourth and fifth intervals are often just the ticket. lt will be helpful if
you leam to sing ali the intervals you ordinarily play without referring to your instrument, from minor
seconds to majar tenths, going up and down. When you can hear them in your head it will make leaming
new tunes and ad-libbing much easier.

Table 111

( 0-El
b) C)

m i nor
th i rd
( 0-Fl

b) C)
11 a) a 7

(0-F# )

b) C)
11 O) 9 7

< 0-G>
b) e) d)
a)5 5
7 8 ( tj 7 12
11 a 12

{O-A )






7 b) 7 e) d) e)

ilª> a 7

14 14

<D-B )

b) C) d) e)
8 11 11
7 15 15
12 12

a) b) C) d)
9 H
7 t tj 16 16
12 12
11 15
<D-C) rn
U) 19 b) 1a C) d) e) 1a

12 t· 12

a) b) e) d) e) f)
14 14 18 14
12 12 1
11 15 15

a) b) e) d)
12 12
1 12 1
11 15

This Table is meant to be used asan aid to educateyour musical ear. A "D" note has been arbitrarily picked as the lower
note of these examples. Play the notesconsecutively, first the D, then the upperpitch of the interval. (Theparenthetical forms
are meant to be tried asdouble stops. Sorne will appear again aspart of triple stops in Table IV ) Eventual/y, whenyou hear
a particular interval in your head asyou are improvising, you will know where to reachfor it. Try a similar exercise with
the D as the upper note of the intervals. The minar second was omitted because it is almos! always reached bygoing up 1
fret on the same string.

One approach to soloing that can also help you think chordally is the use of arpeggios. In these
the chord notes are played serially instead of simultaneously. A good way to start is to pick the three-
and four-note naturally occurring chords of the major scale. (See "Basic Music Theory for Resonator
Guitarists" for an explanation of how these are formed.) For example in the key of G:

G Am Bm C D Em

li t j j i r r ¡ r r i r i j j r j r
1 1 1 [ r[ft[rr 1

F#º G
19 12
1e 11 1 12
11 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Gma7 Am7 Bm7 Cma7 D7 Em7

cr iJ t i i J l c i iil ci iJ 1 cí íJ et rn 1

11 11

1 F# 7b 5
10 =14

11 ¡T 1 u 1L r 1 u 1

You may find this altemative fretting suggestive of sorne fun lides:

F# m7 5 Gma7

11 tr rJ Er r
For swing and boogie blues, the major chord plus the 6 is a must.

l [r iB cf6 iJ cY f 3

Since Bm6 and Em6 contain notes not in the parent scale they should be treated as if they were
delicate explosives; useful when handled correctly but liable to backfire in your face. 1have never heard
a 6 added to the VII chord but maybe 1 was not listening hard enough.

Then there are the three diminished chords:

etc. or etc.

or etc.

You should convince yourself that diminished chords repeat every 4th fret.
At first it may be easiest to relate all licks to First Position, but eventually it will pay to leam to
play these arpeggios in different positions. That way you should be able to find them as easily as you do
the notes of the major scales.

Working with a typical chord progression from a "standard" tune can demonstrate how to use
arpeggios as a leaming too!. Here is a version of a chord pattem that has been used for a couple of
compositions including "Moonglow" and "Theme From Picnic". (There isno one "correct" harmonic
sequence for a tune, no matter what the composer might maintain. Expert jazz musicians ad-lib new
chords just as they do melody lines.) Far the purpose of this exercise the composed melodies are
irrelevant. We are trying to leam to hear the harmonic background over which we will solo. Then we
will try to add arpeggios to our arsenal of devices for improvisation.

11 lV6 / 1Vm7 VIF / 16 VIm7 / IF !

I II I V / 16 Iº / V 16 ! !

Using Roman numerals makes the relation between chords explicit. Though it is a pain at first
it is well worth the effort to get used to interpreting this generalized notation. (The same reason applies
to leaming to think in scale-step numbers as opposed to note letters.) Try to translate this progression
to the key of B before looking at the next example. (1 have picked a key that is a bit exotic for many
resonator guitarists, but flat keys are the norm in all but country and folk. From experience with my own
students, 1have leamed that the surest way to acclimate you to new territory is the force-feed method.)
Don't peek! Hey you with the gold lamé steel, I'm watching!
Now get apaper andpencil and give it a try. Okay, I'mtrusting you. The intervals between chords
are counted the same way as intervals between notes in a scale.

