Using a Cut Capo

I don’t think that I can express how much I love the Kyser Short-Cut capo. I love it too much, using it way more than probably should. I just adore the full, open-tuning tones you can get.

Here’s the theory: the short-cut gives your guitar the essence of an open tuning when placed on the second fret by fretting only the 2nd through 4th strings. The advantage if has over an open tuning is that you don’t have to learn any alternate fingerings; the chord shapes from the key of D translate. However, there’s some alternate open shapes I really like, and I’ll detail them below. Be aware, since the Short-Cut will be on the second fret, playing D shapes will translate to the key of E.

A few months ago, I was installing new WiFi access points in our church the day before I was scheduled for Sunday worship. While terminating the patch panel, I sliced my fretting hand open on my Electrical Shears. Due to the simplified chords available with the Short-Cut, I was able to get through set without much pain.

Here’s a chart of the open voicings I use a lot, they’re a great getting started point:

One final tip; if you need to transpose up from E, you can make use of a standard capo and then place the Short-Cut two frets up from the standard capo.

Have any questions or tips, hit me up in the comments or social media.

Cords and Cable Types

“I can’t wait for your article on cables”, my friend replied.

“You can’t be serious”

“No, honestly!”

Despite his reaction, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone else who’s going to be excited about cords and connectors, but you’ve got to know this stuff. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with technical details or impedance formulas; just the basics you need to get the job done.

As an example, let’s look at an instrument cable:

The common instrument cable is a shielded, two conductor, 1/4″ TS (tip and sleeve), unbalanced cable.

Okay, that sounds complicated, but stay with me. It’s pretty easy to understand when it’s broken down. Let’s break it down.

Shielded vs Unshielded:

There’s a lot of outside forces that attempt interfere with your signal. Radio frequency can leach into your instrument signal through the cable and will introduce noise. Shielding is a metal jacket that lives under the outer rubber jacket that surrounds the wires inside the cable to prevent the interference. Most instrument cables are shielded, speaker cables are not. With this in mind, (among other reasons) speaker cables should not be used as instrument cables.

Conductors:

The number of conductors indicates how many wires are inside the cable. If you cut open an instrument cable and through the shield, you’ll discover two plastic coated wires. Two wires are required to circuit, a signal wire and a ground wire, so an instrument cable can send one signal. The ground wire can be shared, so a three conductor cable can carry two signals (Think stereo – Left and Right Signals),

The connector (Plug or Jack):

The first thing in that list is the connector: ¼” refers to the width of the plug. The following connectors are common:

 

⅛” – Typically found on headphones and consumer devices. Casually referred to as an “Aux Cord”. Two or three conductors.

 

 

¼” – Typically found on instruments. Two or three conductors.

 

 

XLR – Typically found on microphones and DI Boxes (1) Three conductors.

 

 

RCA (Phono) – Typically found on recorders and playback devices, typically in a stereo pair. Two conductors.

 


Speakon  – Found on Unpowered Speakers

 

 

Still with me? Cool! Just a couple more to get through…

TS Vs. TRS

⅛” and ¼” cables come in two variants, Tip Sleeve (TS or Mono)  and Tip Ring Sleeve (TRS or Stereo). TS connectors work with two conductor cables and can send one unbalanced signal, and TRS connectors work with three conductor cables and can send two unbalanced signals or one balanced signal. You can differentiate between the two by counting the insulating rings on the tip of the connector (See above image). One insulating ring = TS, Two = TRS.

Balanced Vs Unbalanced

This one is more complicated. Simplified: unbalanced cables can pick up noise and hum across long distances and shouldn’t be longer than 20’. Balanced cables send an extra copy of the signal to prevent interference and can be run for hundreds of feet. XLR cables are the balanced cable of choice, but ¼” TRS cables are sometimes used as well.

