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Stevie Ray Vaughan's Guitar Techniques (for mere mortals)

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Song Technique/Suggestion Originator
Cold Shot
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Hey man, glad to hear someone has the same struggles that I do! I just got Cold Shot down a couple of months ago. It's really a pretty easy song to play or at least it was with the book that I used. The book that I have is Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Licks by Wolf Marshall. It's an awesome book that has a CD enclosed that plays the licks in both normal speed and slow speed for breaking them down note by note. Cold Shot is by far the easiest solo in that book.

BTW, there are 2 SRV Signature Licks by Wolf Marshall out there (one more recent than the other). The first one is the one that I have but, the second is next on my list because it has VooDoo Chile on it and I really want to learn that one.
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Cold Shot
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I'm not sure if this will help or not. It might if I can explain it right.

I was trying to learn this song and others and I discovered this. On the songs with what I call the "chug-a-chug" rhythm (Cold Shot, Pride & Joy, Tightrope, etc..) You're hitting all 6 strings, but only 1 note is sounding, the other 5 strings are muted (difficult to do at first, but it gets easier, and the technique is invaluable).

Next, if you think of the rhythm "backwards" it helps. I know how this sounds :-) What I mean is, for CS the first note is open A, then 5th fret A string, 7th fret A string and so on..

In between the fretted notes is an upstroke where all 6 strings are muted. What I found is, if you "add" an upstroke as the beginning then it is easier. So the song is like this:
upstroke 6 strings muted
downstroke open A
(other 5 muted)
upstroke 6 strings muted
downstroke 5th fret A
upstroke 6 strings muted
downstroke 7th fret A
upstroke 6 muted


Keep in mind that he changed this pattern each time through a little ( just to confuse us a little I think :-) but the up/down pattern is still the same. The good news is that this technique works for the other songs with this rhythm too. I personally practice my scales like this, just to get it down.

I have a video Guitar Method in the Style of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Curt Mitchell that had a couple good points to it. The above mentioned technique I got by myself, but the video might help. It's been mentioned on the Flood before, I don't think it was well received, but it helped me a little. Not sure how you feel about videos NOT endorsed by the estate. I bought it before I found this out.
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Cold Shot
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It's very similar to playing Pride and Joy, if you've learned that one, except that Pride and Joy is in E (well, Eb, if you know what I mean!), while Cold Shot is in A. I've found that the rhythm is all in the string rakes that Stevie plays with upstrokes after each note in the main riff. Being at work, I don't have the book in front of me, and my mind can't remember exactly what notes my fingers are playing (that's what happens after you memorize a song after playing it thousands of times .. it's all unconscious after a while!). But I have the books you mentioned, so let me take a look tonight and I'll get back.

Also look at So Excited (Sky is Crying book) and I'm Cryin' (another one similar to Pride and Joy and Cold Shot). When you learn Cold Shot, you are 90% along the way to learning Pride and Joy and I'm Cryin'. That chucka-chucka Texas shuffle rhythm is tough to learn, but once you get it, you can use it almost anywhere.
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Cold Shot
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Here are the few thoughts I promised you after looking at the Lightnin' Blues book.

In the Lightnin' Blues, Cold Shot has some, shall we say, "inconsistencies" with Stevie's actual playing. It isn't out-and-out wrong, it just takes the recorded version too "seriously", and fails to depict the actual technique Stevie is using..

First off, do you have a SRV concert video where he plays Cold Shot? The Japan 1985 and the Daytona 1987 shows (Editor Note: look at Austin City Limits commerical release as well) have excellent shots of Stevie playing Cold Shot, where you can see both his right hand and left hand technique. These two videos are where I noticed that Stevie's overall "feel" for the song is different than what is written in the book.

OK...

Stevie (for the most part) is a rather sloppy player! And I mean that in a nice way. It's purposely sloppy; that's how he filled in the sonic holes when he played in a trio (before Reese). It's that sloppiness that gives him that "thundershuffle", a very percussive playing style. He rarely hits just one note (one string) in any riff in any song. Even his solos regularly sound more than one note on (supposedly) single-string runs. The first thing I always look at when watching a player play Stevie's songs is the right hand, especially if it seems if they are trying to play the song the way Stevie did. If I don't see him rake, scrape, or strum the strings, I know he hasn't really studied Stevie.

Keeping this in mind, the Cold Shot playing technique is of constant right hand strumming. In the videos you will notice that during the main riff Stevie never uses a "single-note-picking" movement in his right hand (for the riff). He always strums through the whole riff. He plays the single notes by pressing the string he wants, and simultaneously muting the other strings by keeping his fingers (and thumb for the low E and A) in constant contact with the other strings. This is (what I feel is) a major element in Stevie's style that never gets transmitted in any transcription.