Now here is the chord pattem in Bb. Read "Music Theory for Resonator Guitarists" if you do not
know why the VI is minor and the V dominant.

11 Eb / Ebm7 Ab7 / Bb Gm7 I C7 I

/ Cm7 / F7 / Bb Bbº I F7 Bb II
First run this through, keeping the rhythm and playing only the tonic notes (i.e. the iof each
chord). Next, the other chord notes can be added (the3 and S).The following example illustrates one way
to fret the arpeggios. 1 have arbitrarily given each note an eighth-note duration and if there is time left
over I just repeat sorne notes. Remember that the tune begins on the IV chord so play a couple of Bb's
to get the tonic note in your mind befare you begin. The 9 and b9 chords function as dominant chords
with an extra note attached to raise their inner tension. The 6 does not change a chord's function, but
- -- n:;.... A 7 Gm7 C9_ .......
.. -
1 ,.
1 1 1
- 1
,. ....

-- - 1 -V

.. .. - -
70 1
...... . - - 1 1 -

1 1
ni. ·-
# -
1 1 - . -- -
l ..
1 1

""' ,.
.., --
., o.I 1 -,
.., 1 \ ij

.. _ ·--
1 ....
- - 1



Find sorne altemative barring pattems.

You can use permutations of the notes of arpeggios to create solos just as you do with the notes
of entire scales. #71 is an effort made up of just chord notes with sorne rhythmic variation. Instead of
jumping all over the neck to start each measure on the iof each chord, as in #71, an attempt has been
made to link the notes with melodic integrity in rnind.
Eb 6 E m7

Now that sounds something like music.

The next step is to add sorne notes that are not part of the chords or even of the scale. In #72
these "outside" pitches are one half step below the next target note and are indicated by asterisks. They
are not chosen capriciously but serve as chromatic links between chord notes.

Eb 6 * * Eb m?* Ab 7 Bb 6 G * C9 *

Cm7 * * F7b 9 Bb 6 Bbº

f 19 -

Hey, this one is ready far the recording studio!
1did not bother to include all four ar five notes of each chord. In measures 6 and 8 a B enters
an eighth note early. This sort of anticipation is a typical jazzy rhythmic play.
Of course there is no reason to play a whole solo made from arpeggiated riffs. Try a mix of scalar
and chordal riffs. All these suggestions are meant to help you when you are stuck far inspiration. Do not
forget that playing from the heart or gut without intellectualizing often works best. The idea is to
intemalize this stuff so you can pull it out of your gut without referring to your brain. (This analysis is
an example of my new graduate course -The Biology of Music.)

"Mygreatest inspiration is a cal/ from a booking agent. "




e Cma7 C6

1 H 1* f* H*
11 I*
C7 C9 Cl 1 C13 C+

Cm Cm(ma7) Cm7

Cm6 Caug Cº(Aº , m 0

, Gº )

Ali the examples are given in C tonality. Just shift up or down the neck to transpose to other chords.

Outside of strumming majar triads, the steel is not nearly as effective a rhythm/ chording
instrument as a guitar ar piano. With sorne effort, however, it will usually be possible to find three
playable notes that give the essence of the chord function. Even with the limitations of the G tuning you
can usually find a few positions that can add flavor to the harmonic backup of a piece. Instead of keeping
a steady rhythm with these voicings, you can throw in an occasional "bomb" that might add to the basic
band rhythm ar be in syncopation with the basic beat.
This technique is typical of swing and other jazz forms where it is known as camping (short for
"accompaniment"). See #264.

Table IV gives sorne handy examples. Sorne applications will be illustrated in the "A Resonator
Guitar Approaches Jazz" chapter. Many additional forms and applications can be found in The Dobro®
Chord Book. (See Bibliography.)


