Achieving More Versatility

For me it's always fun to play over different styles. Although my main style is progressive rock/hard rock, I really enjoy playing Funk, Fusion, R&B, World Music or Latin, for example. Back when I was studying guitar at Munich's Guitar Institute (MGI) we had all these style courses (Bebop, Fusion and Blues) and you had to adjust to these styles.

Every style has its own elements and your playing definitely improves when you play different styles because you incorporate elements of them into your playing. This will make your playing more interesting - you will have more different colors to offer.

For example, if you normally play nothing but the blues, by playing some country and jazz you will be able to spice up your blues solos with some chromatic or altered scale jazz licks or a bit of country flavor - your playing will offer more "surprises" and contrast to the traditional tonality, and your "classic" playing will sound even better alongside some different colors. Just listen to Robben Ford for a perfect example of what I just described.

Now let's prepare to achieve more versatility. I want to show you how I did it (and still do). All you need is a metronome, a tape recorder with a build-in microphone, a few cassettes, an amp, a cord and your guitar.

Now record a playalong with a click track in a style you normally don't play. Make sure to:

  • Place the metronome far enough away from the microphone to balance the volume well with the guitar (you need to hear both) - if it's too near it will be louder than the guitar because you won't be able to crank up your amp like hell.
  • Write something like "Playalongs" on the cassette so you won't search yourself a wolf next time you want to jam to styles.
  • Count before you start playing the rhythm guitar so you will know afterwards when it starts and get into timing and tempo and have a nice opening lick.
  • Look at the clock and record at least 3 to 4 minutes (it's annoying to rewind all the time because the playalong is too short).
  • Resist the temptation of varying too much in the rhythm pattern - it will get in the way of your soloing afterwards when you improvise over it.
  • Try to be as good in time as you can - imagine to play with some great musicians - in other words: groove!
  • Try to dial in the most authentic sound for the particular style (that you chose) on your amp you can get - it does not matter if it was expensive - work with what you have and get the best out of it.
  • Use no effects in this method, don't get caught up in adjusting some delays or something - concentrate on your playing and your tone - this way nothing will distract you - you have all you need already there.

Here are some suggestions of styles you could try: Jazz, Reggae, Bossa Nova, Samba, Pop, Funk, R&B, Bluegrass, Country Ballad, Classic Rock, Heavy Metal, Punk, Death Metal, Fusion, Grunge, Folk...try everything - it's fun!

Try to be as true to the style as possible, including the guitar sound! You can also vary the tempo and time signature (3/4, 5/4, 7/8, 11/8...). In 4/4, you can make the metronome clicks be on 2+4, 1 2 3 4, or 1+3. The difference in feel is amazing.

You might try searching through magazine columns or books, or simply listen to some records with that style for a few hours to get into the vibe and observe the elements that make the style work.

After you finished recording the playalong, let's rewind and choose a sound on your amp you think is great for soloing over that style.

Now improvise over the prerecorded groove and try to play stuff that fits the musical style. Concentrate on being creative and expanding your musical vocabulary! You could try to play with just two arpeggios, or one scale, or target tone concepts, or just on one string...the possibilities are endless.

Unless you already played a lot in this style, I'd have to say that you can't expect to impress James Brown or shame Keziah Jones with your funk style after one hour of trying funk but one thing's for sure: The next time you jam with your band and your bass player spontaneously jumps into a funky groove you will have a greater vocabulary of funk chords and licks and you will feel more comfortable in jam sessions. You can react on everything. You can play with everyone!

Imagine being on a studio session with the producer requesting a rhythm and blues groove in E. Would you know what you would offer him? Would you feel comfortable with your performance? Maybe you can still make it more interesting or groovy. Think about what the producer might want to hear and please him. You can prepare for almost every situation with the tape method.

Make up complete situations! Imagine being called in to do a studio date for Richard Marx or Phil Collins where you get paid to play a solo (OK, I know it's not very probable but that doesn't matter). Write and record a groove in his style and play over it. Imagine actually getting recorded, and try to see and be true to the composers' vision of the tune.

When I do studio dates, I try to make the vision of the composer a reality. For example, when I'm playing studio gigs for EBM/Dark Wave Band "Danger de Mort" (and believe me, I don't listen a lot to Dark Wave) I try to play something that fits the mood and is atmospheric (OK, OK - if possible, I try to put in some hot licks as well...).

If you're writing and the mood calls for a country lick you will be able to concentrate on the music instead of having to worry about how to play a country lick. For example, when I was composing "No Good Deal" from my second instrumental album "Law Of The Jungle", I wanted to express a drug trip and the downfall of a junkie. Nothing could express the trip better than a spacey-Pink-Floydish-clean-strat-neck-and-mid-pickup-out-of-phase-with-delay-and-phaser-style while the downfall called for wicked trippled-seven-string-guitar-with-massive-distortion-death-metal-section. So that's what I did.

I wish you all the best for your musical progress. Please check out the soundclips of my solo CDs "Law Of The Jungle" and "Keeping The Balance" and visit my homepage Don't hesitate to contact me by e-mail with any questions or comments.

Martin Behr is a guitarist from Germany who has studied at M.G.I. (Munich's Guitar Institute), released two solo CDs, and stays busy with studio sessions.

His latest CD is entitled "Law Of The Jungle", which documents his command of many musical styles, his great technique, his tone and feel.

Martin Behr