ShortRiffs — January 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the January release of ShortRiffs. Here are a few items that happened last month and early this month. I will try to make this a monthly feature. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should explore. I ALWAYS appreciate your feedback, tips and comments!

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My holiday season was Great this year. Lots of fine times, great food and I played a gig! It was awesome. A three-hour gypsy-jazz Christmas party at a very private and exclusive club. It was a fun time and we were received very well from both the staff and patrons for our gypsy music, jazz standards and holiday songs. Highlights of the night included Django Reinhardt’s Danse Norvegienne, Troublant Bolero and Douce Ambiance, a great speedy version of There Will Never Be Another You and two holiday favorites, My Favorite Things (which is in our regular rotation) and a song I brought in, The Ventures’ version of Sleigh Ride, which was also a big hit and sounded great. Totally played it like a boss and of course the other guys are just killin’. We had a clarinet player sitting in with our usual guitar presentation so the mood was even more jazzy and festive. Good Times!

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One thing that happened at the gig that wasn’t so great was that a new microphocation system I had purchased, the Audio Technica Pro 70, completely died on me. I had my suspicions that something was wrong because I went through the first battery in like an hour. Then at the end of our last song all of the sound cut out and it was just distorted noises. Some kind of short? I dunno. I had high hopes because a few bands I like use this mic and it seems to get a very dedicated acoustic sound. It was all good until it failed. I’m trying to get it replaced/repaired and see what happens. Obviously, I can’t recommend at this stage, but am holding off final judgement. If you want to hear what it should sound like, listen to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet:

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I heard the new Rolling Stones record everyone was talking about, Blue and Lonesome. This review here is pretty typical of what people are saying about it. Personally, I didn’t hearfingers much to get excited about. I didn’t even like the song choice that much. I’ve listened to Sticky Fingers pretty regularly over the last few months. What a great record! Easily one of their best. Also some choice cuts from the ’65 years: I’m Free, I’m Movin’ On, Gotta Get Away, Doncha Bother Me and some later 70s stuff like When the Whip Comes Down, Shattered, Waiting on a Friend and Little T and A. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly. There was an insolence to how little they tried and/or cared. Look at the sleeve of Sticky Fingers; Mick is barely awake. That was part of the attraction. Now they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. Multi-millionaires probably shouldn’t be trying to play the blues anyhow. If I was 70 and had their money, I would be on a beach 24/7/365.

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HOLY BRAZEN THIEF BATMAN! IS THAT A GUITAR IN YOUR PANTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME? THIS IS GOING TO MAKE MITT ROMNEY SUPER SAD! Yes, the one liners just write themselves don’t they? Here is the video. Looks like he stashed it in the drum department first, which may be as impressive as getting it out of the store. Someone wasn’t paying attention. He must’ve really WANTED that Strat!

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Greg Lake passed away in December. That’s a shame, although by all accounts he had been battling cancer for awhile and was probably worn out. He was a prog rock legend given his associations with the awesome King Crimson, the very peppy and pyrotechnic, ELP, briefly in the very 80s Asia and as a solo artist. Although he was frequently a bass player, his guitar sound at times really captured the vibe of Olde English. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page also had this down. It’s almost like they could call up the sound of the Middle Ages anytime they wanted…and this was before there was such a thing as a Renaissance Fair. I very much liked his compositions From the Beginning, Still You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man. Any of those three songs was a favorite for acoustic guitar guys to play back in the 70s/early 80s and I still play From the Beginning from time to time.

Also, Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers just passed away this week. Wow! This is a sad story. He and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) were a drumming force to be reckoned with and had a lot to do with why the Brothers were the standard for that brand of rock for so many years.

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yoko1I found this Dick Cavett with John and Yoko DVD as a giveaway a few months ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to part with it. *eyeroll* Watching it (and by that I mean “skipping around alot”) was an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I remember seeing one of these interviews back in the day when I was a a young lad because I had discovered The Beatles, but I certainly did not understand the whole early 70s Lennon thing. I’m not sure anyone understands or agrees on the facts any better today, but this DVD is a good window into the attitudes, habits and opinions of a very wacky time. The fact that people used to smoke cigarettes on television talk shows is probably hard for younger generations to believe. Dick Cavett had a lot of great musical guests on his program(s), including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