One of the main difficulties of improvising on a lap guitar is the quick and accurate playing of
majar second intervals. This is the rnost common gap in melodies, and without that interval across
strings there is no truly clean way of playing a series of them quickly. (This only refers to closed positions.
Open strings allow easy hammer-ons and pull-offs of whole steps.) The obvious choice is to move 2 frets
up ar down the neck. The other relatively attainable option is to play the lower note on the second string
and then pick the first string 1 fret lower. Far example, a series of "E-F#"s:

il---r- I -i-

The first choice often requires at least a bit of a slide at fast tempos, which is fine unless you do
not want one. However, if you slide as fast as possible (after holding the first note for its entire required
duration) and then pick as soon as you reach a majar second, the ear can be tricked into not hearing the
glissando. The second is relatively difficult, because it is hard to make a quick, accurate move down the
neck. (Your barring hand usually blocks sight of the target fret.) Make sure you reach all the way to the
indicated frets. With increased speed it is tempting to fall a bit short in arder to save time. Forebear such

Playing two or three consecutive majar seconds with any speed canbe a severe challenge. There
is no easy way out, and most acoustic steel guitarists simply do not play as many majar seconds and
scalar licks as other instrumentalists. Still, it is worthwhile to think about the problem and settle on your
own best (at least partial) solution, for you are sure to be faced with it as you expand your repertoire.

Here are a few ideas for playing G-A-B. Check other examples and solos in this book for
additional suggestions. lt is up to you to decide how slide-y or clean you want them.

G) ® 0 @ 0
5 7 9 7 9
8 19 12 e 19 12 19
12 11t

The last should be played out of a reverse slant so the notes overlap. The extra pitch duration
you can get is worth sorne effort to master it. I bet you had not thought of this possibility. lt may even
be playable.

It is relatively easy to jump 1fret cleanly. A half-step slide can also be done so quickly that the
gliss sound is indiscernible to the normal human ear. It is when these minar seconds are strung together
to make a chromatic riffthat the limitations of a bar haunt us. Try to play B-C-C#-D fast, accurately and
with each pitch receiving its allotted duration. First play as clean as possible, then try it with quick,
precise slides.

11 i te




Like series of major seconds there is no completely satisfactory solution 1 have discovered
(outside ofretuning). Again though, since you may eventually want to do it, you might aswell experiment
with a few suggestions. The idea is to find something that works at fast tempos.

f f f t 11 J11t f
. - 11
t e 11 12 1e 1 1 12
11 1 lJ
1 1 12 12
1e 1 et 12

1 j

1 - 12 1a
12 13 1• 1 J

The first two suggest ways of alternating picking and sliding to achieve maximum clarity. The last two
are are a bit curious and very challenging but worth a try.
You can try something similar for our G-A-B exercise.

9 ® sst t 9

11 ,
See the chapter on "Retuning" for another way of playing major seconds.

Students of acoustic steel usually spend the overwhelming preponderance of practice time
dealing with melodic and harmonic considerations. Rhythmic issues are deserving of much greater
attention than they are usually accorded. Having a sure inner sense of the pulse of a tune allows you to
play less but with more impact. You should ultimately be able to execute even out-of-time phrases
purposely, while not losing the beat (i.e. coming back to the pulse when you wish). Control of rhythmic
variety is a third and equal dimension (with melody and harmony) in the creation of music. Practice with
a metronome. Try using the click as either the downbeat or upbeat.
As usual a key concept here is "diversity". Even in bluegrass breakdowns, known for their
constant flow of sixteenth notes (eighths in the cut-time meter used in this book), throwing in an
occasional rest or extended note adds interest to any solo. (On the other hand, when backing up another
soloist or singer, a recurrent rhythmic groove is often desirable.)

On a micro-scale, the way a beat is divided can be critica!. The explanation that follows is best
understood when supplemented with careful listening to sorne of the great players mentioned in

this book.

For instrumentalists trained in Western art music, the notation:

1 - --+
T ----1+--

is interpreted literally -the duration of one beat divided into two equal parts. In the musics discussed
in this book there is considerably more freedom of expression. The first of two eighths is often extended
and the second, consequently shortened. The resultant phrasing varíes between the classic 50-50 split
and a very swing-y %-Y3 division. The latter can be notated

il * j

1j 3

Do not play the eighth-note clusters in this book with a 75-25 split.

•-----E ---
I: )

This comes out sounding too stilted. A good starting point for the way to divide up the beat can
be symbolized by a legato first note and a somewhat staccato second.

