cut to the chase: "Writer's Block" is B.S.! Obviously finishing
a song can pose a tremendous challenge, but there's no reason (when stuck
in one of those ruts) to not at least try to move other songs forward,
or start fresh new pieces, to keep the creative momentum going. But how
can you still "write" when it seems the well has gone dry? Keep reading!
at least as it relates to guitar players, are generally first spawned
from a chord progression (which then requires "stylization"--how
to play the chords, so that they have personality--and also a melody,
which the progression itself will hopefully inspire over time), a melody
only (one of those magical "sing-able" nuggets that randomly pops
into your head, which then requires you to find supporting chords), or
a riff (a signature guitar part that serves as the track's instrumental
hook, intro, etc., which then needs to find a home). In this lesson, we'll
focus on RIFF WRITING--specifically, a type of riff writing I learned
from studying Steve Morse's music, referred to as POLYPHONIC
RIFF WRITING. It's one of several riff-writing approaches I might
experiment with when I'm stuck in a writing rut. To illustrate, I'll use
a riff from one of my own songs: "Bad Seed" (no, not a Metallica cover!)
from my new CD Mannerisms
means "two or more independent lines," or "many melodies," and is a term
often used to describe musical moments where more than one melodic line
is happening simultaneously. As it relates to riff writing, it's when
pick-style single-note riffs are structured in a way that you hear two
distinct parts in the riff (think "bass and melody"), because notes
are being played in contrasting high/low registers and rhythms. The first
instructional book I ever had the privilege of writing was Steve
Morse: Just the Riffs (now out-of-print). In putting that
book together, I noticed in songs (from Morse's Structural Damage)
like "Native Dance" [0:39], "Dreamland" [1:43 & 2:07], and "Good to Go"
[0:17], as well as (from the Dixie Dregs' Full Circle) "Sleeveless
in Seattle" [1:31] and "Good Intentions" [1:11], that Morse was conjuring
up the effect of two distinct parts, simply by the way he juggled registers
and rhythms in these unique pick-style riffs. (This approach is also described
in some of his instructional videos). One day, when I had some spare time
to work on music that would eventually find its way onto Mannerisms
Magnified, I found I was hitting the inevitable wall. In these
moments, instead of getting frustrated, hoping random ideas just magically
come, I experiment--make a conscious decision to focus on very
few elements, using one of several songwriting approaches that have bailed
me out in the past, and see what develops. With "Bad Seed," experimenting
with a Morse-inspired polyphonic riff-writing approach won out--and gave
birth to one of my personal favorite pick-style riffs!
"Bad Seed" riff began from a random bass line in 7/4 that I'd had sitting
around for quite a while; I just thought it was cool, but never imagined
it'd blossom into something special. When I opted to try turning it into
a polyphonic riff, I started by actually writing this bass line out,
so I could see what types of rhythmic space--what "air" there was for
melody, between these bass notes--I had to play with. [See FIG. 1 TAB
& YOUTUBE video, below.]
- BAD SEED BASSLINE
(Use downstrokes throughout, picking on underlined
counting prompts for rhythm)
bass line, which was basically in E minor, only involved notes on the
5th and 6th strings. This made strings 1-4 "fair game" for trying out
different melodic options. Again, since I was using a pick (as opposed
to playing fingerstyle), any melody notes needed to be played between
the cracks of the completed bass line. I tinkered around with different
possibilities (again, in E minor), till I found a nice opening line (the
open 1st and 2nd strings, played in alternation); then kept expanding
the upper-register melody till I had an interesting, two-measure figure.
[See FIG. 2 TAB & YOUTUBE video, below.]
- BAD SEED MELODY
(Use the indicated picking, and let ring
throughout. For fingering, use one-finger-per-fret position
playingindex finger on 1st fret, middle finger for 2nd fret,
ring finger for 3rd fret, and pinkie for 4th fret.)
course, as I was creating this, I wrote the melody notes down--directly
over the bass line, on the same notation/TAB staff--so I could easily
see the relationship between parts. By the time I was done, I had a cool-sounding
riff I thought would make a good album opener. Of course, then I had to
practice it, so it was playable--because tricky picking abounds! [See
FIG. 3 TAB & YOUTUBE video, below.] Which brings up an interesting
point/fact: Given this riff's degree of difficulty, I never would've
come up with it by just randomly picking around, without following any
strict guidelines; these are not the types riffs that just fall
into your hands naturally, or that you "luck" into.
- COMPLETE BAD
(Melody & bass, played together. Use the indicated
picking, and let ring throughout. For fingering, use one-finger-per-fret
position playingindex finger on 1st fret, middle finger for
2nd fret, ring finger for 3rd fret, and pinkie for 4th fret.)
