Electric Technique

Electric Technique: The Same… or?
by Julie Lyonn Lieberman

So, you amplified your acoustic or bought a solid-body. Now what? Same old same old? There’s already a multitude of electrified players who still sound classical.

But that’s not the point of going electric.

You can’t hide behind your special effects stomp box because the legato vibrato syndrome or lack of improvisational skills will still show up as your go-to skill-set regardless of any number of cool sound effects that you apply.

The day I interviewed Papa John Creach back in the late 1980s was my big “aha” as a classically trained violinist gone rogue in the late seventies. Creach was the first and only amplified violinist to have a hit single on AM radio (Over the Rainbow) after touring with Jefferson Airplane and their spin-off group, Hot Tuna. He innovated what we called “hysterical vibrato” back then: a wide, fast vibrato more akin to ice-skating one’s finger on the string than rolling. During that sixty-minute visit, he told me a couple of stories that changed everything for me. (See full interview in right sidebar.)

Most classically trained string players have no problem reading charts or playing pads (long tones behind the singer and the band). But here’s a list of skills you’ll absolutely need if you want to play style-appropriately and stand out in a crowd of amplified predictable-sounding string players:

  • Fillers
    Juicy lines in between the vocals that are more dynamically and texturally diverse than legato-vibrato.
  • Vertical Technique
    Control over pressure in and out of the string with both hands sufficient to create a wide range of types of vibrato, ghosted notes, and textural variety.
  • Percussive Techniques
    A vocabulary of percussive sounds that include—but aren’t limited to—chop technique. See Darol Anger, Casey Driesen, and Adam DeGraff) for examples.
  • Riff-Oriented Playing Skills
    Bowed string players have spent so many years practicing melodies, that it takes a bit of adjustment to be able to build a juicy riff (short, appealing melodic/rhythmic idea that repeats). But you’ll need this skill for pop/rock music, blues, and even jazz. And if you want to use a looper, this is just about the single most important technique you can build.

Plus…the ability to improvise your solos; the facility to generate bass lines, chord-based accompaniment, rhythmic backup, and harmony; as well as develop a stage persona (versus the anonymous, frozen “look” engendered during classical training)

How do you achieve these techniques? Attend a summer program that will help you build new skills. There are quite a few to choose from. And check out my new book, How to Play Contemporary Strings: A Step-by-Step Approach for Violin, Viola & Cello, with its dozen video tutorials and backing tracks!