Most analog instruments put out an unbalanced signal. If you need to run a long cable out of an unbalanced instrument you’ll need to convert it to a balanced signal using a direct box to convert the unbalanced signal to balanced. A ¼” to XLR cable should almost never be used as it can not convert the signal to balanced. (2)

There’s still discussion of gauge and impedance, but this should be enough to be confidently grab the right cable when you need one. Hit me up in the comments section or on your social media platform of choice if you have any questions.

  1. Until researching this article, I had know idea what XLR stood for. It’s Canon (X) Series, (L)ocking connector made with synthetic (R)ubber.
  2. Unless your instrument has a ¼” TRS Balanced output. Then, this cable is acceptable. The Taylor expression system pickups are the most notable example of this configuration.

A Guitarist’s Guide to Surviving the Bass

Bass players always seem to be in short supply. There’s not a lot of glamor in mostly playing one note at a time, and bass solos are seldom appreciated.

I recently had the privilege of sitting in on bass for a worship night at a church where a friend leads worship. While I’m not an amazing bass player, I’ve really come to look forward to the opportunities I get to play bass. I’ve come up with a few strategies that have really helped me move from just surviving the bass to playing it confidently.

Bass is a “One Note at a Time” Instrument

Unless you’re Victor Wooten, you’re only going to be playing one note at a time. No chords, period. Additionally, to get the cleanest tone out of the bass, all of the other stings of the bass should be muted with your hands to prevent sympathetic resonance. Without muting the strings, the bass will sound muddy and undefined.

When I was in the School of Worship, one of the most valuable instrument techniques I learned was from a bass lab that was taught by Gordon Rustvold. He employs an unusual method of muting the lower strings using his thumb on his right hand, sliding it up and down as needed. You can see an example of this in this video. Then mute the higher strings with your fretting hand.

This Pattern Will Get You Through Most Songs

 

I’m planning on talking about Nashville Numbers in the future, but here’s a quick rundown. In the major scale, each note is assigned a number. Based on the key of the song and the number you can work out the chord. The table below indicates the type of chord for each number and gives an key of C example of the system. Most simple songs make use of the 1, 4, 5, 6. Knowing how this translates in each key is useful for translating this pattern to the chord chart in front of you. I’ve marked 3 and 7 as passing chords. 90% of the time, you’ll use these as passing notes into the next note in the scale (7 to 1, 3 to 4). Additionally, I’ve marked these notes with the alternative inversions that are more commonly in worship songs.

 

Nashville Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chord type (major key) Major

Root

Minor Minor

Pass

Major Major Minor Diminished

Pass

Example – Key of C C Dm Em

C/E*

F G Am Bdim

G/B*

* Indicates alternate inversion

Know what chords pertain to each number in each key. Know where these numbers fall in the pattern. When this is second nature, all you need to know is the root note and you can track with most songs.

Use Pitch to Simulate Dynamics

Bass sounds best when it’s consistently present. With this in mind, most sound techs will compress it quite a bit, killing most of the volume dynamics of the instrument. You can simulate dynamics by playing in higher octaves for softer parts of the song and lower octaves for louder parts of the song.

Neck Position Affects Tone

I’ve found it easier to get a consistent, warm tone by playing up around the 5th fret. When possible, I try to stay up in that range.

Follow the Kick

The kick drum sets the pulse of the song. While you don’t need to play a note with every kick, it usually makes a great starting point for the rhythmic elements of your playing.

Be Confident in the Changes

The Bass really should be only melodic instrument that occupies the low frequency, or your mix will sound muddy (1). However, when this is applied, if you make a mistake, miss a note, or arrive late, there’s nothing that going to cover it up. Know where you’re going and get there in time or it’s going to stand out.

Getting to the Note is Just as Important as Being There

After proper muting technique, this tip as made the most impact in my playing. The sure sign of a insecure bass player is the transitions between the notes. Unless it’s for rhythmic effect, try to eliminate gaps between the notes you’re playing. If you’re staying on the same string, slide into note. If you’re changing strings mute the previous note at the same moment you play the next note. Clean transitions are secret to sounding confident; know where you’re going and have a plan for getting there.