- w/SIMPLIFIED NOTATION
closing, the point I'm trying to make is: An analysis of any of your favorite
riffs will always reveal a set of basic ingredients that makes that particular
passage tick. Once armed with enough of these types of "ingredients" (again,
from behind-the-scenes study, application, and just plain ol' listening)
you will always have compositional concepts to fall back on; when you're
stuck in that inevitable writing rut, you can still move a project forward.
In the end, my experiments with polyphonic riff writing not only rewarded
me with a rawkin' instrumental riff, I was also able to use pieces of
it as a reoccurring theme throughout the verses of my song "Bad Seed"--a
moody, somewhat progressive, acoustic "art rock" track that serves as
a wild opening song on Mannerisms
Magnified, and also works as a great live set opener. Please
enjoy! And RAWK ON!
late 2005, Dale Turner started chipping away at the ultimate
musicianship challenge: Write an entire record of super
eclectic (non-mainstream, though surprisingly accessible)
rock music that *he* (see BIO)
wanted to hear, AND produce, perform all the instruments,
arrange, and engineer himself (including the disc's artwork).
The record that resulted, Mannerisms Magnified,
sits somewhere between the singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist
tradition of Jon Brion, Elliott Smith, Joseph Arthur, and
Sufjan Stevens, with added flavor from Dale's King's X,
Mr. Bungle, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Brian Wilson/Beach
Boys, and Bobby McFerrin influences. (Guitar influences
include the aforementioned Buckley and Smith, along with
Steve Morse, Tommy Emmanuel, John Frusciante, Ani DiFranco,
Ty Tabor, Andrew York, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck.)
PLAYER MAGAZINE says: "Smart pop tunes
that are crammed with interesting guitar parts and
tones ... Like what the Beach Boys might do if they
were on an acid trip that was on the verge of getting
out of control. Yeah!"
CONNECTION MAGAZINEcalls Mannerisms
Magnified: "Clever in concept and sophisticated
in execution. Turner's an accomplished guitarist ...
working at a high level. It seems there's nothing
he cannot do in the studio."
BIG TAKEOVER says: "With his agile guitar
plucking and mischievous lyrical wordplay, Mannerisms
proves Turner is an exception to that old axiom, 'Those
who can't do, teach.' Expertly crafted, multi-layered,
and idiosyncratic guitar pop. Impressive."
THE MAG (U.K.) says: "Slacker-rock
mingles with seventies-style harmonies and new-prog
in this eccentric and eclectic collection ... like
a strange re-invention of Supertramp, mixed with Pavement.
This record is incredibly creative, inventive and
ZEITGEIST says: "Recordings that kick
trendy clichés to the curb ... Jellyfish-style
pop layered with Brian Wilsonesque vocals co-mingle
with complexity that beckons the prog association.
Dale Turner is a prodigious, inventive and very special
ACCESS MAGAZINE says: "A rich cocktail
of differing textures, aural delights, interesting
instrumentation, and quirky vocal arrangements. A
remarkable and inspiring effort on all fronts. D-I-Y
Musicians take note; Turner will teach you a thing
MUSIC DIGESTcalls it: "Musical brilliance.
Highly original, creative, extremely melodic, and
unpredictable as hell. If you're looking for a tripped-out
musical experience ... jump head first into Mannerisms
WEB EXPRESS calls Dale: "A multi-talented
yet quite eclectic composer/guitarist who never fails
to take a hard left turn ... Mannerisms Magnified
takes rock music in a daring new direction ... You'd
never guess it was all one person doing it all."
says: "Dale Turner is an inspiration in every sense
of the word ... A true mad scientist at work ... If
Radiohead was making music in the 70's with Mike Patton
helping on vocals, this may be what would have been
heard ... This one-man-band is a one-man-force to
be reckoned with."
MAGAZINE calls Mannerisms Magnified:
"A varied mix of clever rock and pop, with a progressive
edge. A very personal album. Dale Turner certainly
would qualify as a musical 'renaissance man.'"
AUDIENCE MAGAZINE says: "This ROCKS! Quality
music ... diverse/original/catchy ... Dale Turner
does SO MUCH on his own ... a shoe-in for our indie
feature because of what he can teach the rest of us
AM ENTERTAINMENT MAGAZINE says: "Awesomelyuniquelyamazing
(one word)! This is not for the music lover who likes
to hear the typical repetitive Pop song ... Dale borders
the line of musical genius."
MAGAZINE says: "Technical finesse will
appeal to the intellect, while emotion to the heart
... Dale Turner is a much-needed breath of fresh air."
calls Mannerisms Magnified: "A singer-songwriter
... debut album ... full of acoustic guitar virtuoso
N' ROLL VIEW calls it: "Thought-provoking
melodic rock in the vein of Mr. Bungle, Queen, and
Frank Zappa ... packed to the hilt with amazing creativity,
captivating subject matter, unpredictability [and]
high adrenalin vocal delivery."
says: "What is there not to like about this incredible
one-man show? If you like rock and pop like Queen
or The Beatles this guy is no brainer. Excellent music
from top to bottom."