This 1971 interview occurred at the height of the Lennons’ post-Beatle political period. There are great moments of John Lennon wit; he was a funny, smart and interesting guy sometimes. Yoko… if you strip away the weirdness she always tries to affect, she is interesting and intelligent. They are both nervous and their relationship was probably very contentious at times as they constantly talk over each other. The persecuted artist complex thing gets old though; they did put themselves out there in some very silly situations (Bed-Ins, Bagism) and John had already seen the negative aspects fame can engender. I’m not sure if they thought everyone was going to love them for their radical and sometimes half-baked politics and if they did, why they thought that. The fact that a lot of the political/overly personal music was pretty jyterrible didn’t endear fans or critics to the new John Lennon either. For all of their revolutionary proclamations at this time, by the late-70s the couple would transition to what would become button-down 1980s Yuppie culture. Though elements of this culture are prevalent in modern American society, the whole shebang can be a bit like Beetlejuice too. I can’t help but think of Delia Deetz and Otho whenever Yoko talks about her “work“. As I discovered while researching for the post on Pete Townshend and The Who, both Pete and Yoko were influenced by Gustav Metzger and his concept of auto-destructive art. Pete destroyed guitars and Yoko made this noise on the while jamming with Chuck Berry.

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I’m not a John and Yoko hater and don’t put any stock in those “tell-all” books that were written by people who supposedly knew the details of their relationship. Once their relationship became the thing, everything else came second. I don’t know who is to blame for that, if anyone. I don’t really care about musicians’ personal lives… and never have. I could read about the recording sessions, equipment, touring or composition all day long, but how John and Yoko or whoever else related to each other is a big <a href="https://www.youtubeIt's like reality television or supermarket tabloids. So overall I didn't find this that interesting, but it was free and there were some funny moments.

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Finally, here is something fun and scientific. The legendary Bobby McFerrin shows the power of expectations and the Pentatonic scale. Isn’t this great? This short clip is part of a much longer presentation, Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus This is an interesting talk and is related in a way to things I’ve discussed with the This Is Your Brain on Guitar posts, here and here. A great primer to start the new year for all aspiring musicians and improvisers out there!

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Coming very soon — Christmas music and GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

Happy 2017

Posted in Education, Equipment, Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

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I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is looking forward to the New Year! It will definitely be one full of many challenges. I think we can agree on that, yes? No matter what comes along, music will help with anything the universe has in store. We’ve all seen how powerful the effects of music are on people in all kinds of situations and certainly I make it a point to never forget how healing the ability to play, listen and appreciate music is. Definitely one of the major joys of our existence on this planet. Never forget or take for granted!

Also, in the spirit of new beginnings, I am rolling out another type of Dispatch, one that will allow me to cover an assortment of small items within one post. It’s the same kind of formula as the GuitarSongs series, which I was really enjoying and will pick up again in a few weeks. ShortRiffs will cover everything going on in my life, music-related and not. The Gimme Shelter and Vital Van posts, which are full of music, but also full of other stuff, are two of the most popular posts I’ve done and I want to do more of that kind of writing. The name is a word play on the (guitar) riffs we all play combined with the old slang of “riffing”: a short piece of speech or writing that develops a particular theme or idea. Ideally, that is what I will attempt to do and maybe even have a thread that will snake through a few or several of these posts; like an old-time serial.

As always: I totally appreciate everyone who reads, comments, and sends notes. This blog is almost 6 years old with 116 posts and 50,000 visitors. I never thought it would be the thing it is today and I have only my awesome readers to thank for that! Take care and keep playing!

BreakTime

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2016 by theguitarcave

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I hope people are enjoying the GuitarSong series. A fair amount of people seem to be reading these posts and I’m happy with how it’s going so far. The Edward Van Halen GuitarSong post was #5 and I’m pretty sure I will do another on Edward later. But first I have other entries planned: Holiday in Cambodia (East Bay Ray), Anji (Davy Graham, Paul Simon) and The Prophet Song (Brian May). Also, I’m also going to do an updated post on Night and Day as played by Django Reinhardt and others (including Stochelo and Jimmy Rosenberg) in the Gypsy Jazz style. As I’ve said before, Django’s 1953 version of Night and Day is what made me want to play jazz. It has oodles of 50s guitar cool, a great feel, great sound and the brilliant driving, rhythmic vibe of any of the GuitarSongs I have chosen so far. I played the first couple choruses in this post from 2011 HERE, but I play the song so much better now so I hope to provide video again. Should be fun! The post I did originally on Night and Day has gotten a lot of views lately and I also received an email asking me to expand on it, so I will.

