Unlike the piano, the ability of playing a simultaneous bass line and chord progression on the guitar is hard won.

However, with some focused work on fretboard harmony, an effective, intuitively controlled and fun approach is possible.

The following document provides an introduction to the technique – and some patient practice will go a long way. Enjoy.

Walking Bass & Chords

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The CAGED system is a powerful tool to unlock the guitar fretboard. Here I use the concept in a Jazz context – it’s a real roast but is a very direct way of sorting out your harmonic literacy on the fretboard. Suffer, practise, enjoy.

Uncaging the Monkies

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Rather than using the typical approach of starting with scales for soloing, it can be far more beneficial to understand the chord-tones of the harmonic progression upon which you are playing. The implications of scales is that there is an ascending (or descending) hierarchy of importance, when in reality the pattern of consonance and dissonance does not follow a linear fashion. By understanding chord tones a more lyrical and harmonically sensitive approach to soloing may be made. Furthermore, with the use of cells – small and manageable note sets – the entire fretboard can be mastered, and a fluent and genuinely spontaneous solo can be made. The following document introduces the concept of cells, using 7th chord arpeggios as a starting point.

Enjoy, practice, weep, practice, enjoy more.

Cells and 7th Arpeggios for Guitar

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The guitar is a supremely expressive instrument, and an essential component in a huge range of musical styles. However, its place in the instrument family is somewhat of a platypus. It is partly melodic with some players playing almost exclusively monophoncally (e.g. BB King). Some musicologists place it in the percussion family as its strings are not bowed – Jimmy Page and Nigel Tufnell aside, and it is also of course it is also a chordal – a harmonic – instrument. However due to

1) The guitar’s limited number of strings

2) The anomalous standard tuning system (all 4ths apart from one rogue major 3rd)

3) The fact that – unlike the piano – most of the notes on the guitar can be found in more than one position and

4) The number of fingers we’ve evolved

…a comprehensive harmonic approach is extremely challenging to learn. What might be simple on the piano, for example closed-voicing diatonic 7th chords, can be difficult on the guitar. Then again the parallel nature of the guitar has huge advantages -in terms of transposition and playing in different keys – over many other instruments.

The following document, provides a challenging but hugely useful inroad into deep harmonic literacy of the guitar, its deep study (even of just one section of it) I’ve found has really helped me and my students. Enjoy, be patient, and then enjoy a lot more.

Drop2 voicings

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My name is Jake Willson and I’m enrolled on the PhD programme at the University of Surrey, researching musical composition. At the time of writing, I’m heading towards the middle of my first year of post-graduate research, and as such, I’m making early attempts to define the boundaries – and indeed the focus – of my research.
I will be using this blog to give an informal account of my activities as a composer, researcher and musician at the University of Surrey, as well as commentary on relevant news and issues.
So here’s a little something to get the ball rolling:

This is a ‘score-to-sound’ video of a piece called the “Red Meat Suite” that I wrote for chamber ensemble in my final year as an undergraduate. It draws inspiration from the output of jazz musicians that I particularly admire; the work’s 3 movements are dedicated, respectively, to John Scofield, Thelonius Monk and John McLaughlin. Incidentally, rather than stating this fact outright, and to avoid it being too obvious, I was driven by the colourfulness of the resulting gibberish, to ‘portmanteau’ each of their names as movement titles: I. Jofield, II. Thelonk and III. Jaughlin. The inevitable questions from the curious about what the movement titles mean has now become a slight nuisance and a chore to explain; for all the cheap-mystique and charm of these ‘neologisms’, I doubt I’ll employ this technique again! Cynicism aside, I do hope you enjoy the piece and feel moved enough to visit my ‘Soundcloud’ page (at www.soundcloud.com/jakeynez ) and have a listen to what I have been busy working on, both, as a performer and as a composer.

Please subscribe to this Blog by adding it to your RSS feed. This can be done by clicking the orange and grey box on the right hand side of this window and following the instructions.

I look forward to hearing from you!


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The dust, and glitter, have settled on the saccharin post-ironic campfest that is Eurovision.

I’ve witnessed the spectacle a number of years, find it quite enjoyable, and admire some of the songs and flamboyance. However there is this amazing middle-ground of songs between the quite good and deliciously terrible.  A luke-warm competence of song that is just utterly ok, which I find fascinating. How, and why do these songs jump all the hurdles to make it to the final?  The answer? They are perfectly accessible and completely musically unchallenging. Not bad at all, not good at all, not anything at all.

