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The Frank Gambale interview is here!

By August 11, 2018 October 3rd, 2018 News

We thought you’d enjoy some Frank Gambale this weekend! We’re still working on tablature for the 100+ examples we’ve pulled out of the conversation, and we should have that by the middle of next week or so. But the interview itself is ready to roll on the Cracking the Code platform, so we figured we’d turn it on for those who’d like to get a look at it now. You can find it right here:

Frank Gambale Interview


It’s a thrill and a privilege to get this kind of closeup view of what is arguably one of the most unique and influential guitar techniques of the last thirty years. And what hits you right away is just how thoroughly inseparable Frank’s improvisational style and his mechanical style really are. And I’m not just referring to what Frank calls the “most obvious sweeps” – the big, six-string movements that even non-guitarists could identify.

Perhaps even more “Frank” are the unusual melodic figures and rhythms that pop up when he’s freely orchestrating lines that flow across musical time. The guy has serious groove, even when he’s just tapping his foot on the floor to demonstrate a concept as he does at several points in our talk. As he does this, you can hear the basic pulse of the line, ornamented with blazing in-the-pocket triplet figures, but you can’t tell where all those notes are coming from. The clip we called “Mixolydian Changes Tk2” is a totally great example of this at work:

Mixolydian Changes Tk2

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Switching over to slow motion makes things clearer and it’s really amazing. The intricate interplay of alternate and sweep motions that he’s using to get the syncopation and subdivisions working together makes you realize just how unlikely it would be for anyone to write these kinds of lines if you didn’t have precisely these mechanics to play with.

At Cracking the Code we don’t have a soapbox to stand on with any technique. They’re all great, and we want to know how they all work. Frank has taken this particular approach and built on top of that a style uniquely his own, to the point that you always know when it’s him playing, sometimes just from the tone alone. And that’s maybe the most powerful lesson here.

Top Comments

  1. God damn it @Troy I had things I was supposed to do today

  2. Avatar for tommo tommo says:

    I watched the interview twice in the last couple of days, so many cool examples! The funny thing is that Frank just came up with them on the spot, while it may take me years (or infinity) to study these lines properly!

    For me, one of the mysteries about Frank’s playing is his impeccable timekeeping, which seems very hard to achieve with sweep/economy. I have formulated a sort of hypotesis after (re)watching the interview: I think Frank uses target notes both in a melodic sense (which he says explicitly), but also in a rhythmic one (which maybe is implied by his “waves” analogy).

    I.e. there are certain crucial notes that he makes sure are 100% in time, while the notes in between are sometimes allowed to fluctuate a little (particularly in very fast sweep sequences). Overall the phrasing is very tight and beautiful - so it’s all good!

    It made me realise that maybe I should… chillax a bit more when I practice sweepy stuff. My idealised goal of perfectly evenly spaced notes may be a bit unrealistic!

    Does this make sense or am I speculating wildly?

  3. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Of course I hear what you’re pointing out here. You are absolutely allowed to like or not like the timing of this particular phrase. But to be 100% clear, the examples you’re citing are not actually strictly sweeping:

    These examples are sweeping and alternate picking, with an alternate picked string skip. That’s a whole different animal. It may very well be that the string skip part of a sequence like this has a tendency to take slightly more time. We’d have to test that. But to take these examples and make a “sweeping” conclusion (thank you, I’ll be here all week) about sweeping:

    …really isn’t accurate. If you prefer totally straight time, there are lots of examples of sweeping in Frank’s playing and the playing of other players that have it. Tommo’s example is a good one. So we know already that this is not strictly due to sweeping per se, but perhaps a specific usage of it.

    I’ll give you an example of my own where sweeping does not automatically lead to time issues:

    Similar to the above examples, this isn’t pure sweeping - it’s a mix of sweeping and alternate. The hand needs to actually start and stop the picking motion to keep note-level timing equal, or more equal, for all notes. If you watch in slow motion you will see that the way I do this is with rest strokes. The pick actually hits the string and waits. The trick is not to push too hard on the note before the sweep - this makes it easier to stop the motion after that single note. Hitting the string helps, but it’s actually you, deliberately turning “off” the pickstroke, that really does the work. Over time, as the coordination of doing this increases, you’ll be able to do the start/stop thing faster and still be smooth. The payoff is that you can now play a fretting sequence that most pure alternate pickers, even all-time greats, have tended to avoid.

    That’s just one example. My point is that techniques have characteristics. I won’t even call them strengths and weaknesses because that’s a value judgement. One person’s strength is another person’s weakness. Instead, I’d suggest that we simply need to be aware of the characteristics that techniques have and use them we want those characteristics.

    When I listen to Frank, I hear a player in total control of time. When he wants totally even subdivisions he can get that. He alters his choice of phrase to aid that, so he’s not doing the multi-string skips. And he gets that time with serious groove. And sometimes he even gets it with pure alternate picking as in the earlier example I posted.

    When he goes into rush time mode, especially for the big descending sweeps that become almost like rakes, no doubt, that’s a choice. You can like it or not like it. But the “rakes” are placed expertly in time. They start where he wants, often in syncopated fashion. In no way do I hear that stuff and think, this guy can’t control his tempo. He’s controlling it precisely as he wants.

