Normally, we think of fingering as a technical subject. Using a good and efficient fingering makes sense. It should make anything that you play easier and more dependable.
It has value to the reading guitarist because the guitar fingerboard is a treacherous trap of options. The same notes are in too many places. The same C note is on string two, fret one and string three, fret five and string four, fret ten and string five, fret fifteen. Unlike the piano which has one location for each note, the guitar compounds the problem with too many options and then throws in open strings to further confuse the issue. When reading is positional and stays within a four fret region, it’s much easier to read. However, writers and arrangers don’t attempt to stay within a four fret region of the guitar. They typically do not know or care about the guitar’s fingering option issues.
Fingering is organized by a series of motion principles that allow you to connect notes all over the instrument. These principles are: Basic – a four fret span with one finger per fret. Slide – the same finger used twice in a row on the same string at different frets. Pass – a reset of four fret span generally along the same string. It’s possible to use the reset principle as you change strings as well. Stretch – the lengthening of the four fret span resulting in a shift into a new four fret span. The stretch can also remain in the original four fret span. Contraction – the opposite of stretch. A contraction shortens the four fret span resulting in a new four fret span. Leap – the repositioning of the four fret span after using an open string. The leap can also be a non connected shift of position.
With an awareness of these principles, you can “work out” a good fingering for any reading situation. This is particularly helpful in reading Bebop heads which were not written with guitar fingering in mind. Although it’s a tedious process in the beginning, it does gradually become reflexive.
All these comments and principles apply to improvisation as well. A good guitarist moves smoothly all over the neck. The sound is connective and flowing. Without the application of the six fingering principles, solos are often limited because they suffer from the “box” restriction.
Learn the notes on the neck and don’t rely on tablature to get you through the maze.
If you consistently use the same fingerings for your scales, arpeggios or phrases of any kind, you’ll find yourself playing the same things over and over. One of the most effective ways of breaking into new creativity ground is to change your fingering. Don’t play in the same position or use the same fingering. The reason that this is so effective is that within a fingering, certain note combinations or riffs present themselves. Sooner or later, they become repetitious. When you explore new fingerings, the same old riffs are no longer available. You are forced to play something new!
Remember that fingering affects note distribution and that affects tone color. Just playing the same notes on different strings changes the timbre and therefore the color of what you play. Thicker strings are “warmer” and darker. Thinner strings are “thinner” sounding and brighter. The fingered note has a different color and sound than the open note which has a characteristic ringing tone. Open strings are more common in some styles. They are often characteristic of particular idioms. Bluegrass and Classical guitar styles rely heavily on open strings. Jazz guitar relies less on open strings. That being said, any style can use open strings but it’s more common in some style than in others.
Beyond tone color and resonance, you have new access to new note combinations.
So remember that fingering is not just a technical principle for practicing. It’s not just a tool for reading. It’s a dynamic and ever changing source for creative inspiration!
“Night Hawk”: CD Review
Here’s a link to a review of our new CD “Night Hawk” on the Dream Box Media label. It’s from Guitar International Magazine.
The Art of the Jazz Guitar
Since the age of 16, I’ve been fascinated by the Jazz Guitar. I can’t tell you why … why I didn’t want to be a Rock star or the Lead guitar player in a famous Rock, Blues or Country band.
The fame held no appeal to me nor did the promise of money. My interest seemed to be in something less tangible but more important. I eventually began to understand what aesthetics were and why creating art was central to my own identity.
My first influence was Wes Montgomery. I saw him perform at Pep’s Musical Bar on North Broad street in Philadelphia when I was a teenager. Not only did I watch and listen to him but I also had the opportunity to meet him. I can say with a measure of pride and distinction that Wes himself taught me his famous octave technique. He also encouraged me to study guitar and music. He said “Don’t do what I did. I couldn’t find a teacher in those days. I had to “teach” my self.” I think his words were significant in my determination to study the guitar and ultimately to teach it.
As I began to develop on the guitar, I began to consider music as a career. At the age of 19, I began studying with Dennis Sandole. Dennis was an enormously influential teacher in Philadelphia whose students included John Coltrane, James Moody, Pat Martino and many others. What Dennis taught was the aesthetics of music. By looking at his students, it was clear that he was more than a guitar teacher. But Dennis was a jazz guitarist and certainly had special insights into the instrument. He encouraged me to pursue music as an art form but not as a commercial form. That created both a sense of confidence and simultaneously, a sense of confusion in me.
By the time I graduated from college, I had established the beginnings of a reputation as both a player and a teacher. At the age of 21, my first major break came from an opportunity to become staff guitarist at the famed Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. See a You Tube video on the ChuckAndersonGuitar channel called “The Latin Casino Story”.
The Latin was the East Coast’s version of Vegas but without the gambling. It was here that Sammy Davis Jr, Bobby Darin, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of other show business luminaries performed on a nightly basis. We played 14 shows a week and rehearsed the next show on Monday afternoon. It was grueling schedule but I loved it. The need to make money to support a family was essential. I felt a sense of conflict between doing this prestigious but clearly commercial work and the advice that Dennis had given me. Vivid in my memory was him asking me why I was wasting my time playing “commercial soirees when I should be giving concerts for the Kings and Queens of Europe?” That and his well known disdain for “touching” money sent me into a state about the contradictions between making money and pursuing art for its own sake. Necessity won since I had a family to support.
After four years at the Latin, I decided to leave and form my own jazz trio. The Chuck Anderson Trio was anchored by Al Stauffer, the legendary upright bass player. Al, I and Ray Deeley formed the group, recorded our first album “Mirror within a Mirror” and began giving concerts. Throughout the Trios’ life, Jimmy Paxson and Darryl Brown also contributed outstanding drum and percussion work. During this period, I began writing concert jazz. I still perform many of these pieces today. All of our recorded output has been captured on a compilation CD called The Vintage Tracks. Last year, I had the entire recording re – mastered by Allan Tucker of TuckerSound in New York (formerly Foothill Digital). It’s now available at www.ChuckAndersonGuitar.com under CDs and DVDs.
What is it about this art form that captures me? In the first place, I dislike lyrics. I love abstraction in painting, in sculpture and in music. Instrumental music speaks to me in a unique way. Vocal music has never spoken to me. I think I enjoy my own story coming from the inspiration of instrumental music. To me, interpretation of mood, attitude and feel are what I enjoy in music.
Improvisation, the cornerstone of jazz, springs from life itself. It seems to represent the way we try to live – spontaneous and free. Of course, there is structure. There can be no freedom without structure. But within that freedom is the place in which we live and grow.
The earliest stages of musical development involve simple structures. As we grow, we seek advancement and growth in our pursuits. Jazz Guitar to me offers unlimited potential to grow. It can be technical, creative, spiritual, emotional, aural and includes any measure by which you might monitor growth in an individual.
The unlimited palette of colors available at the harmonic, melodic, structural and rhythmic levels offers endless fascination to me in the pursuit of my own horizon.