Adam Levy's 30 Songwriter Sideman Licks You Must Know
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Instructor: Adam Levy

Rhythmic, Chordal and Single-Note Lines for Accompaniment

Supporting a songwriter as the sideman in a duo or band situation is an artful skill that can be very challenging. Usually, there's a rhythm guitarist - perhaps the singer - playing fairly simple chords and rhythms. Your job as the sideman is to color and embellish the performance of the song without distracting the audience's attention.

Adam Levy's collection of 30 Songwriter Sideman Licks is an essential, versatile vocabulary of rhythm parts, fills, and single-note lines for anyone performing or recording in a sideman capacity.

Adam, a highly acclaimed singer-songwriter and solo recording artist in his own right, has also performed and recorded as a sideman with dozens of the most popular singers and songwriters in contemporary music including Norah Jones, Amos Lee, Ani Di Franco, Lisa Loeb, Tracy Chapman, and Meshell Ndegeocello.

"Over the course of my career, I've been fortunate to play in a variety of musical styles and settings with many popular singers and songwriters. This collection features 30 rhythmic, chordal, and single-note approaches that you can apply in countless settings as a sideman."

Adam will demonstrate each of the 30 licks over a rhythm track and then break them down emphasizing the techniques and creative approaches in play.

Cascade: Lick 1 - "Capoing halfway up the fretboard is a great way to get up and out of the way of another guitarist (the singer/songwriter, for example) who's strumming chords in open position. That's the primary tactic here. Remember, Capo VII means the chord shapes seem to be in the key of G but you're actually in the key of D, a fifth higher. Also, this lick is spacious - leaving plenty of room for other elements in an arrangement (voice, bass, drums, and so on)."

Bottom Feeder: Lick 2 - "Aside from using a capo to chime above another guitarist's part, another useful move is to burble below. A baritone guitar will get you there, of course. If you don't have one handy, drop D tuning may do the trick. Think "low and slow," as lower-pitched melodies naturally speak more languidly than higher ones."

Busy Body: Lick 3 - "Sometimes the job of a side-person is to add energy to the overall groove. If someone is already holding down the basic chords with a steady pulse, a rhythmic second part like this one can keep things moving. Utilizing 2 and 3-part voicings - in the middle or upper-middle register - can keep the harmony from becoming cluttered."

Middle of the Road: Lick 4 - You'll use the capo again for this one. At Capo V, you're using shapes from the key of A minor but you're actually playing in D minor, a fourth higher. The voicings here are more pianistic - especially on the minor chords in measures 1 and 3. Do your best to let everything ring as long as possible within each measure."

Bottom Feeder Rides Again: Lick 5 - "You'll be using drop D tuning again here to render faux-baritone melody lines. This one sounds extra cool with a bit of tremolo (from your amp or an effect pedal). Another vibey move would be to use palm muting for a more percussive attack."

Motion Sickness: Lick 6 - "In this lick, you'll use chordal hammer-ons and pull-offs to enliven triads. It's an approach not unlike that of songwriter/guitarist James Taylor - though he usually plays in major keys and this is minor. Staying off of the downbeat (beat 1) in measures 1 and 3 helps keep this part out of the way of other elements, even though it's fairly active."

Inverse Proportion: Lick 7 - "No capo is required for this lick, though you will climb high to keep clear of open-position territory. All of the chords here are inversions - which means that they don't have roots on the bottom. For example, the G triad in measure 1 has B as its lowest note. Knowing such inversions is an essential skill for a secondary guitarist because you'll always have several voicing options in any given register."

Wide Angle: Lick 8 - "Unlike the previous lick, which features closed position triads and other tightly clustered voicings, the chord shapes here are spread wide. The effect is more orchestral than guitaristic. You can make it sound even more so by using a volume pedal (or the volume control on your guitar) to swell into each chord."