Would you like to write one of these super-mega-normal bet-hedging epic mediocrities?

Here are the rules:

1)     Sing in barely discernible English. Everyone loves English right? No need to alienate people with your mother tongue. Pronounce words phonetically so any semblance of sincerity is removed.

2)     Make the lyrics perfectly intelligible but mean nothing. Essential words: Love, heart, sing, dance, night, hear, feel, eyes, look, boy, girl, kiss, forever, one, last, day.

The actual ordering of the words is unimportant, just so long as the basic sentence structure is superficially correct. Repeat one word a little too much, and use rhetorical or nonsensical questions, like an online translation of a teenager’s facebook status.


“Look into my eyes, Do you hear them cry? Do you see my heart sing?

Listen to my heart, can you feel my love? Do you hear my heart sing?

Is it just one night?  Don’t you hold me tight? Can you feel my loving?

You are just a boy, I am just a girl, don’t you know I’m loving?”

When the lyrics run out, las, dums and doos may be substituted freely.

3)     Include a veneer of ‘world music’ (relationship to your country not essential) This means percussion, flamenco rasgueados, mandolins, bodrum or washboard etc. AT NO TIME should the presence of these instruments infuse the music with any authenticity.

4)     When it comes to the rhythm think BLAND.  4/4 is essential and a tempo comfortably between 105 and 135bpm. Despite the presence of ‘ethnicity’ (see 3), rhythmic patterns should stay resolutely unfunky and must be underpinned with a 4-on-the-floor techno kick drum just in case there are any remaining species still unaware of where the beat is.

5)     Structurally, make the chorus indistinguishable from the verse (ie equally meh), and the verse not really different to the intro. Any solos should repeat the melody like you are bludgeoning the listener over the head with your simple melody, forcibly crushing a neural imprint into their auditory cortices. An intro or middle section or outro with a pad, piano & strings and the same melody is also advisable.

6)     The scale.  You have some choices here, but the safest, and thus recommended, is the natural minor or Aeolian scale. (C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C) This has the advantage of having the veneer of sophistication but also being completely accessible. There are no awkward augmented 2nds, no characteristically quirky modal notes, and a tonic bass-line is all that’s needed. The pinnacle of excitement is the minor 6th which should only be used with epic showmanship and harmonic support.

7) The melody should be very, very short and memorable like the pain of a recently stubbed toe.  Here’s the trick. Short phrase, repeat short phrase and then short phrase againending slightly differently. Add your lyrics and you’re done. Thus:

Note: very little syncopation, and no chromatic notes. The ‘hook’ starts and ends on the root so as not to disorientate the listener. The 3rd dramatic phrase starts on the root but ends of the 5th which is about as obvious as you can be in the absence of a sledgehammer. Avoid any temptation to harmonize the melody with your clever elitist chords. The I, IV & V, (even over a tonic pedal is all they need), anything else is showing off. Notice also how the V chord avoids any complications with the B-natural, this isn’t bloody music college.

8)     Despite the presence of our ‘ethnic’ elements, instrumentation & vibe must remain early 90s Eurotechno. Start with an ethereal pad as the singer is in the illuminated windtunnel then let rip with a Vaseline-in-the ear techno beat. Don’t leave anything to the listener’s imagination. Give every beat and repeat the melody a lot. When you think you’ve done it too much, do it again, or 2/3 into the tune modulate up a minor 3rd, but that’s only if you think you might win.Put melodies in parallel octaves and fifths, use harmonies sparingly and with deep suspicion. Your mantra should be dramatic nothing.

So following these basic rules, after 86mins of production, we reach the following results, it’s just a 2 minute blast, but that’s all you need and want.

[audio http://miltcentral.com/audio/JustOneNight3.mp3]

Note the incongruous and tasteless blend of off-the-shelf 3-layer techno, derivative ‘Bulgarian’ rhythm, excruciating rap, soft-metal, crudely auto-tuned out of tune singing and Turkish Oud. A real mullet, committee camel Frankenstein monster of a track. And yet I think you’ll agree Listen to My Heart(Just One Night) (by Lårs & Marise) stands a good chance of making it past the semi-finals, and even scraping a few points in the final. It is perfectly okay.

Et voilá! Deux Points!

All content ©2010-11 Milton Mermikides

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Welcome to University of Surrey Sites. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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