Happy New Year

Greetings

A pretty eventful (and not always in the best ways) 2017 has finally come to a close. I am pretty psyched about what 2018 has to hold… At the moment I’ve stayed super busy with gigs in town, and have upgraded some of my gear, which I’m loving!

I’ve always been into collecting/learning about various pieces of musical equipment, specifically in how it relates to the way I like to play & amplify/effect my sax. On August 5th of last year, my entire Mid-City New Orleans home was flooded with nearly 2 feet of water due to a freakish storm and poor city water management. As a result, some of my gear was ruined, specifically some pedals and my main sax mic so I decided to sort of revamp my setup.

I’m now armed with a new wireless mic that I love and some new pedals that I think simplifies and smooths my affected tone out even better than before (and who doesn’t love being wireless on stage?). I’ll get in to some of my new toys in a future post but I wanted to share something I’ve been trying to work on for some time, but now have to re-learn with slightly different gear.

I’ve always being able to make harmonized sounds to go along with my sax – one of the limitations of the instrument is that it can only (in most senses) one pitch at a time. Even from a young age I was drawn to other instruments chiefly because they’re able to make different types of harmony. I’ve tried numerous ways of achieving this in a live situation to varying degrees of success, but since my last harm pedal (the Eventide Pitchfactor – a super pricey but insanely-abled harmonizing pedal) flooded and got ruined, I was looking for some new options.

Electro-Harmonix came out with a new whammy-style pedal last year and rolled out an updated version of that pedal back in October, the Slammi Plus pedal. This thing is AWESOME. In addition to having a really clean harmonized tone (with guitar, keys, sax or whatever), the fact that it’s all housed in a Cry Baby-wah-type body was super advantageous in terms of saving space on my board and ease of use.

One of the more obvious features of a harm pedal (and one that works well with a sax or other horn) is the ability to harmonize 3rds in various ways … up, down, minor, major. This could essentially be a way to simulate the sound of a horn section, or to just give some more interesting color to a melodic line. The problem with achieving this in a pedal is that a lot of more basic harm pedals is that they allow only for either diatonic harmony (you have to specify a key or scale from which the harmonizer draws from) or fixed harmony, meaning it will always generate, say, a major 3rd up (C-E, D-F#, etc), and does not stay fixed to a certain diatonic center.

There are significant limitations to either one of these approaches. If you stay only in diatonic harmony, it is not easy to continue playing over, say, a key change in the song, or trying to superimpose colors outside the given harmony. If you stay only in fixed harmony, the same problem occurs but from the other way around; you might be able to play the same line in a new key, but if you deviate from that line the harmonized note may or may not be in the chord and can result in bad clashing-tones. As a result I started to look for pedals that had some sort of switch that would enable me to alternate between, say a minor 3rd and a major 3rd. There are several pedals that do this but the trick is now you have to learn how to integrate pedal rocking into your playing to stay within (or outside of if you wish) the harmony. We’ve spent so so many hours just teaching our hands/fingers to work together to make a melody but now involving feet to go along with it is considerably difficult!

However, my belief is that with practice this can be learned just like anything else, and I’ve made this little video to demonstrate what I mean.

I’ve programmed the pedal (quite easy to do for a pedal this versatile) to generate a minor 3rd up from my pitch in the heel position, and a major 3rd in the toe position. I figured running scales and exercises trying this would be a good way to start. I’m not perfect at it yet but it’s a fun thing to play with. The basic idea with the major scale would be (numbers in degree of the scale) 1-toe, 2-heel, 3-heel, 4-toe, 5-toe, 6-heel, 7-heel

Here is an example of how this might be applicable while in the midst of a song. This is a little jam groove I came up with in an effort to practice this concept. The main key center for the song is C minor but in the middle moves up to Eb minor. In this case, a diatonic harm pedal would not really work as the C minor scale has several notes that clash with Eb minor (D, G, and C depending on the kind of minor scale). In addition, if I simply had a fixed major 3rd harmony, it would severely limit the notes I’d have to choose from and hinder how melodic the line can be.

For a horn player, having a pedal like this in your arsenal can vastly expand the possibilities of how you approach what you play. Just because I know I’m not limited to one note, or to one scale, etc. I can approach a solo, for example, knowing that I can use the harmony to build tension when it’s appropriate. Having a deep understanding of basic scales is an essential tool for making this work!

 

I hope to get into some more detail about the Slammi pedal in the future. It is quite a fascinating device no matter the instrument.

I’m hoping to use this space a bit more in the future so please come back and see what I’ve been up to. My calendar page keeps a pretty well-updated list of all the public gigs I’m doing so I hope to see you out at a show soon!

 

Kyle

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~ by kylecrippsmusic on January 6, 2018.