Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

October 14, 2014

Double Your Pleasure

Not that I know the first thing about painting, but I imagine recording is its sonic equivalent: one can create texture by layering. In music, layering is accomplished by, for example, blending voices or instruments which play complementary lines to the main theme, or by doubling existing parts, thereby emphasizing or reinforcing them. It's the latter I'll touch on in today's post.

Doubling lead vocals adds that little bit of "oomph" you want for arguably the most important track on any given song. Listen carefully to almost any Beatles recording and you'll see what I mean. The process is straightforward: you sing it once, then overdub yourself singing it again. It's not always easy to mimic your own phrasing, but with practice I've gotten better at it.

I usually double my rhythm guitars, which for this album are predominantly acoustic. Since I find it harder to replicate a guitar track, I often cheat by taking the original, copying and pasting into a new track, then time-shifting the second track forward just a touch. The time-shift has two functions: it obviates phasing problems and allows you to create a nice stereo image by panning the original hard left and the double hard right. This kind of double is more a photocopy than a redo.

A more textural approach—and one that isn't always possible—is to record a second track playing the same chords in different inversions. For me anyway, this requires the deft use of a capo. The song I'm working on now, "This Magnificent Dare," is in Bb. So, for the original rhythm track I used Capo 3, enabling me to play easy-strum G, C and D chords in the verse. (I like easy chords. They're eminently playable and they sound great.) For the double I wanted something different, and after a couple of failed experiments I settled on Capo 8. A little high up the neck, but I managed because lo and behold, here I could strum another set of easy chords: D, G and A.

Though capoing appears to create different chords, it doesn't. All these are simply inversions of the same chord. So, at Capo 3, when I play what looks like a G it's really a Bb. Similarly, playing what looks like a D at Capo 8 is also a Bb, albeit a third inversion of it. The actual chords I'm playing in this verse are Bb, Eb and F, but because of the capo at no time do I play them in first position. And this is no accident: not only are they harder to play there, but being barre chords they lack that open-string resonance made possible by the capo.

Now, the E-minor I was hitting in the bridge in Capo 3 had become a B-minor at Capo 8, which I found pretty much unplayable. But not to fret, if you'll pardon the pun, since up at Capo 10 I could play it as an A-minor, a much easier formation. So, I left a space in the part where that chord was and punched it in on a separate track.

The result is quite lovely and rich, especially when paired with the dulcimer that serves as the song's main rhythm.

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