If one had to choose the best “one,
two, three, four” in all of recorded
music, who would get the prize? Among
the songs I’m familiar with, it would
have to be a three-way tie between Paul
McCartney’s spirited count at the start of
The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,”
the passionate shout before the last verse
of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen,
and George Harrison’s grumble at the top
of The Beatles’ “Taxman.” The Ramones
get honorable mention for their legendary
live four-counts, but when I actually
listened to the studio recording of “Sheena
is a Punk Rocker,” it was either a “Go” or
a “Four.” (I’m guessing that the mastering
engineer chopped off the “one, two,
three.”) There must certainly be other
greats in this category, but those are the
first that came to my mind.
My challenge for you this month is to play
guitar and count to four at the same time.
Fig. 1 is the phrase I want to use. It can
be played over an Em chord or an Em9
chord for more flavor.
There are 14 notes here. But I look at
it as “5–4–5.” That is: five notes descending,
then four notes descending, then five
notes descending. I visualize these three sets
of notes separately, and it makes the larger
phrase easier to hold in my brain.
I like to use a combination of picked notes
and pull-offs. Please check out my suggested
combination. The pull-offs allow me to “recalibrate”
my picking pattern so that each of the
three sets can begin with a downstroke. This
helps me to mentally keep them organized, and
I think that it’s physically easier to play too.
After you’ve practiced this enough to make
it comfortable, it’s time to repeat it in two
lower octaves, as you can see in Fig. 2. This is
relatively easy to do. The notes are the same
(just octaves lower), the fingering pattern is
the same, and the picking/pull-off pattern
is the same. All you have to do is shift positions
and move to a lower set of strings.
Rhythmically, I removed the eighth-note
rest that ended the bar in Fig. 1. So now,
the high set of 14 notes leads right into the
middle set of 14 notes … which leads right
into the bottom set of 14 notes.
As they go whooshing by, these “14s”
create an interesting rhythmic disorientation
for the listener. But I want us (the
players) to remain in rhythmic control.
Somebody should know where “one” is, and
it might as well be us.
The first step to accomplish this is to master
the phrase itself. I should mention that
after the three “14s,” we go straight up an
Em9 arpeggio to resolve the phrase. These are
challenging licks, so I hope that the combinations
of picking, pull-offs, and hammer-ons
will make them easier to play. Once you’ve
emerged from the woodshed with mastery of
the entire phrase, it’s time to start counting!
It will take some time and practice to
develop the coordination to juggle these
phrases accurately. But it is possible. And
it’s actually quite thrilling to get it right. It
can feel surprisingly like looking down from
the top floor of a skyscraper, or looking
over the edge of a famous canyon.
I’m really scared of bungee jumping, but
playing this phrase while counting “one,
two, three, four” gives me a palpable rush.
Why bungee jump, when you can play
Em9 phrases and count to four?
Or try both and compare.
May all your canyons be grand.
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com