PxPixel
The Art of Synth Soloing: Jens Johansson Part 2 - KeyboardMag

The Art of Synth Soloing: Jens Johansson Part 2

More time with Jens
Author:
Publish date:
036_elm0618_HowTo_SynthSoloing_JensJohansson-1

Continuing our study of Jens Johansson’s work, I got a chance to talk with him about his gear and his approach to crafting his famous lead-synth tones. Due to “old age” and the difficulties of touring with gear these days, he has retired his trusty Yamaha DX7 keyboard and switched to a Roland A-800 Pro controller. He is not thrilled with its pitchbend mechanism due to its short throw and dead zone at center. So, his fabled use of a pitch differential to get a continuously smooth response from his bend mechanism has been retired…for now. He has also swapped out the Roland JV-1080 module for a JV-1010 since it is half-rack size.

RUMINATIONS ON HIS LEAD TONE

While Jens won’t give exact details about his lead tone, he was willing to offer some guidance on emulating it, or crafting your own. He describes his original Korg Polysix tone as “detune-free unison,” as he likes to hit the distortion effect with a very sharp sound. In general, Jens suggests that you always craft your lead sound with the distortion on: The sound you need to feed the effect may sound plain, or even crappy on its own, but it’s the tonality of the distortion effect that is critical.

Jens adds some expressive control by using aftertouch to bring in a little bit of detuning and some extra filter resonance. The modulation axis of the joystick fades in two additional oscillators an octave lower. But the critical character comes from his use of the Morley JD-10 amp-simulator/overdrive pedal, which has been his choice for decades now. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

A CHOICE SOLO

Ex. 1. This solo opens Jens’ guest spot on Sonata Arctica’s tune “The Cage,” from their 2003 release Winterheart’s Guild. Performed at a blistering tempo, Johansson delivers a highly melodic statement.

Ex. 1. This solo opens Jens’ guest spot on Sonata Arctica’s tune “The Cage,” from their 2003 release Winterheart’s Guild. Performed at a blistering tempo, Johansson delivers a highly melodic statement.

Johansson has so many great solos to explore, but my research led me to this solo, both as a fan favorite and one that caught my ear (see Example 1). Taken from an album that he was a guest soloist on, the opening of the tune “The Cage” from Sonata Arctica’s 2003 release Winterheart’s Guild, shows Jens tearing it up at an inhumanely fast tempo. It’s a great example of how melodic Jens can be while playing the whole solo using the same scale/note choices.

One aspect that makes it so melodic is how he uses mostly nonroot tones across all the chords. He is singing across the chords, thinking more horizontally or linearly. You might consider bar 7 to just be vibrato, but since he achieves it using positive pitchbend, I chose to write it out that way.

After the first eight bars of linear playing, he switches up in bar 9 to some ascending arpeggios to bring him up high in range. I like the figure that he starts in bar 21, moving from adjacent notes to increasingly spread intervals from the lower D he uses as an anchor. Also pay attention to how he keeps things interesting rhythmically by mixing up his use of sixteenth notes and triplet groupings. Even when playing blisteringly fast, he’s crafting well-thought-out lines.

ONE FROM THE EARLY DAYS

Since Jens first came to public attention during his years with Yngwie Malmsteen, I thought I’d share something from that seminal time. The tune “Trilogy Suite, Opus 5” (from their third album, Trilogy, 1986) was one of their biggest hits. Partway through the tune, Yngwie and Jens trade solos, and Example 2 is Jens’ first volley.

Ex. 2. Some vintage Johansson, taken from his trades with
 Yngwie Malmsteen on “Trilogy Suite, Opus 5,” from their third
 album, Trilogy (1986). Here, Jens freely mixes the harmonic and
 melodic minor scales.

Ex. 2. Some vintage Johansson, taken from his trades with  Yngwie Malmsteen on “Trilogy Suite, Opus 5,” from their third  album, Trilogy (1986). Here, Jens freely mixes the harmonic and  melodic minor scales.

Notice how he freely mixes up the Ab melodic minor scale (using the F and G notes), with the Ab harmonic minor scale (using the E-natural and the G). Starting in bar 5 through the end, he varies his note groupings from triplets (which match the pulse of the 12/8 time signature) with groupings of four and five notes, creating a sense of urgency in his bravura phrases.

Ex. 3. The next trading phrase Jens plays is from
 “Trilogy Suite, Opus 5.” His opening is a majestic
 phrase, and the entire solo utilizes the Ab Aeolian
 Dominant scale.

Ex. 3. The next trading phrase Jens plays is from  “Trilogy Suite, Opus 5.” His opening is a majestic  phrase, and the entire solo utilizes the Ab Aeolian  Dominant scale.

Example 3 is the next phrase where Jens answers Yngwie, and here the tune changes tonality and the Ab now sounds major, or dominant seventh. Jens is using a very cool scale called the Aeolian Dominant, which is the fifth mode of the Db/C# Melodic minor scale. The Ab/G# Aeolian scale is the natural minor scale, so think of the Bmajor scale starting on the sixth tone, but with a major third (C), instead of the minor third (the B) as in Example 4.

Ex. 4. Here we first see the regular Ab Aeolian, or natural-minor scale,
 which sounds like the B-major scale starting on the sixth step. The
 second example shows the third step of the scale being raised a halfstep,
 to change from minor to major. This gives the sound of an Ab
 dominant seventh chord, with a flatted sixth, or thirteenth.

Ex. 4. Here we first see the regular Ab Aeolian, or natural-minor scale,  which sounds like the B-major scale starting on the sixth step. The  second example shows the third step of the scale being raised a halfstep,  to change from minor to major. This gives the sound of an Ab  dominant seventh chord, with a flatted sixth, or thirteenth.

Coming back to Example 3, notice how the opening of his phrase is clearly major, but in the next bar how the tonality gets richer, based on the implied Db minor. This constant I-major to iv-minor harmonic movement is very colorful and fun to solo over, which Jens does beautifully.