Busier Body: Lick 9 - "Though many of the licks in this course were crafted with atmosphere in mind, playing spaciously isn't always what's required. This lick moves along, driven by a couple of simple strategies. In measures 1 and 5, you'll alternate G major and A minor triads (chords I and ii of the key of G major). Similarly, you'll alternate D major and E minor triads in the final measure (the V and vi chords of the key). Using just two triads, rather than all of the available diatonic triads, keeps the harmony focused. The other activity in this lick (in measures 2, 3, 6, and 7) comes from using hammers and pulls to animate familiar triad shapes."

All of the Above: Lick 10 - "As the name of this lick implies, it's a hodgepodge - featuring many of the techniques you've already seen in this course. Inverted triads? Check. Chiming upper register voicings? Yep. Hammered triad? Well, just one."

Ring Tone: Lick 11 - "Lots of space here. Lots and lots. Some of that comes from the use of actual musical rests. (What a concept!) Also, the chord voicings here are partial - nothing is spelled out literally. It's important to keep in mind that just because the indicated harmony is, say, C major, you don't have to play all of the notes of a C major chord, nor must you limit yourself to only those notes. Omit the 3rd. Add a 7 or a 9. Focus on what sounds great, not what's "right"."

No Harm, No Foul: Lick 12 - "The secret recipe for this lick is just two ingredients: natural harmonics (at the 12th fret, using the 1st and 3rd string) and a rhythmic displacement technique called hemiola. The hemiola here works like this: a beat-and-a-half (an eighth note plus a quarter note) motif begins on the and of beat 1 in the 1st measure and repeats throughout - naturally sounding off-kilter as it rarely lands on a predictable downbeat."

Sliders: Lick 13 - "Sometimes, when there's already plenty happening within a musical arrangement, the 2nd guitarist's job is to play something so simple that it's barely a part at all. Don't fear the dumbness. Commit to it! Simple parts - in a limited register, using just one technique (glissando, in this case) - can really bolster a track. It's also worth noting here that this lick generally moves on the back part of the phrase, preceded by a 2-beat rest. That lends the music an unhurried quality."

Steady as She Goes: Lick 14 - "Sometimes a pulsating rhythm part is what the music needs - but a straight-eighth groove feels too square. In those cases, you can give the music a subtle swagger by accenting the eighths in an asymmetrical one-measure pattern. Here, the pattern is 2-3-3, achieved by varying the chord slightly."

Off Kilter: Lick 15 - "This lick is nearly identical to the previous one. The two differences are that the action here begins on the "and" of beat one in the 1st measure and there are tied eighths bridging every subsequent bar line. Play this lick a few times, then go back and play "Steady as She Goes" again. Can you feel the difference? Is it subtle, or not so subtle?"

Streamlined: Lick 16 - "When three-note triads sound too rich or thick for the track, try two-note dyads. Which two? There's no sure-fire formula. Experiment with different intervals, in different registers. In this lick, the distance between the lowest note (B) and the highest (F#) is relatively small. Such limitations are an important consideration when crafting parts."

Swing Captain: Lick 17 - "This lick is built on clichés - using rhythm patterns and chord shapes typical of the jazz/swing style. While you probably shouldn't rely on idiomatic clichés too often, sometimes the most obvious choice really is the best choice. Note that the repeating rhythmic pattern (in bars 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6) is two measures long, not just one. That helps maintain a laid-back feeling."

Boom Chang-a-Lang: Lick 18 - "Like our "Streamlined" lick, the harmony here is spartan. The chord changes are implicit, not explicit. Also, note an A note that is the top note of every chord in measures 1-7. This sort of common note is called a "pedal tone". It may be the uppermost voice, the bottom, or even in the middle. You can see this in measure 8: The top note of each chord is descending while the bottom note is a static A."

Micawber: Lick 19 - "Micawber, as you may know, is the name of Keith Richards' Telecaster. The Rolling Stones guitarist keeps this iconic Tele in a five-string variation of open-G tuning (G, D, G, B, D, low to high). Most players prefer to use all six strings for open-G, with a low D on the bottom. That's the tuning for this lick and the two that follow. Just as Richards might do over this progression, you'll make familiar triad shapes a little more colorful by employing easy-to-grab maneuvers that twist the harmony just enough. Reminder: The Capo II indication here means you'll be fretting in the key of D, while the music will sound in E - a whole step higher."