  4. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    It is weird. I did some poking around and found them and ordered a pack. I think this is the exact one he uses in the interview:

    I will say, it actually does slide over the strings as he describes. But you still get that snappy attack that Frank totally has, and that you don’t usually get when you use a lot of edge picking like he does. You have to set up with his arm position and grip, but when you do, using this pick, you can totally see how this works. It’s a little like doing an impersonation but it’s cool.

  5. Ok @Troy, so I rewatched the interview thoroughly tonight and have read your post enough times to have a sense of where you might be coming from. We’ll see if I’m anywhere close?

    So this is where the idea of “CAGEs” comes in, no? The chord being one thing and “the shape” being the associated scale?

    Gambale makes the point about the chords coming from the scales. This is the language of “chordscales,” where there is not really a clear distinction between the harmony and the line. When thinking chord tones and passing tones as he speaks of doing, it’s odd to think of a scale following a chord. The scale is defined by the chord and vice versa. There is no meta-thought tying a scale shape to a chord shape.

    He speaks of running scales into each other, and he plays some guitaristic ninth chords that probably arise in his mind regarding his original struggle to get things working. Chords that provide a backdrop, a sound, but not necessarily an anchor point. He’s pretty explicit about not wishing to be boxed in, and watching how he fingers sus chords with a nod to Message in a Bottle, that looks to me like he’s playing what he’s hearing, not reciting the patterns more familiar to those of us that learned the tune from tab. That’s where ear training is king, and the local landscape of the moment provides a means to an end, intervallically (thinking about your discussion with Martin Miller here).

    I think we need to distinguish between two types of shape, physical structures and melodic structures. There absolutely are “shapes” in classical music, as that’s at the root of motivic development. A given motif may be expressed differently on each instrument in the orchestra, and possibly several ways on a given instrument, with arguably, not a lot of useful physical commonality. However, while the physical shapes differ, the musical commonality remains, the shape of the motif abstracted away from how it’s played.

    One interesting takeaway from that is that melodic patterns played on piano are transferable to guitar and vice versa. The black and white keys are incidental and relate to the structure of the hand, and otherwise, for most practical purposes, the piano is a chromatic transposing instrument as well.

    I’ve my FordScales (a play on “chord-scales” using my last name) systems that helped me to organize my thinking about the fretboard. The original FordScales stuff lives within the 3nps concept, but in fact is not positional, and more about organizing the intervals within a given space. The two patterns may connect to form the six string, three note per string patterns, but they don’t have to connect that way. They anchor relative to chord tones, but they don’t reference any chord shape. We don’t usually associate the 3nps stuff with anything “CAGED-y,” so no surprise there…

    “FordScales,” Open and Closed Patterns

    4   5   6
    1   2   3
    5   6   7


    2   3 4
    6   7 1
    3 4   5
    7 1   2

    The later system that answered my original observation is a six note per string chromatic approach using the note A (for a variety of reasons) as an anchor point. This affords me a pianistic view of the fretboard where the melodic patterns lay within the physical structure, but everything is within that structure, the chord tones, the scales… (It’s what I later learned Barry Harris would refer to as the “God” scale.)

    “FordScales Chromatic Approach”

                   Eb E  F  Gb G  Ab
                A  Bb B  C  Db D
             Eb E  F  Gb G  Ab
          A  Bb B  C  Db D
       Eb E  F  Gb G  Ab
    A  Bb B  C  Db D

    When actually playing, not practicing or working out the fingering to a tune, I’m not restricted to this framework. Having practiced all of the scales in all of the possible keys, within the system, I’ve covered most of the physical shapes, and the dominant thought process is linear melodic structure, not physical structure. I’m playing dozens of physical patterns within each two-string cell, but it doesn’t guide my primary thought process, merely adding granularity to the different keys akin to the benefit of black and white keys on a piano.

    So these systems, in addition to the Berklee scale patterns, Segovia scales, single string playing, pentatonic boxes, and my classical guitar roots in position playing, all inform my improvisation and general sense of fretboard organization.

    When I see Gambale playing, I don’t see him relying on meta CAGED reference or three-note per string patterns. His physical shapes are determined by the lay of melodic shapes on the fretboard, and the “waves” are a product of things under hand and musical choice. I’d refer folks to the Fretboard Visualization thread for lists of possible approaches beyond the ones most common in today’s online debates.

    So perhaps I am arguing for a religious syncretism from my atheistic perspective? Many of these approaches lead to the similar conclusions in their advanced application, but it would be weird to ascribe the conclusions to any particular system without specifically knowing the creative process. Gambale was successful with blues progressions early on, and he developed his sweeping at a young age… I’m glad I have CtC so I stand a snowball’s chance of getting anywhere near his abilities.

    Time for bed! I hope someone gets something from what I’ve written here. As @Troy has invested much in “Cracking the Code,” so have I in “FordScales” research. Portions of that conception are public here for the first time in all these decades. May whatever piece of it serve someone well.

    With kind regards,
    Daniel I. Ford
    Denver, Colorado

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