All Shook Up

I’m playing guitar on a show this week, for the first time in a while, and thought I’d write a little about it…

All Shook Up is (as the name suggests) based on those classic Elvis songs, so it’s all excellent rock’n’roll and country-type stuff. I’m playing Guitar 1, with Laura Moretto playing Guitar 2. In addition to bass, drums and keys, there’s also a 6-piece horn section (3 reeds, 2 trumpets and a trombone).

The Guitar 2 part switches between electric and acoustic, but Guitar 1 is all electric. I’m taking the opportunity to leave my Variax at home (well… beside me as my emergency spare…) and play the gig on my Yamaha Pacifica 311MS hot tele. On the amp/fx side things are pretty simple too: I’m using a single patch (“clean tube” amp into “American 2×12” cab) on my GNX3 with slapback delay always on, tube screamer for solos, tremolo for a couple of melodic bits and wah-wah (not period at all, but marked in the score at a few points… wonder if I’ll end up ignoring that by the end of the run…)

As far as the part is concerned, it’s mostly in nice enough keys, with familiar riffs (almost always in swung quavers!) There are a couple of solos to get my teeth into (think snappy double-stops, faux pedal-steel bends etc.).

A couple of weird things about the parts… they’re the first band parts I’ve ever seen that explicitly say it’s okay to highlight, make notes in pen etc. because they don’t expect them back! Wouldn’t it be great if other publishers did this… or even just incorporated our corrections into future hirings of the parts! The other comment is a bit less positive: they seem to have deliberately put the page turns on double bars, which means changes in style, tempo, key, solos etc. come as a bit of a surprise!

So, we’ve got the dress rehearsal tonight, and we open to an audience tomorrow… more thoughts on this during the week…

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Rent

There’s quite a bit I could write about the Guitar 1 part Rent… so this is a quick taster…

Several points in the score call for a capo: the ‘support group’ motif that crops up a few times, “On the Street” and “What You Own”. In fact, these can all be played pretty easily without the capo, and as the parts are still written at ‘capo-less’ pitch, trying to play them with a capo is pretty confusing!

Children of Eden

In Stephen Schwartz’s musical “Children of Eden” there is a song near the end of the second act called “The Hardest Part of Love”. This lovely song is built around an acoustic guitar playing “rhythmic lead”, with pedal tones at the top over a moving bass line. However, the score puts the song in the key of Gb, which makes this approach difficult if not impossible…

My first strategy was to put a capo on the 2nd fret and play the song effectively in the key of E. This sort of worked, but didn’t quite feel right, and got more difficult in the latter part of the verse. Really, the song wanted to be played in G; my guess is that it was originally written in G, but somewhere along the line was transposed down a semitone to better fit the performer’s vocal range in one of the early professional productions. But you can’t use a capo to DROP the guitar by a semitone…

You COULD bring a separate acoustic pre-tuned down, or if you only had one acoustic, you could play it tuned down but with a capo on the first fret for the rest of the show…

Because I was already doing the show on my Line 6 Variax 300, my solution was to use the Workbench software to set up a custom patch based on the Gibson jumbo acoustic but tuned down by a semitone.

There is another song in the score (I forget which one) which is in F# and could be played with a conventional capo on the 2nd fret. As I’d already built the patch for the previous song, I used this to tune everything up by a tone.

Blogging for musical theatre guitarists everywhere

Welcome to my new blog, specifically to do with the guitar in musical theatre.

I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 25 years, and in the past 5 years I’ve been working a lot in (amateur) musical theatre as a guitarist and as a reeds player (I also play clarinet, various saxophones and a bit of flute). I’ve noticed that the guitar parts often need some thinking and creativity to play them succesfully. I also noticed that no-one around the blogosphere (or in the guitar magazine community) really discuss the guitar in musical theatre or often in the context of reading sessions of any kind (the exception to this was the wonderful long-running column by LA film/TV session legend Tommy Tedesco that ran in the US Guitar Player magazine for many years… a stroke ended his musical career in 1992 and he died in 1997).

So, this blog will be a place to put some of these things right, spread the word about the particular disciplines of playing guitar in musical theatre, and share some of my insights into how to actually perform some of the guitar parts I’ve come acros…

Enjoy, and please send any feedback, comments, tips or suggestions…