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In Theory: “Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr.

By Anthony Martinez Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” debuted in 2011 on The Bright Lights EP. The following year, it was released on Blak and Blu, the artist’s first major-label album, which earned him two Grammy Award nominations and one trophy. “Bright Lights” is a wonderfully simple blues-rock number in the key of A minor. Most of the song, in fact, stays on an A minor vamp, with no real harmonic movement at all. So it is up to the melodic content of the song to generate a sense of motion, and Clark accomplishes this by unleashing the awesome majesty of the blues.   Blues melodies are most often built from the Pentatonic Minor scale and its cousin, the aptly named Blues Scale. The pentatonic scale has just five notes: 1 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b7 Specifically, the A minor pentatonic scale is made up of these notes: A – C – D – E – G The blues scale adds just one note to this, the flat 5 (or the sharp 4, depending on the context and your mood): 1 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – b7 A – C – D – Eb – E – GM The flatted fifth, or blue note, is a small addition to the pentatonic scale, but it brings with it an enormous amount of character; it's one of the defining elements of the blues sound. The note forms the interval of a diminished fifth, or tritone, with the root of the scale. The tritone is one of the most dissonant intervals in music, and its overwhelming need to resolve helps give the blues much of its aching, longing quality. The power of that note is amplified even further when used sparingly, so for much of the song, Clark and his bandmate Eric Zapata rely primarily on the minor pentatonic scale. These guitar parts, along with Clark’s vocal hooks, help the song flow and constantly present the listener with fresh ideas in spite of the song’s limited harmonic palette. The melodies are simple, leaving plenty of room for Clark to introduce more complex and nuanced lead work when he solos. Gary Clark Jr playing at the North Coast Music Festival in Chicago on September 1, 2013 Clark’s guitar chops truly shine in the outro, demonstrating his mastery of the entire fretboard, as he performs howling blues lines in multiple positions up and down the neck. His tasteful choices about when to wail, when to lay back, and when to split the difference are the driving force behind the song should give all aspiring blues practitioners a lot to chew on. Anthony Martinez has been a developer on the Rocksmith team since 2012. He received his B.A. in Jazz Performance and Certificate in Music Business from San Francisco State University. "Gary Clark Jr @ Eurockéennes de Belfort 2013" by Eddy Berthier/Didy Photography is licensed under CC0 1.0. "Gary Clark Jr" by Alize Tran is licensed under CC BY 2.0....

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