It’s hard to beat the Doobie Brothers for their contribution to the California sound. Even to this day, the opening riff (in 12/8 time) by Michael McDonald for “Minute by Minute” evokes memories of moving to the Golden State when this album was first released.
I decided to have some fun recreating the title song as a quartet. But for today’s lesson, I’d like to focus on the guitar work, in which I’m playing the melody using octaves.
Octaves are an essential technique for jazz, but for some reason, this style is rarely used in rock or pop music. Oh, maybe once in awhile Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn have a little fun with them, but that’s about it.
Jazz cross-over artists such as George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and a few others really brought it to my attention.
Now, once you’ve heard the song in the context of my “quartet,” let’s break down what I’m doing to achieve the octaves.
This song is a great introduction to octaves because the riff is so simple and repetitive. Here’s a video of just the guitar part, playing the introduction, the verse and the chorus.
I play each section once, and then slow it down to half speed. And I’ve included a chart so you can find exactly where I am on the fretboard.
A couple things to note:
I’m not using a pick, but instead plucking the two strings in a “pinching” style.
There is, of course, a string in the middle of the two notes for the octave, and this I mute by just lightly applying pressure with my index finger.
Although I don’t indicate it on the charts, I’m often “sliding” into the notes from the fret below or above. This is a classic jazz style of playing, and gives the melody a nice laid-back feel.
By the way, the overhead view of the piano should give you a good idea of how to play this riff on the keyboard if you are so inclined.
As always, I hope this lesson helps and if you have any feedback, please let me know!
THE FIRST INSTRUMENT I can remember picking up was a harmonica at the age of 4 years old. But my passion for music began in earnest when I wrote my first song, in 1965. Composing has been a passion — maybe even a compulsion — of mine ever since.
I have had prolific years and sparse years, but I have written every year since then. This collection represents a baker’s dozen of these songs, covering every decade from the ‘60s up until the ‘20s.
And finally, here are the individual songs. I’ve divided them into two volumes. Volume I is a bit more jazz and avant garde in style. Volume II contains more traditional or what might be considered modern “classical” music.
I hope you enjoy them. Here’s a little description of each:
Key: A minor
Influence: Chick Corea
The first time I heard Corea was probably around 1973. I instantly was drawn to his fusion of traditional jazz and Latin rhythms.
Lost & Found
Years: 1974, 1989
Key: Eb major
Influence: Joni Mitchell, Larry Coryell
This began as a guitar riff in 1974. I had taught it to a friend, then forgot all about it. Years later, we reunited for a jam session and he played the chord pattern. I named it “Lost and Found” on the spot and finished it up on piano that year.
A Sample, But Not the Real McCoy
Key: Db major
Influence: Joe Sample, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock
Based on the influences of these three great pianists/composers from the era of Miles Davis through jazz fusion, so you can probably guess how I arrived at this title.
In a Roundabout Way
Key: G major
Influence: Vince Guaraldi
Just a little ditty that I am pretty sure was inspired from the “Peanuts” TV specials when I was a kid. The piece is in 6/8 time, which has, to me, a feeling of a circular motion. Hence, the title.
Influence: Thelonius Monk, Scott Joplin, Jo Ann Castle
Key: F major
An homage to the ragtime and honky tonk piano composers and players.
If Only We Two Weren’t Lonely, Too
Key: C major
Influence: Bill Evans
This song pays tribute to the cool jazz ballads of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, in the style of tunes sung by Frank Sinatra or played by Stan Getz.
Key: B major
Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann, Ludwig van Beethoven
In the rural Connecticut of my youth, there was a favorite hiking trail with a cave known as “Devil’s Kitchen.” Being a good Catholic altar boy at the time, I christened a nearby rock to balance out the forces of good and evil. That memory came to me when writing this piece.
Key: C minor
Inspirations: Keith Emerson, Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky
One of my first “serious” piano pieces. So named because the left hand pattern resembles a spider or maybe a crab in motion.
Key: E major
Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann
Just a little ditty in ¾ time, reminiscent of Chopin’s etudes and Shumann’s “Kinderszenen” collection, which I studied quite thoroughly (but never truly mastered) in my youth.
Key: Ab major
Influence: Beethoven, Chopin, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach
For most of this tune, the two thumbs are crossed over one another resulting in a battle of the hands audible in the countermelody.
Key: D major
Influence: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel
I had always imagined this piece as a theme song for a children’s show. The title refers to constant modal changes that leave the melody unresolved.
To the Top of Stony Hill Road
Key: Gb major
Influence: Claude Paolini, Sr.
Reminiscent of the carefree days of my youth, walking up the hill to meet my best friend. This song is in the key that is principally played on the black keys and is derived from a little ditty my Dad taught me on the piano. The introduction is the chorus of the first song I wrote at the age of 10.
A Hymn for Her
Key: A major
Influence: Stephen Foster, Paul Simon
I’ve always been fond of traditional American folk music and hymns of the 19th century. Sometime in the ’90s, I had picked up a Lutheran Hymnal in a used book store. Playing through that provided the inspiration for this piece.
All proceeds from this album’s sales and streaming will be donated to the NAACP.
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