For the most part, it's one string sounding with the other 5 muted (or not played) on the strummed DOWNstroke. The UPstroke, on the other hand, does NOT mute the strings (you will notice that the upstroke is not even depicted in the transcription). In fact, when you watch the concert shots, you will notice that he completely OPENS his hand on the upstroke! He plays all the strings open for a split second. A great song for seeing this in action is Pride and Joy, where he takes this motion to the extreme. It looks as if his left hand is "milking" the neck, squeeze and release.

Let me stop here and ask if you understand what I am trying to say. I hope I don't sound arrogant. I just feel that right hand technique is what makes Stevie's approach so unique and recognizable. The tab is a little too perfectionist, and if you try to play what the tab depicts, you will not only have trouble physically playing it, but it won't sound right even if you manage to follow the tab to the letter. Just remember that Stevie is constantly strumming.
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Pride and Joy
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Pride and Joy, and it's still one of my favorites.

I got to the point where I could play most (but not all) of the solo parts pretty much note-for-note, and then I just started playing it my own way with the Stevie-isms here and there for recognition. Pride and Joy, Scuttle Buttin', So Excited, Texas Flood all do that to me.

I have been having an ongoing discussion with a fellow 'Flooder (Hi Sander!) about learning some of the Stevie-isms in certain songs. Remember the statement about Stevie never playing the same thing twice? Well, one thing he always did was put in the song's trademark phrases whenever he played it. The entire solo was never exactly the same, but the little recognizable tricks and phrases were. And that is where I think all of us guitar players can insert Stevie into our playing. We don't have to copy his solo note-for-note. Learn the key phrases, and insert them where appropriate. That is what we can call giving tribute to the master. It is not copy-catting. It is simply recognizing the source and inspiration. Imaging playing something like Hideaway (or just about any blues instrumental, for that matter) and *not* inserting the Freddie King phrasing. It would immediately become another song! For those of you on the Force and Source tree, listen to the interview on tape 6. Stevie plays Hideaway like Freddie, then demonstrates how Eric Clapton played it. That is a master, to be able to play the song note-for-note like someone else, and to also understand what makes their versions different; he then incorporates that knowledge into his own playing.

So, for my two cents, here is one method I use to break out of a rut: learn the style of another guitarist. Figure out his signature phrasings, his turn-around patterns, his tone. Then apply that style to a song you already know! For instance, we heard on the Tribute album Eric Clapton's version of Ain't Gone 'n' Give Up On Love. How would Stevie play Clapton's Pretending or No Alibis? Or, to go WAY out on a limb, how would Stevie play The Beatles' All My Loving (we all know how he did Taxman!)? Got to think about that a little, eh? ;-) That's exactly what you have to do to break out of a rut -- break out of the routine, do something different. Try to construct something that you have yet to hear. What you come up with can't be "wrong" -- it's your interpretation, as Dr. John would say, of "playing in Stevie's bag."

Using this method will also quickly point out to you what can be considered your own style. You don't have to be a "great player" to do this. It's just sitting down and studying the little things that make up the bigger sonic picture. It's also teaching you to compose in your own mind, to hear with your mind's "ear" how things fit together.

Another one: rather than always playing with a tape or CD, record yourself playing and taking chances solo. You don't have to play it again for anyone else, so just let yourself go. Play the song as if you were recording it at a studio; work out what you want to play as an intro, as the outro, and how many bars you'll solo over. Force yourself to define where, what, and how you want to play each part, then "assemble" it by playing onto the tape.

Last one: learn a new song "backwards". Learn the ending "first", then learn the main riff. Finally, learn the intro. By the time you have the intro down, you've learned the whole song. Now there is no reason to fizzle-out in the middle of playing it! The solo part should now be a lot easier, since you already understand the song's components.

Some of these little hints take a LOT of discipline. Even after all that I said I, myself, have a tendency to concentrate on the juicy solos, and forget about the rest of the song. But it's like what someone else said in another post (Andrew, I think) -- if you learn the popular riffs, the primary chording arrangements, and certain signature riffs and phrases, you can play in most any jam or with just about any band without even knowing an entire song! A cover band playing pop, rock, and country will probably have to learn things note-for-note because that is what the audience expects (and even then it won't be perfect, but few will notice). Blues and jazz has always been a lot freer about soul and inspiration.

Above all -- have fun! If it seems like too much work, then it probably is! Step back and change direction, and see if you can get that ear-to-ear grin back again!
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