Sonic Shapes: Expanding Rock Guitar Vocabulary [DVD] review by Page Hamilton

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  • Sound: 9
  • Content: 9
  • Production Quality: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.3 (3 votes)
Page Hamilton: Sonic Shapes: Expanding Rock Guitar Vocabulary [DVD]
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Sound — 9
Page Hamilton's instructional video "Sonic Shapes" (published by Hal Leonard) is clear in quality and firm in its content. Hamilton takes his jazz background and develops unique tones and note voicings not typical in rock music and, as a result, not typical in rock-based video instruction. He defies the listeners to train one's fingers and brain to play what is heard, as well as concepts to help break a person free from practice and playing habits. If you're looking for the "non-traditional," this video packs a very nice punch.

Content — 9
This instructional DVD comprises five different sections, besides the four band performances at the end (which ties in the various ideas Hamilton puts forth). It begins with Scales, which may seem boring and redundant to many guitarists, but Hamilton really uncovers some unique and likely unchartered territory for many of us. He explains how to work in a "modal" manner with scale tones (to develop music ideas in a "linear" fashion) rather than "vertically" with typical scale changes. This produces music with a lot of tension, which then is pushed to a unique limit with the inclusion of whole scale, diminished scale and alternate diminished scale applications and to produce polytonal harmonies. (If some of the terms or concepts seem foreign or beyond your theory comprehension, Hamilton does demonstrate these concepts on the guitar so effectively that even a novice will grasp the ideas).

Hamilton then moves into his Sonic Chord Shapes, with altered chords to create unique voicings, which anyone can discover by taking a basic chord and moving the fingers around to see what sounds the different note changes produce (this is an example of not having to know any music theory in order to experiment and have fun). The second aspect to this video segment is how to take a common tone or note among various chords while keeping that note constant (this produces a linear sound based on pedal points, e.g., always hearing an "A" note, although different chords are playing over that "A").

The third and fourth sections deal with practicing and listening. Not only do you hear and try to emulate by way of your own creations or interpretations, but Hamilton addresses the value of random note playing and understanding tonal relationships (and discovering unique note combinations based on that randomness).

The final instructional section is the fun part, whereby Hamilton addresses the use of guitar effects to create unusual soundscapes that are far from the traditional, although the pedals/effects are typical.

Production Quality — 9
Page Hamilton may not be a natural when it comes to speaking to a camera, but his points and instruction are clear and concise. Simple ideas like "learn a new chord and try to build a song around it" can take any guitarist far, or even "share anything new you learn with another guitarist to solidify the learning process" almost seems like a no-brainer after you hear it. But it's little gems like those that can make a difference. Hamilton is a firm believer in learning new things, to expand his vocabulary in order to break free of his current abilities (habits) and Hal Leonard produced an excellent video with this in mind.

Overall Impression — 9
With Page Hamilton's work on Helmet compositions, the ideas in this video demonstrate clearly his unique ability to reach for that uncommon chord and scale to produce both unusual and unconventional sounds and harmonies. Most instructional videos may offer new insights, but often when dealing with similar scales, chords and progressions. Conversely, Hamilton's distinctive take on music is what gives the band Helmet its matchless sound, and many of his ideas to do just that are presented well in this video. If you are looking for fresh ideas, this video is worth the investment.

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