Watch the Pitch Modulation online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from Funk Fission
As I mentioned before, the subtle nuances in your playing, play just as important a role as your main techniques. These next few segments focus on what I think is the ultimate nuance—pitch modulation. While these ideas are related to the ever-so-important concept of vibrato—a subject of paramount importance that will not specifically be addressed in this course—I use the term pitch modulation as a blanket term to cover all methods of stretching pitch. Whether it is slight pulls on the strings to achieve organic sounding 1/4-step bends for a more vocal-like quality or full-on whammy bar fueled excursions, pitch modulation will add an essential element to all aspects of your playing. I use these variations in pitch to add some hipness to whatever I’m diggin’ into and to break up the onslaught of complex, syncopated 16th notes.
My first introduction to these ideas was when I was a kid taking guitar lessons at the now defunct Silverton Music in Toms River, NJ from a great player and wonderful motivator named Frankie Cicala. Ironically though, it wasn’t with Frankie’s hands that I discovered the elastic world of pitch manipulation, it was Tommy Lucia—the guy behind the counter! I used to beg my mother to drop me off early for my weekly lessons so I could watch and listen to Tommy—man, could he could play! While I was completely enamored with his chops, which he had for days, there was also this certain something he had in his playing that really got me. When Tommy played he added all these cool underlying, subtle elements—chicka-whacka’s that preceded chords, the rock-approved glissandi before he played a low register riff, pick scrapes before crushing open position E5 chords, the squawking and/or screaming pinch harmonics, etc. But, the more I watched and listened to (and bugged) Tommy the more I realized one of the most important components were these minute fluctuations in pitch. Sure he could dive bomb with the best of them, but it was the not-so-obvious inflections that were the real deal. Whether it was chords or single notes, fingers or the bar, these little jerks and pulls on the strings at just the right moment made everything Tommy played sound so cool.
This next pair of segments specifically focuses on the elusive 1/4-step bend, or “pull” as I call it, where after playing a note or chord you slickly pull the strings up or down stretching the pitch ever so slightly sharp. Look closely at all the figures in the corresponding chart to see the curved line next to the note/tab number used to notate this type of pitch modulation. It’s important to note that these pulls, for the most part, are never released back to pitch. With regards to single notes, these pulls can be played by any of your four fret hand fingers at any time you feel the need to inject them in your lines. When it comes to chords, the 1/4-step pulls allow you to pull pitches in varying degrees as compared to the whammy bar, which tends to alter pitch in more relative degrees. Take note: I tend to only pull the lower portions of the chords allowing the highest note—the note most ears grab onto—to stay on pitch.