Gee Whiz: Lick 20 - "Open G tuning is used differently in this lick. It's more folksy than Stonesy. With widely spaced chord voicings and doubled high D pedal, your guitar may sound a little like a mandolin - with its fifths tuning and doubled strings. Faux mandolin is a great trick to have up your sleeve."

Would That It Were so Simple: Lick 21 - "Capo IX - way up the neck. (Feels like G, sounds like E.) This lick is another small and simple one. Don't underestimate these sorts of ideas. They come in handy when an arrangement is already a little cluttered in the upper and lower frequencies but still needs some movement in the middle."

The Power of Two: Lick 22 - "In this lick, you'll use dyads to suggest more harmony than is actually played, and will revisit the asymmetrical eighth note concept from "Steady as She Goes" and "Off Kilter" licks. The grouping here is 3-3-2."

More Power: Lick 23 - "This lick is nearly identical to the previous one but the grouping is 3-2-3 this time."

Power Mower: Lick 24 - "One more variation: 2-3-3. Subtle shifts such as these may seem inconsequential but they're not at all! When crafting a rhythm part that will be synchronous with a drummer, another guitarist, or another musical element, it's worth trying lots of subtle rhythmic variations until you find one that feels just right."

Flower Pedal: Lick 25 - "As you learned earlier in this course, a pedal tone can be in the top voice, the bottom, or the middle. In this lick, the open 3rd string (G) will serve as a pedal point throughout the shifting harmonies. As noted, do your best to let the notes of each chord ring. Don't inadvertently mute notes by lifting a finger too soon or by bumping a string with a stray digit."

Low and Inside: Lick 26 - "This lick also uses the open 3rd-string as a pedal tone but the chord voicings lay in a slightly lower register. The differences between this lick and "Flower Pedal" are subtle. When honing a guitar part for a recording session or live gig, it's important to be sensitive to such nuanced variations."

High and Outside: Lick 27 - "Yep - it's the same chord progression one last time. Here, though, the 1st string (E) serves as the pedal. Though this lick is written as sustained chords starting on the downbeat of each measure, you could create your own variations by starting on a different beat and/or arpeggiating the chords. (Indeed, any of the licks in this course may be tweaked - a little or a lot -according to what the song calls for and what your tastes dictate.)"

Double Down: Lick 28 - "You'll use double drop-D tuning (D, A, D, G, B, D, low to high) for the final three licks in this course. Familiarity with a couple of non-standard tunings can be very valuable for a side-person guitarist. Such tunings can lead you to create parts that are substantially different from what another guitarist in the band is playing (in standard tuning, presumably). The chord sounds are fairly standard here in the first six measures - apart from the low D in measure 1, that is. The harmonies get more interesting in the final two measures, where the high open D works as a pedal tone."

Double or Nothing: Lick 29 - "This is a more mid-range focused variation on the previous lick - without the low D growl. The F note on top of the C chord in measure 2 may sound a little too tangy to some ears, but it is absolutely intentional. The fact that F is a common tone (pedal point) through the first five measures here should help it sound more acceptable in measure 2."

Double Entendre: Lick 30 - "Here's one more variation, focused in the upper mids. Remember: To a recording engineer, music is just frequencies. You should learn to hear music that way too. Next time you're overdubbing guitar for a recording session, listen for which frequencies are already saturated (avoid those) as well as which frequencies may be underused or absent (craft a part to fill an open space)."

Adam will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You'll get standard notation and tabs for each of the licks. Plus, Adam includes all of the rhythm tracks for you to work with on your own. In addition, you'll be able to loop or slow down any of the videos so that you can work with the lessons at your own pace.

Grab your guitar and let's dig in with Adam Levy!

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