But first, I’ll be taking a break, probably for the rest of the year. Everything is cool in my world, but there are some other things I have to focus on for a few months. So I’ll look forward to being back in 2017! I hope everything is cool in your world too. Take care, enjoy the Holiday Season, and keep playin’!

GuitarSong #5

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The fifth installment of the GuitarSong series profiles Edward Van Halen playing his ass off on the very hot-rodded I’m the One from Van Halen 1; a defining milestone in guitar history if there ever was one. Half of the tunes on this disc would be a suitable choice for a GuitarSong, but I’m the One will do just fine. While Van Halen the player certainly deserves a lot of credit for this album, Van Halen the band: David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen have also earned all of the cred necessary to be deemed rock legends. They each brought an indispensable quality and talent to a group that has brought many a great rock moment to fans for the last 40 years.

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Van Halen (1) exploded onto the airwaves and into the arenas of the USA in the early days of 1978. Released in an era when many thought the guitar and rock music was dead and buried, or at least very passé, the kinetic nature of the band, powered mainly by Edward Van Halen’s incredible guitar, proved the cynics wrong and charged to number 19 on the Billboard Charts. The album has since been awarded RIAA diamond status (meaning it has sold more than 10 million copies). As I have previously written here, Edward, unlikable though he may be at times, can legitimately be called a guitar genius because: there was everything before… then there was this album… then everything was different. Have a listen to the above live version of I’m the One. If anything, he plays it better than he did in the studio and for most people, especially rock players, that would be flat-out impossible. The studio version is directly below.

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You can get Edward’s bio from these links. It’s a very interesting immigrant success story! A couple of things: a) Edward and his brother Alex are the sons of a swing era jazz musician from the Netherlands; a guy who never stopped playing but also never achieved any success until he guested on Van Halen’s Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now on the Diver Down album in 1982. The brothers were already playing music together before they were in high school. A whole lot of Van Halen’s first TWO discs were already written before the band was signed. The band worked their asses off to write, practice and gig and even as late as the 1984 album, material that had been in the set list during the club days (House of Pain) was reworked and released. Here is a GREAT YouTube upload of almost all of their early demos. Listening to this it’s easy to see (and hear) how the band was destined for greatness. So much great material and a top-flight guitarist who had already outgrown the LA clubs.

Another very important factor was Edward’s habit of building and destroying guitars in search of the sound and look that he wanted and the legendary Van Halen tone; the world-famous Brown Sound. This has been a topic of speculation and conversation since the late 70s and often the least helpful person in the discussion was Mr. Van Halen himself. He deliberately misled readers on his setup on at least a few occasions and he was obviously very protective of his “brand”. His explosive introduction to the rock guitar world led to everything about him and the band being copied almost immediately; from the look and sound, to the playing style (especially with regards to tapping) to the guitar with one pickup/one knob combination. The “Frankenstrat” that Edward created was the result of a lot of misses with guitar building, but it did the job and is now in The Smithsonian. Along the way there was pain, frustration and lawsuits, but that’s rock and roll. Edward was really ahead of the curve as far as “Branding” and the modern world though. Everything about the look, style and sound of what he did was completely self-created. It wasn’t completely new because very few things are, but he did put the whole package together in a rather spectacular way. (David Lee Roth probably deserves some credit as well because he recognized Edward’s talent very early on and was very instrumental in creating an image for the band and everyone in it.

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At the most basic level, what makes Eddie Edward is that he swings like a mofo. This article (which is very good) from the Van Halen News Desk suggests that Van Halen is playing some kind of wildly fun and exciting West Coast bebop on I’m the One, although not in a Jazz style per se. The kind of fluidity and bluesy phrasing along with the effortless integration of rhythm, riffing, soloing, and two-handed tapping throughout the song is dizzying. All of Eddie’s guitar moves: speedy scalar passages, two-handed tapping, (pinched) artificial harmonics, deep bending with fast vibrato and wide stretches on the left hand, are in this song and are part of the Eddie Van Halen technique.While it has long been known that Edward’s guitar hero was Eric Clapton and his closest predecessor in style was Jimmy Page (whose pull-offs on the solo for Heartbreaker inspired the tapping Edward would later perfect) I would guess that growing up listening to his dad practice swing music on the clarinet and saxophone was also very influential. That would explain the bebop-sans-jazz feel wouldn’t it? On the isolated guitar track for I’m the One, which you can find (HERE), Edward’s great right hand rhythmic swing and incredible blues feel is really apparent. It drives the whole song. I’m the One is a hi-octane boogie in the same vein as Hot For Teacher and the main riffs of both songs are great rock from the blues tradition. Edward really melds these riffs together very well and the fact that he can play them very clean at a ripping tempo is what makes the whole thing exciting. Slow this tune down and play it more laid back fashion and it could be a ZZ Top tune (a band VH used to cover). Anyone who has ever seen Van Halen live knows Edward is always tapping his foot — he has incredible timing and rhythm, which combined with a great right hand, are qualities you will find in any top-flight guitarist.

