Fresh Repertoire: guitar lessons & more


My ongoing ‘Fresh Repertoire‘ series for Guitar World, plus a few primers on various global topics: India, West Africa, Spinal Tap…




• ‘Fresh Repertoire’ lessons •

My ongoing series for Guitar World, roughly themed around adapting non-Western and ‘non-guitaristic’ music to the fretboard. Naturally, it’s an ever-growing list – below are all the GW lessons so far, along with a few conceptual breakdowns published elsewhere in a similar vein. Go in any order (unlinked=released soon):

Guitar World lessons

Guitarless breakdowns



Jazz walking basslines for the guitar: how to really make them groove [Guitar World]


“There are few things in music more satisfying than a perfect walking bassline. In this lesson we explore the sounds of classic jazz walking bass, learning how to adapt the ideas to the fretboard and use them for new harmonic-melodic inspiration.”


Ornamented walking line in Am:




West African grooves: fascinating rhythms from Mali, Ghana, and beyond [Guitar World]


“This lesson gives a rhythmic taste of two extraordinary traditions from West Africa – the kora harp playing of Mali’s jali lineage, and Ghana’s polyrhythmic Ewe drumming….We will also explore some of the human lives, routines, and beliefs behind them. Cross-cultural borrowing must always come from a place of open-minded respect, and musical ideas will only yield their full blossom when connected to their real-world contexts.”


Reworking melodic ideas from the kora harp:




Awareness of the zeroth fret: incorporating open string textures, chords, and scales [Guitar World]


“When soloing higher up the neck, the open strings tend to get forgotten. We rarely ‘look the other way’, missing out on a fascinating array of musical opportunities…This lesson will build your open-string awareness, allowing for new textures, patterns, and chord voicings.”


‘Harpifying’ a lick in A Dorian with open string tones:




Indian classical ornamentation: how to integrate ‘alankar’ into your melodic playing [MusicRadar]


“Indian classical music has a distinctive ‘singing’ melodic feel. Unique bends, slides, vibratos, and legatos capture the expressive flexibility of the voice, and then extend it far beyond what can be humanly sung…’Alankar’ is an ancient Sanskrit word, referring to any pattern of ‘musical decoration’.”


‘Alankarising’ a melody in Raag Bageshri:




Ultimate Tuning Guide: introducing the ‘impatient meditation’, a fresh, flexible approach  [Guitar World]


“The whole tuning process can even be re-conceptualized as a ritualistic act of mental, musical, and manual preparation. Or just a time to chill out before you play. Either way, it’s a lot more than just winding some pegs…The ‘impatient meditation’ aims to maximize flexibility, efficiency, and tonal precision by running through four concise ideas, which, taken together, allow us to balance the quirks of the guitar with the demands of the music.”


Melodic ‘check phrases’ to maximise accuracy:





Odd-time songwriting grooves: five fresh rhythms based on classic tracks [MusicRadar]


“Basic counting isn’t the problem. Master percussionists are never really doing this anyway – rhythmic flow must be intuitive…It’s more about exposure than anything else. Bulgarian wedding guests have no problem dancing in 11/8 – it’s easy if you’ve grown up doing it. If you listen to enough irregular grooves then they’ll sink in.”


Radiohead-style chordal movement in 10/4:




Basics of Hindustani raga: adapting some North Indian classical ideas to the fretboard [MusicRadar]


“What are the basics of Hindustani music? I think these are the most important first concepts for Western instrumentalists: raga (a melodic ‘recipe’ to guide improvisation towards particular moods), tala (‘clap’, or rhythm cycle), and alankar (ornamentation and ‘musical decoration’).”


Short ‘gat’ melody in Raag Bageshri:



Pic RJ narrow



The power of threes: Hindustani rhythm’s ‘tihai’ resolutions [Darbar]


“Exploring the angular rhythmic resolutions of the North Indian tabla, and examining why patterns of three have such a distinctive power to tell concise ‘stories’ in music, art, and literature.”


Self-referential ‘triple tihai’ in Raag Janasammohini:




Guitar tuning in fine detail: introducing the ‘impatient meditation’ [RJ]


“This is the detailed version of the Ultimate Tuning Guide article I wrote for Guitar World in late 2019. Here, I lay out a straightforward, combinational approach to tuning, showing how it builds on the imperfections of various existing methods and unpicking some of the fundamentals of string vibration along the way.”


Overtone series played up the 6th string:




Shakti’s ‘remainder bar’ rhythms: unpicking some Indo-jazz masterworks [RJ]


“Along with their successor band Remember Shakti, they have a real mastery of keeping a strong groove in irregular time signatures, and not allowing high degrees of rhythmic complexity to make patterns too difficult to follow. There is one particular trick they use to achieve this – centered around accenting the ‘oddness’ of the final bar in each cycle.”


Fast-counted 27 cycle (as 8-8-8-3) in Shakti’s Isis (1976):




Exploring Raag Chandranandan: modern creations, metaphysics of raga [Darbar]


“Ustad Ali Akbar Khan created Chandranandan in the 1940s, naming it hastily during a cigarette break and soon forgetting how to play it – but it is now regarded as a modern classic. What does its curious tale tell us about the nature of raga itself?”


Excerpt from Ali Akbar Khan’s Raag Chandranandan (1964):



Presto 28.05.2016

Raga Jungle: Turntables, Tablas, & Talas [RJ]


“Jungle music and Hindustani classical tabla playing have some really striking similarities…intense 16-beat percussion loops, with rapid and unpredictable drum syncopation…regularly hit 160-180bpm, and overall instrumental textures are similar: busy percussion in the mids, ambient harmonic colour floating in the background, and a clearly distinct level of superdeep quasi-melodic bass. Both styles feature heavy drops…”


Comparison – Magnesium Flares vs. ‘Lineage’ Tintal Solo:




In-depth Carnatic primer: South India’s mellifluous, mathematical music [Darbar]


“Carnatic music’s unique wealth of ideas deserves far more global attention. Here’s a detailed primer on South Indian classical music, featuring sounds and stars from the past and present. Covers Carnatic history, concerts, vocals, instruments, percussion, ragam & talam theory, modern innovators, going global, and branching futures…”


Demonstration of ‘nadai’ – rhythmic level-jumping (4 to 5):




Puzzle: can you reach James Taylor’s microtonal ‘stretched tuning’ without a tuner? [RJ]


“A couple of the Reddit questions touched on whether you’d need a digital cent tuner to reach his tuning, which I thought was an absolutely fascinating idea. In practice – yes, you definitely would. But there’s a curious workaround, meaning that (strictly speaking) you could do it with strong ears and no electronic technology at all. It’s pretty much entirely impractical, but the puzzle is intriguing…”


[…not braved trying to record this one yet]


George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!


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