Blend Violin and Guitar for Perfect Jazz Music – While it is much less common in jazz these days, blending violin and guitar has been done tons of times through the ages. A likely pairing, the timbre of the instruments complement each other beautifully. Now, in 2018, there are new opportunities for this duo in entirely new worlds of music.
Today, I believe that really interesting sounds can be achieved with this pairing in jazz music. While we have already heard this with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, among others. We have opportunities to explore new ideas with this classic pairing. In this article, we will go over some of the approaches you can take to blending the two. You will quickly see that while the vocabulary has changed, much of the approaches to arranging and blending have not.
Guitar Accompaniment / Violin Melody
This one seems like the most obvious approach because of the nature of each instrument. Because of the way the guitar is laid out, it lends itself to more harmonic possibilities. On a guitar, you are able to access 6 notes at a given time. This is not the case with violin. It is easier to play dense chords and arpeggiated sequences.
However, the timbre of the instrument is such that sustaining a note is not one of its strengths, per se. This is where the violin comes in. While the violin has beautiful tone and can sustain a note as long as you need it to, you aren’t able to do much more than double-stops harmonically. This brings us to the next possibility.
Violin Accompaniment / Guitar Melody
While this is probably a bit more unusual, it can be effective and provide a nice change for the listener. In this setting, the violin has a nice range of techniques that can make up for some of its harmonic shortcomings.
Pizzicato double-stops can sound lovely behind a guitar melody. The guitar can also help fill some of the harmonic void with double-stops or chords of its own. Pizzicato arpeggios are also another option and can sound really neat with some upper extensions like 9ths, 11ths, and so on. Normal arco technique might not be a good idea unless dynamics are taken into account with quite a drastic approach.
The violin has a very powerful sound, even at lower volumes, and might overwhelm the melody happening on the guitar. Also, because of its wonderful sustain and tone, lends itself to being the melody instrument.
One of my favorite approaches to blending the two instruments is through the use of counterpoint. Counterpoint is every bit as prevalent in jazz music as it was in the old days, only now, players are free to take more liberties harmonically and melodically speaking.
The violin would likely take the lead role here most of the time because it simply cuts through way more than even an amplified guitar. During almost every previous period in music, counterpoint was often limited to what musical devices you were allowed to use. Things like 2nds, successive leaps, certain dissonances and chord voicings were not allowed. While these are great rules to learn for establishing a foundation, these days we have a lot more freedom.
In today’s music, you can explore alternative uses of melodic minor. You can use dissonance or consonance as you please, and the list goes on.
In addition to all of the options you have from the melodic and harmonic capabilities of each instrument. You can also experiment with extended techniques.
On the violin, there are any number of these. You can strike the strings, tap the body of the instrument, scratch a note, etc. These all make for some wonderful textural as well as percussive techniques.
On the guitar, some of the same techniques are available. In fact, in recent years, there have been a number of guitarists exploring some of these techniques. Most of them are taking advantage of this stuff on acoustic guitars, but if you have got a hollow body guitar, some of the same effects are still attainable.
Tapping techniques allow for adding textural and harmonic interest while tapping or slapping the body of the guitar can add some nice percussive textures. One thing I particularly like is sort of slapping the 12th fret on the guitar creating a nice little harmonic.
So there you have it. These are a few of the techniques and approaches to blending violin with guitar for jazz music. A lot of these things, as you probably noticed, have been done countless times over the years, but today we have more possibilities.
Today, we can explore harmonically, texturally, and more without the powers that be beating down our doors. Now that we have gone over some of the approaches for jazz guitar/violin duos. Let’s give you a few cats that you can listen to so that you can see how other players have approached the genre.
– Stephane Grappelli – Noted for playing with legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
– Eddie South – African-American jazz violinist who was a prodigy but had to switch over from classical because of lack of opportunity for African-Americans.
– Mark Feldman – Noted for playing with John Zorn and John Abercrombie.
– Jean-Luc Ponty – Fusion violinist most noted for playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa.
– Regina Carter – Noteworthy solo jazz violinist who has also played with a number of great acts spanning different genres such as Max Roach, Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, and more.
– Joe Venuti – Noted as one of the first-ever jazz violinists known for his recordings with Eddie Lang among others.
– Georgie Stoll – Although he was a jazz violinist, he was most noted for his work as musical director (and sometimes conductor) for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
I hope this post gave you some ideas. There are so many avenues to take that I am sure I missed some stuff here, but this should provide a good jumping off point for blending violin and guitar for jazz music.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.