The Dirty (or Clean) Dozen

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

From Classical to Jazz, Country to Rock, Metal to Hip Hop, Bluegrass to Folk, Blues to Funk, R&B to Pop and on and on there are only 12 notes used for every form of music.  

As musicians, we must make each genre sound authentic. Within each genre there are layers upon layers of variations, so with only 12 notes, how do we change the same notes to fit into each genre?   

RHYTHMIC PHRASING We can do this with Rhythmic Phrasing: Changing the groove and phrasing the notes to fit the new groove while always honoring the chord structure. We honor the chords following the same basic theory rules that Bach composed from - which are the same rules of composition McCartney, Hank Williams, James Brown, Sting, Little Richard, etc followed.

I recently had an opportunity to teach this point over in the PFM private Facebook group. Jason Michael was the very first student to enroll when we launched three years ago. Over these past three years, I have been guiding Jason and the class towards building original vocabularies as well as developing their ears so they can copy anything from other instruments.


I saw where Jason was voicing a desire towards learning Rock/Metal licks. I asked him if I could challenge him, and with his permission I gave him a lick using a 12-note pattern.

This is what unfolded:  At first, all I said about the 12 note lick was to phrase it as 8th notes. Jason had no clue where I got the lick or what type of feel it was played over. His first video was with a train beat and the 12-note riff sounded very Country.

After telling him how awesome that interpretation was, I revealed where I got the lick. It was from a Steve Vai performance at a NAMM show as he was checking out gear. He played those notes using his whammy bar and I loved it.  So now I asked Jason to create a  Metal Groove and throw on some distortion - and to listen to some Jeff Beck for his emotional use of the whammy, as I had done way back when. When I first heard Jeff Beck, it changed my use of the pedals. Here's a clip of that influence in my own playing. With a clean tone, listen to the longer slides mimic the whammy bar sound:


So, with Jason's permission to share with you, this is Jason Michael's final version:

Notice how he is utilizing the lessons about composing ideas as well as nailing the original 12-notes. It sounds like a song. I told him he is now on a path towards originality. He has made this teacher very proud! - Paul


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