Finally, another thing I always liked about Edward was how he used effects; almost like a chef or line cook, sprinkling and seasoning here and there to spice up a dish. Mostly what one heard in the early days was the Phase 90, Flanger and/or Echoplex, but they would produce great effects in just the right places. Here is a Guitar World article on Van Halen and MXR. One interesting tidbit from the article (read the whole thing for detailed info on EVH and pedals):

Earlier this year (2015), in preparation for the 40th anniversary of MXR, its parent company, Dunlop Manufacturing, took a survey to learn how guitarists perceive the pedal maker. One of the questions asked was, “Which player do you associate the most with the MXR brand?” The respondents chose Eddie Van Halen more than 60 percent of the time. Notably, the runner-up received fewer than half as many mentions.

Here is probably the most succinct definition and exposé of the early VH sound. This is good too. If you’re looking to try to replicate, beware of anyone who over-complicates either of these two links. Really it all comes down to a Strat-style guitar body with a Gibson/Seymour Duncan PAF pickup, a Marshall Plexi and some MXR pedals. Oh…and you have to be able to play like him and most people can’t. Don’t ever underestimate how much one hands (and brain) affect the sound. They do. A lot!

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Here is Doug Steele’s series on I’m the One. I’ve recommended his video lessons before and he definitely does it right and gives you the breakdown you need to be able to get this song together.

Here is another lesson on I’m the One from Steve Townsend

Here is the Songsterr tab of I’m the One.

A fairly good illustration of the Van Halen pedal sound. I do not like another one that I won’t name and won’t link to suffice to say that they do a lot of videos on different players’ classic sounds and I don’t think any of them are very accurate.

Eddie Van Halen at The Smithsonian. Yes he is an institution. All Hail!

Always lots of good stuff at the Van Halen News Desk!

Edward certainly doesn’t always interview well and this Billboard article is no exception. I’m not sure why he has such a low opinion of Michael Anthony these days. That certainly wasn’t always true. There are some interesting factoids for guitar players in the interview though.

A somewhat funny hipster critic review of Van Halen 1. I’m linking to it because when you get right down to it, EVERYBODY has to admit this album completely rules!

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Hearing Van Halen 1; I’m the One, Running With the Devil, Feel Your Love Tonight and On Fire and then seeing the band live a bunch of times was a big influence on my life and musical career. I learned some of the tunes, played some of them (On Fire, You Really Got Me, Ice Cream Man) live in bands and musical projects over the years and even patterned my live sound after what I interpreted from the sound of this album and song. I used the Phase 90, Flanger, and though I had an Echoplex I used an analog delay pedal only because it was more reliable and easier to carry around. I still approach playing with this same gusto that I heard on this record and in some ways though Van Halen’s sound and abilities evolved over the years, there is a focus on some of these tunes, including I’m the One, that he never topped. It’s just a perfect rock rip from beginning to end. Edward Van Halen put great guitar to great songs and created an impressive body of music and in the process made the guitar an instrument people wanted to play again. Because he was so good at what he did, for a time in the 80s he completely personalized what a guitar player was. Though many years have transpired since then, with all of the attendant highs and lows that come with life, Edward can still play like a badass and I’m the One is still a great GuitarSong and a great example of virtuoso rock guitar.