Have any bass tips for me? Leave them in the comments!

  1. Keyboardists, leave room room in the low end. Anything you add down there will just make the low end sound muddy. I made this mistake for years. Don’t be like me… Now, I’ll even highpass my pads and synths to leave room down there.

Tune Your Guitar

Tune Your Guitar

This is the musical equivalent to having to tell someone to wear deodorant. There’s no way to say it that isn’t awkward.

You need to tune your guitar.

There, I said it.

Maybe you never learned… Maybe you know something is off, but have no idea how to fix it… Maybe it sounds okay to you (but not to everyone else)… Maybe you have an aversion to blinking red and green lights…

Regardless, you need to tune.

Okay, the awkward part is over. Let’s talk about what we need to do to get this done.

Step 1: Invest In a Quality Tuner

Oh, it’s going to get awkward again.

Yes, you can tune by ear. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to play with a by-ear tuner that had anywhere as good an ear for tuning as they thought. A computer will always beat your ear. Tuning by ear should be be reserved for emergencies only.

I’m a big fan of the Boss TU-2 (now TU-3) pedal tuner. In addition to using as a tuner, it’s also a really convenient mute switch and great for getting your guitar unplugged at the end of the set if your sound tech isn’t paying attention.*

Make sure you pick up a power supply for your tuner. I’m willing to risk a 9V battery for a couple hours, but anything longer than that, it gets plugged in to power.

*As an aside, don’t leave your guitar plugged in when you put it on a stand. You’ll kill the battery in the guitar and will stress the cable. Mute with your tuner, pull the cable and hang it on the height adjustment knob on your mic stand.

Step 2: Plug Your Guitar Into the Tuner

While we’re discussing awkward things, let’s just get all this out in the open.

You really should have an undersaddle pickup in your guitar (sound hole pickups don’t sound great). Miking a guitar should be reserved for emergencies unless you have a really good reason; it’s too hard to get consistent tone and level with a mic. Undersaddle pickups can be purchased and installed for around $250. I like Fishman, but I’m not dogmatic. Consult with your local, reputable guitar repair shop or luthier.

Because you have a pickup in your guitar, plug that guitar into the tuner and then plug the tuner into the DI. Leave that tuner in line until you’re ready to pack up.

Step 3: Tune the Guitar

Know the names of each note for each sting before you attempt this. I once watched a worship leader break not one, but two guitar string because he just kept cranking the tuning pegs up and up until, trying to get a green light, without paying attention to the note readout.

E A D G B E

Commit that to memory. Also, know what your tuner does to designate sharps/flats. The TU-2 displays a small dot next to the note to indicate the note is a sharp. Don’t make the mistake of tuning to a sharp.

Start with the low E and work your way to the higher strings. Play each note and give it a second to settle in. Pay attention to the note display on your tuner to make sure you’re at the correct note for the string. If the light is to the left, the note is flat, to the right, it’s sharp. Shoot for the green light in the center.

Always tune up. if the string is sharp, tune down until you’re slightly flat and then tune up until the string is in tune.

Once you have tuned all the strings, start at low E and check them all again one more time. As you progress through the running process, it can cause the previously tuned strings to go a tiny bit flat.

Play a chord and check it by ear. If it sounds good, you’re all set.

See, that wasn’t too bad.

Good talk.

My Tuner Died, What Should I Do?

Have a smartphone? There’s great tuner apps that will get you out of a bind. I’ve use Guitar Toolkit on the iPhone and GuitarTuna on Android.

… but my phone is dead too!

Seriously?

Okay.

Fine.

I say this under great protest.

Tune by ear.

If you have a pianist, have them play each guitar note and tune to that. I find it helpful for them to play the root note and an octave up simultaneously. Then use the 55545 method to make sure the guitar is in tune with itself.