EMISSIONS says, of Mannerisms Magnified:
"Someone once said that there was a fine line between
genius and insanity. This feels like the work of a
genius, but I can't help thinking I've witnessed elements
of the insane at the same time!"
MUSIC PROMOTIONS likens Dale to "A musical
Salvador Dali." Adding that "Mannerisms Magnified
comfortably borders on masterpiece territory ... Smart,
catchy and sophisticated with dark undertones and
'down the rabbithole' surprises around every corner."
EDGE says: "When you've got a stack
of 100+ CDs on your desk and too many of them sound
alike, the occasional surprise--like Dale Turner's
Mannerisms Magnified--is a much-needed breath
of fresh air. Unique, exciting and delightful ...
it gets better with each listen. Its originality shines."
BIG SMILE MAGAZINE
says: "As I pressed play for the first track, I was
blown away. This album is nothing you have experienced.
And the experience is not easily put into words. Not
one song could fit into a genre category... Take the
journey with Dale Turner and open your mind. Enjoy
NORTH COLUMBIA MONTHLY calls Mannerisms Magnified: "Incredibly weird, absolutely riveting music. Some of the most arresting vocal harmonies I've encountered, ever. A study in how to create an incredibly eclectic, orchestrated, pop-masterpiece."
MUSIC WORTH REVIEWING calls it: "A roller-coaster ride of moods and sounds. Dale Turner is an eclectic genius full of lyrical delights and intelligent musical sensibility. Musically, he's kind of a mix between Ben Folds, Sufjan Stevens, and Björk. But on many tracks, frankly, he’s better."
MAGAZINE says: "Dale Turner has one of
those voices to which the ear is just naturally drawn."
MUSE says: "Truly brilliant vocal harmonies.
Turner's voice ... will remind you of classic Geoff
Tate (Queensrÿche) and Jeff Buckley, yet has
a signature all its own that transcends [being] pigeonholed."
MAG says: "A fresh & original piece of
work here ... You really never know what to expect
from track to track—some beyond-weird voice effects,
unorthodox mode of tempos ... Get ready to hear something
INDEPENDENT MUSIC AND MEDIA
calls Dale: "A true visionary ... who really gives
meaning to the word 'independent.' There is a lot
to be said about a man that forges his own destiny
... who has the audacity to take on any idea his mind
can conjure up. A true one-man band."
(U.K.) says: "Colourful vocal delivery
and precise instrumentation ... Evokes thoughts of
Mr. Bungle ... Fans of Mike Patton should perhaps
VETERANS OF ROCK says: "Dale Turner
is one of this decade's finest singers. This guy is
fearless! A first class recording.""
GUITARINSTRUCTOR.COMcalls Dale: "An ace guitarist with a vast
CAVE says: "If you are looking for something
in music that dares to be original, then the music
of Dale Turner fits the bill."
says: "Inspired and sophisticated. A distinctive style
with quirky, inventive imagery and unexpected dissonance,
unusual arrangements and a jazz/prog rock-influenced
phrasing. An overall showcase of obvious talent on
MUTANTMALL.COM says: "The
first time I listened to [Mannerisms Magnified],
I was frozen in time and space as it took over my
mind. I forgot where I was. Dale's music is complex,
tricky, and unusual ... yet ... at the core, you can't
escape the beautiful vocal melodies and well-crafted
acoustic guitar. It's alive, like music should be."
(Carl King, a.k.a. Sir Millard Mulch, a.k.a.
Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk)
CRASHING SYMBOLS says: "At
track two ["Bad Seed"] I feel as if I've started listening
to the late Jeff Buckley's Grace. It's not
so much the way Turner softly but effectively vocalizes,
but even the intricate, mellow guitar work that so
hauntingly marked "Grace" and "Last
Goodbye" are apparent here. This isn't a case
of an artist simply imitating Buckley, but rather
showcasing his passion for such an influence."
says: "This guy is a musical genius who locked
himself away for a few years to deliver you this catalogue
of music. It's highly worth an hour of your time to
peer into Turner's world."
THE ARTIST: The
former West Coast Editor (1996-2007) of the now defunct Guitar
One magazine, in addition to working as a performing/recording
musician and producing engineer, Dale Turner is an instructor at
Hollywood's Musician's Institute (where he teaches Jimi Hendrix-style
rhythm guitar improvisation, music theory/ear training, sight-reading,
and rhythmic independence for the singing guitarist), and author
of 50+ instructional books/transcription folios (his latest being
Power Plucking - A Rocker's Guide to Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar).
He also writes a monthly acoustic guitar column for Guitar World
magazine, and is featured in their LICK OF THE DAY App. for iPhone/iPad.