GuitarSong #4

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The fourth installment of the GuitarSong series profiles Soundgarden and their very trippy song Head Down from the 1994 Superunknown album. Their best selling disc, Superunknown followed the band’s breakout hit Badmotorfinger, was a success critically and commercially, and is still regarded as one of Grunge Rock’s defining records (along with Nevermind, Ten and Dirt)

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Way back in the 80s Soundgarden was formed in Seattle and came of age and ability around the same time as many other well-known bands from that legendary scene: Tad, Skin Yard, Green River, Mudhoney, Nirvana. Like the other Seattle rock denizens, Soundgarden was influenced by equal parts punk rock, rock, pop and metal-ish bands like Black Sabbath. In the early days they were very crude and their riffs were big and huge, but in 1991 Ben Shepherd joined the band on bass guitar and brought with him a whole new approach for writing and recording. Coincidentally, around the same time singer/guitarist Chris Cornell really started to come into his own as a songwriter and these two events completely redefined the Soundgarden sound. By the time Superunknown was recorded many of the rough edges had been polished, the songs were more sophisticated and the sounds much improved. In essence, amid all of the heaviness, they created a modern-day Revolver with plenty of melodic Beatle-esque moments, including this tune.

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While Kim Thayil, lead guitarist of Soundgarden, was responsible for some of the heaviest riffing from the early 90s, Chris Cornell is also no slouch as a guitarist and has written and played some of the best guitar the band has produced. One of the key ingredients that bassist Ben Shepherd brought to the band was an interest in open guitar tunings and the ability to write a good guitar song and though he wrote the music and lyrics to Head Down he plays bass on the song. So I would imagine it was very much a group effort to get Head Down together, with everyone, including drummer Matt Cameron, putting in a solid effort. As Chris Cornell was quoted as saying:

“Head Down” was a complete demo Ben had played for me, where he’s singing on it and it’s very similar to what ended up on the record. That was an amazing moment because it was one of those times when I felt like, “This must be what it was like to be in the Beatles,” where one of the band members just walks in and drops a song like that ­— it’s already done and you don’t have to do anything, and you already know it’s going to be one of the best songs on the album.

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First — tuning for the song is CGCGGE. This jangly, somewhat psychedelic, Zepplin-y tuning is also used on the great tune, Burden in My Hand from the Down on the Upside album. The great thing about this tuning is that it has a drone type sound on (what would normally be) the D through the high E strings, but the low (what would normally be) E and A strings function as the power sound of a dropped-D tuning. So you can have these very jingly-jangly, bluesy, psychedelic high riffs and melodies and combine that with a very heavy bottom riff all on the same tuning! Also the “dropped” nature of the top strings means those riffs can be played with one finger and given that the tuning is C based and the song is in the key of C, the open/12th fret dynamic applies (as it would if you were in concert tuning and playing in E).

As you can see from videos, Cornell begins the song with a clean sound and Thayil reinforces the riffs with a more overdriven guitar sound. Then they just build it up to POUND level it until the middle. Interestingly, tuning to C was/is a favorite technique of Stoner Rock bands (Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Acid King, High On Fire) because the riffs be so HEAVY and simultaneously it is a lot easier on the vocalist as it is two steps down from concert tuning. The other aspect is the de-tuned treble strings have a slurry/jangly sound that is pretty great; definitely not suited for everything, but on a tune like this, it works! After one of Soundgarden’s patented “big” riffs (minute 2:50) Thayil, Cornell and Shepherd all play counter melodies in the middle before returning to the main riff. The band wasn’t really known for this kind of dynamic jamming, but they look like they’re having fun and that’s one reason why I picked it as a GuitarSong. I’ve never played Head Down in a band situation, but I have played it myself and it’s a fun tune to play! It’s also a good beginner to intermediate style song and you can certainly take it a lot of places because the tuning and structure have that “openness” that allows for experimentation.

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Here is the midi-tab for Head Down.

Here‘s a list of the song’s YouTube play-a-longs.

Here‘s a cool interview with the band.

Here is the Unofficial Soundgarden Page. I used to visit back in the day and it’s still online. It is very informative and it has a guitar tab section that is pretty good.

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Soundgarden was one of my favorite bands from the 90s and I think Superunknown is one of the best albums of the past 25 years. There are certainly many tunes off of the disc that one could pick as a great guitar song because it’s full of great moments. As I said earlier, I think Head Down is a really good “learner” tune for those who don’t have the abililty yet to play some of the more difficult stuff and also it’s a song that can be played just as easily on acoustic or electric. It also gets one in shape to deal with open tunings, which as I have written about in the past, is a great way to expand your guitar abilities and also broaden your songwriting. Once you are comfortable in this tuning you can proceed directly to Burden in My Hand. Some of the other open tunings are easier (My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live) some are a bit more esoteric (4th of July, Like Suicide, Mailman). But once you are comfortable you can navigate easily and maybe even make up some of your own. That’s what they did!