The advantages of open-E tuning are increased string tension (for more sustain) and economy of motion. Raising the open fifth and fourth strings a whole-step and and the third string a half-step produces an open E chord (Ex. 2a), giving you, from low to high, the root, 5th, root, 3rd, 5th, and root. Since the root positions are on the 6th and 1st strings remain unaffected, it's not necessary to relearn notes when moving the chord shape around the fingerboard. Using the slide to barre all six strings, this chord voicing may be transposed to 11 other fret positions to accommodate chord changes or playing in different keys before recycling an octave higher (Ex. 2b). Open-E tuning also offers easy access to all three triad inversions, playable as chords or arpeggios. Ex. 2c demonstrates this while summarizing Duane's right-hand technique. For arpeggios, begin with the fingers resting on the strings as if you were about to play the entire chord, and then pluck each note individually.
came to spinning single-note lines (which comprised 99% of his
slide work), Duane preferred the urban "box" approach over more
traditional open-string stylings. The box shape is formed by the
addition of neighbor tones below the tonic chord position.
Examples 3a and 3b illustrate the lower neighbors (notated below
the downward arrow) a whole-step below each chord tone. These
lower neighbors (the lowered 7th, 4th, and 2nd/9th) are
incorporated in a typical Duane-style lick in Ex. 3c. Examples
4a and 4b show the chromatic half-step neighbors (the natural
7th, raised 4th/lowered 5th, and lowered 3rd), while Ex. 4c
adapts them to the previous lick. In Ex. 5 the same lick is
treated to a combination of whole-step and chromatic lower
The next few examples cover some of the building blocks of Duane's style. Each motif stands on its own and may be developed in many ways, including repetition, rhythmic displacement, elongation, and retrograde. Ex. 6a features a four-note motif moving across adjacent string groups with whole-step lower neighbors. Ex. 6b shows what a difference a subtle change in phrasing can make. Examples 7a through 7d follow the same logic using a five-note motif. For some astonishing variations, try replacing the whole-step lower neighbors marked by asterisks with chromatic neighbors or in-between microtones.
Neighbors above the tonic chord include the 2nd/9th, 6th, and 4th. Duane used these sparingly, mostly as grace-note slides or for an occasional splash of pentatonic-major color. Instead, he'd extend the box by momentarily zipping up a major 3rd on the first or fourth strings, or by using the important minor-third spacing (only found between the 2nd and 3rd strings) to create a dominant 7th chord fragment three frets above the tonic. In E, sliding up three frets from the tonic's G♯ and B yields B and D♮, part of the E7 chord (Ex. 8a). Ex. 8b shows the whole-step and chromatic neighbor possibilities for both two-note structures.
Culled from medium-tempo shuffles, Examples 9a through 10b capture some of Duane's signature phrases. All have been transposed to E for mixin' and matchin'. Ex. 9a is very harmonica-like. Add even more sass by exploiting those microtones. Ex. 9b uses the implied 7th chord described above, and then outlines a descending box combining whole- and half-step lower neighbors. Ex. 9c's chromatically ascending minor thirds lead up to a signature major third jump up the first string before the descending box/octave-leap conclusion. A similar move in Ex. 10 navigates the IV-I change, as does Ex. 10b, a funky mid-register harp lick.
Transposed to the key of D, the blues harp outing in Ex. 11 covers the last four measures of a 12-bar blues. Duane's flawless intonation is evident as he zips off the fingerboard to the hypothetical 26th fret. Move it up a whole step (to E) for a real trip into the stratosphere.
When bottlenecking in standard tuning, Duane often wove adventurous linear excursions up and down the string in place of the blues-box approach, perhaps partially influenced by his interest in jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Duane's melodic development is masterful in Ex. 12, taken from a videotaped performance of "Dreams." His two-bar call-and-response lines emphasize a 3/4 pulse, while the rhythm section lays down a 6/8 jazz waltz. Special thanks to brother Jas O. for supplying valuable reference material.
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