1---------1---)E -
1 6 1 1
In context the timing of the beat division is elastic; changing with tempo, rhythmic backup, music
genre and a conscious effort by the soloist to fool with the partition of the beat. Usually, the faster the
tempo, the closer the timing gets to a 50-50 split. But variability of interpretation is part of the essence
of that elusive characteristic called "swing" that is used in ali the musics in this book to different degrees.
lt is the kind of effect that you usually do not have time to constantly think about while you play. Ithas
to be fixed inyour brain. Again, listening to and then playing along with recordings of your favorite bands
will allow you to intemalize the process. Remember, you cannot listen to a soloist while you are also
soloing. First comes listening.

*********** *******

On a slightly larger scale it is necessary to become completely at ease with oflbeat phrasing-
emphasizing notes played on the off-beats (i.e., when your foot is in the air as you tap out the tempo).
For example, a typical bluegrass backup rhythm for acoustic steel is:

7 7 7 7

However, an unrelenting barrage of off-beats in a solo can be as monotonous and unstimulating

as square phrasing and ali down beats. There is no one correct formula. A mixture of syncopations and
on-beat playing, dissonance and consonance, short durations and extended notes, sound and silence,
tension and release, the predictable and the unexpected-all are necessary ingredients for an interesting
solo. Exactly how to brew these possibilities for maximum impact is a decision of personal esthetics
based on your vast musical experience.
Let's say you have got a typical riff that seems a bit banal.

11 [ H [ f lr f

Try shifting part of it by an eighth note.

h1 Er l\ r
Or fool with the timing of the original statement.

Jli mj j f f 3
1 o 1 f

Pr i i rJr 1
-+-- 1 1-7P-- 1- I º
©t ¡ ¡ [[p
EP r hlr p 1
WP r
The bluegrass riff has mutated through rock into a Latin lick.

Arranging for your line to cross over into the following, or previous measure, can set off a wave
of rhythmic displacements. The result of such cerebral ruminations (hopefully) will be for you to be able
to hear this sort ofrearrangement in your head and, eventually, be sufficiently conversant to ad-Iib them.
Pay attention to the rhythmic aspects of your favorite solos.
Of course you can also add an accent and maybe a slide,

¡...... 11t t,_ r-------l

#83 1
or even a blues note. f ll ¡ -
I-- - i +-

But now we are back to melodic thinking.


Cliff Bruner, the great western swing violinist, once said something to the effect that, "You can't
play what you can't hear." Having an educated musical ear means that you have listened and played
music intensively enough to recognize series ofnotes and chords. Being able to distinguish a 3-5-7 run,
major seven chord or a 11-V-I sequence facilitates being able to reproduce them quickly on your
Practice ali sorts of chord progressions until you can hear the similarity between any 1-117-V or
11-IVm-1 or simply a V-1 (or any order and chord type) in any key. That means you should recognize the
chord number and type regardless of the parent scale. If you are interested in a genre that has
embellished chords, like jazz, get acquainted with the three-note chords in Table IV and play the
arpeggios of full chords. lf you are really serious, small electric keyboards are available for under $100.
They are the easiest instrument on which to study harmony.
One helpful exercise is to play all the chord types you want to leam using the same tonic note.
For example play the following in arpeggiated forro consecutively: G, Gma 7, Gmi7, G7, Gdim. or, ifyou
are a bluegrasser: G, Gm, G7. (The specific tonic is irrelevant.)

Try to sing along as you play. Another drill is to select a starting note on your guitar, sing any
second tone and then find it on the fretboard. Leam to associate these intervals with their attendant bar
moves. (Refer to Table III onpage 47.) Ifyou are Iearning something from arecording, try to sing it before
you play it. That way you have it in your head first.

Variation in specific styles will be discussed in the following chapters but here are sorne general
methods for altering a melody. Most will be used in varied guises throughout the rest of this book.
a) changing the duration of a note(s) and/or adding rests
b) displacing the entrance of a note(s), sometimes called rhythmic displacement
c) adding harmony notes
d) interpolating scalar or non-scalar notes
e) accenting on individual notes
f) dynamics (i.e., altering the volume of whole phrases suddenly or gradually as p;irt of building
a solo)
g) trying different amounts of slides and "clean" entrances and exits-also experimenting with
the full range of staccato to legato phrasing
Knowing the lettername of each note or chord is not nearly asimportant asrecognizing the relative intervals between whatever
notes are played and their relationship to the l.
h) using rests as an integral part of a solo--try thinking of the notes interrupting silence instead
of vice versa
i) misdirection - playing a lick that seems to head far a certain note, then veering away.
j) rhythmic and melodic displacement of the expected
k) altering the timbre of your guitar by picking closer ar further from the bridge and using
1) faoling with your instrument to find unorthodox timbres and sounds, e.g. picking behind the
bar, tapping the cover plate far percussive effects, bouncing the bar, wild slides, using bar
rattles that you usually try to avoid, in a musical manner, etc.
m) taking what precedes your solointo account. Did it endvery busily, loudly orin a high-pitched
register? Do you want to continue in that vein ar the opposite?