Using Pad Loops in Live Worship

The reality of leading worship for a small congregation is that, unless you have an exceptionally musically inclined group, you’re typically not playing with a band. If you lead from a guitar, it can feel a little empty. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a simple tasteful way fill some of the gaps is the use of Ambient Worship Pads.

Pads in Theory

Ambient Pads or Drones take the place that would typically be filled by a keyboardist or an electric guitar player by creating a subtle texture underneath the song. Unlike more structured loops, they have no rhythmic elements or structure and work under any chord in the family of the selected key, so you don’t need an in-ear monitor system to play to a click. Play the file for the key the song is in, and the pads fill in the gaps.

Pads In Practice

I first purchased a set of these pads and experimented with them at a marriage conference before my hiatus. I found them very effective, but when I started leading again, I didn’t want to ease back into it without pulling out all the stops right out of the gate. This last Sunday, I got brave, precariously balanced my laptop on a music stand, and gave it a go again. It looked ridiculous, but it got the job done for a first attempt.

Using the pads filled in gaps and glued the songs and the set together; I felt more free to play less, knowing the pads would carry the simple or quiet parts. The unexpected reaction was most surprising; I noticed that our congregation was singing louder than I have noticed in the past. I believe that this might be attributed to the fact that the pads I used sat in the same frequency range as the human voice, lending a feeling of fullness in that range. I think that gave the congregants and the confidence to sing without feeling like they might stand out or distract those around them.

Setting Up Ableton Live

Triggering pads for playback during a set is actually more difficult than I expected. I thought I had simple requirements:

  • Playback of a File Starts with a Computer Key or MIDI Note Trigger
  • Ability to Define Multiple Start Triggers to Start a file that Corresponds with the Key of the Song
  • Playback Starts with a Fade In
  • Playback of Any FIle is Stopped with One Specific Computer Key or Midi Note Trigger
  • Playback Ends with a Fade Out

Ableton Live is typically my go-to for this type of application; the intro version of the software is only $99 and it’s very easy to assign playback of files in the session view to computer keys or MIDI events. However, for a application that excels in live performance, ending a the playback of an audio file with a fade out is surprisingly difficult. It’s easy to trigger the audio files as clips in the session view, but struggled to find a way to stop them with a fade out until I found an explanation on a forum(1)  that advised some clever routing and use of dummy clips.

I have two audio tracks in Ableton. In the session view, I drop the pad audio files into the clip slots on track one. Track one is routed to track two instead of master. In each of the clip slots on track two set to Monitor In, and on each of its clip slots except for one at the end, there is an empty audio clip that only contains a fade in automation. Then, when a scene is triggered, the audio clip in track one starts playing, and the automation clip in track two fades the file in. In my very last scene there is no audio or stop button in track one, and track two only contains an empty dummy clip that fades out the playback. Then, each of my scenes are set up to be triggered by either a computer key or MIDI event.

In place of Ableton Live, there are iPad apps that can perform the same function. I had used WT Director for aforementioned marriage conference, but it looks like the app hasn’t been updated in years.

My next goal is to replace the laptop-on-music-stand hacked together rig with a small Ableton controller like the Novation Launchpad Mini.

Where to Get the Pads

There’s several worship resource sites that sell packs of pads, typically a pack will contain a file for each key in the chromatic scale. That said, I wasn’t very enthused about what I found out there; most of the pads I found were just a few notes held down on a synth for 20 minutes. That’s fine, but I wanted something with more texture and a more organic sound, so I recorded my own, based on electric guitar swells. You can download my pad set of all 12 keys for free.

Of note: pad loops are are designed to work in major keys, however when playing in minor keys, typically the pad loop for the relative major will work. (2)

  1. http://loopcommunity.com/blocks/software/ableton/fading-out-loops-in-ableton-live-9
  2. “Each minor tonality has a relative major. This major relative is located a tone and a half above the minor tonality. For example, one tone and a half above A is C. Therefore, the relative major of A minor is C major.” http://www.simplifyingtheory.com/relative-minor-major/