SUMMERS' SCHOOL - AN ANDY SUMMER'S GUIDE TO HARMONIC AND MELODIC THEORY

Andy Summers is well known for adding the ninth to riffs as can be heard in `Message In A Bottle' (see `The Guitar Magazine' Vol 2 No 8) from `Reggatta De Blanc' (1979). `At that point I was starting to get into this whole approach of taking out the major third and the minor third from chord progressions,' he reveals. `It partly comes out of intellectually wanting to de-emotionalise the quality of chord progressions and it also comes out of the fifth being one of the basic rock patterns you get into very early on in guitar playing. It just seemed like one of the elements that would really work and you didn't really need the third. Sticking the third in - particularly the major third - tends to muddy the sound especially if you start playing louder with a bit of distortion when it creates a harmonic overtone that you don't want. So it arose unconsciously and consciously when you suddenly think, "I know why I'm doing this." It worked its way into a lot of the music that we did and it became a sort of hallmark of The Police's style. Historically it goes back to Gregorian chants I'd studied at college.'

The major 9th chord riff in `Every Breathe You Take' (see `The Guitar Magazine' Vol 2 No 8) from `Synchronicity' (1981) was supposedly inspired by Bartok String Quartet... "Yeah. When I did `I Advanced Masked' with Robert Fripp between `Ghost In The Machine' and `Synchronicity', we were both into Bartok. A bit earlier on I had worked on some Bartok violin duos and Fripp and I did one where we kind of emulated that kind of writing. I had a lot of that in my head and I was looking for these sort of open, fifth, ninth things. That was just one riff I had and that lucky moment came up where `Every Breathe You Take' arose and I was able to push the riff into that song.'

A proficient and innovative rhythm guitar player, Andy's also no slouch when it comes to soloing: check out `Peanuts', `Driven To Tears' and `Landlord' from his Police days for starters. `Any solo needs to be built on certain formulae like tension and release and it obviously depends on what's being playing underneath. I certainly like to play outside - if a guy is playing in `E' I don't mind playing in `F' minor which you can relate to the flat 9th or raised 5th of the chord. But if you're going to play `F' minor over `E' you have to release back to the `E' at some point otherwise it just gets unbearable! So I think you always have to play inside and outside but you do have to learn that stuff both intellectually and physically on the guitar so you get beyond thinking. When you're playing at high speed over progressions you need to have it reduced down into certain patterns. It becomes very visual and I definitely see the guitar as a visual instrument.

`If you take an `E' flat chord you could play over it in `C' minor or `G' minor. Or you could play a half-whole diminished scale over it which I particularly like [the diminished scale consists entirely of alternated half-step and whole step intervals]. I also like some of the melodic minor scales. You don't need to play every single scale otherwise you sound like a student or end up just playing licks. And there's another consideration above and beyond that - I think the better soloing is when you try to create a melodic line which may or may not fall inside one of those scales. You really ought to think in terms of space and line - more like how Miles Davis might have thought of a solo, if he thought about it at all! But that's all part of soloing and you go on doing that for the rest of your life and the moment you're onstage... It all goes out the window anyway [laughs]!'


This interview was originally published in `The Guitar Magazine' Vol 6 No 3 February 1996.