"Jmagination rules the world."


Buck Graves digs into a lick back in the days of long ftair (photo. Car! Fleischauer)

The Sweet and the Simple

"There·is no greatness where there is not simplicity."


"Nothing is more simple than greatness. "


Most people (of the minute percentage of the populace that knows of the instrument at ali)
associate resonator guitar with slow, pretty tunes. Before you aspire to climb jagged, jazzy mountains
or swim turbulent, swift bluegrass waters, it might help to meditate on the calming warp and woof of
weaving intriguing melodies on a bailad or two in what might be labelled the "country and folk" vein.

"Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" is the sweetest, simplest, plainest, squarest, most modest, unpreten-
tious, innocent tune 1 can conjure. Here is the basic melody in the key of C. Though sorne of the notes
can be played on open strings in this key, I have chosen fretted altematives to allow for vibrato on long
notes and easier transposition to other keys. 1

11 1 T i I?
' i
f r 1
e G7 e


i ¡ IT i
G7 e
f 1
f f f i @


Or with altemate fretting:

e G7 e
11 iT i i lt T i i i I !

il T i i IT i
'' G7

f 1 i fI i @
1 11

0n the accompanying recording #88 is mixed with the steel and guitar in separate channels. This is so you can turn me down
and use this as a play-along track to try out all the following examples with guitar chords.

Of course you can mix the bar moves of both examples.
Well, that is a melody that cries far help. This is what 1 carne up with on my first pass at it. The
purpose of this example is twofald. It illustrates ways of: a) varying a melody without losing sight of it,
and b) using your knowledge and control of scales to create musical phrases.
e G7 e

11 1' I i i i 1
Ir I i i
'p '
#87 1

r p i 1 j-j r G7

11 Ja
í i p 1f


Most of the melody is still there, but slightly disguised. The opening 3 ispresent but the following
3-2-1motif is displaced by a couple of beats by the addition of 2 and 5 quarter notes. There is a bit of
rhythmic alteration in measure 3 and a jump of a fifth interval which gives a gentle jolt to the listener.
Though the melody is changed a bit, the restful half note 1still ends measure 4. This is also true of the
last two measures.
The basic melady of measures 5 and 6 is present, but by embedding it in a couple of scalar-type
licks, the result is something quite different. (By scalar licks 1mean a series of notes that use mostly small
intervals of seconds and occasional thirds as opposed to large intervallic jumps as in measure 3.)
A At the end of measure 6, 1 dare to insert a non-scale # 1 of C to connect the 1of the C chord to
the 5 of the G7. Though dissonant, it is of short duration, and most importantly, melodically logical. This
use of non-scale notes to chromatically connect notes a whole step apart is another basic variation play.
As long as it fits over the accompanying chord, any lick can be shifted to different parts of the
tune. (And remember #55.) In the next example a piece of measure 6 is moved to measure 2 and
displaced a quarter note. 1 did not premeditate this. Since I had just played #87, bits of its melody were
still in my head.

. . ...
_ .. e
..., ...,
- -

' ...,
1 l '"" I
J ..., 1 -1
5 -
I chose a less than obvious fretting far the scalar riff in measure 3 to ease the slides 1wanted. #89
might be easier but the open strings seem too bluegrassy in this situation far my taste.

j 1 j 1 i ij 1

You may find measures 2-3 a bit notey far this plaintive melody. If you do, faol around with
deleting something and extending the duration of a remaining note or leaving a rest. But make however
many notes you play count -not merely in tune and rhythm, but with attention to vibrato, dynamics
and the nuances of approaching notes, as discussed in the previous chapter.