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• Develop lines based on symmetrical-sounding scales and arpeggios.
• Learn how to connect arpeggio shapes across the neck.
• Discover how to harmonize multiple guitar parts.
This month we’re looking at the legendary shred guitarist Jason Becker. Hailing from Richmond, California, Becker began playing guitar at the age of five, inspired by his father and uncle, who both played guitar. Becker began by learning Bob Dylan songs on his acoustic and performing them for his friends at school. Soon he moved to electric guitar and after watching The Last Waltz, he began learning Eric Clapton solos note-for-note. It wasn’t long before Becker was diving into Van Halen, Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie Malmsteen—and even Bach and Mozart.
By the time he was 14, Becker was a virtuoso who blended hard rock and heavy metal with classical-inspired harmony and compositions. His father secured him a slot performing at a coffeehouse, and there Becker developed a one-man show. Between his blistering solo guitar performances and stage theatrics, he earned a reputation as a teenage protégé.
At the time, Mike Varney, the head of Shrapnel Records, was looking for talented, unknown guitarists to be featured on his label, so Becker submitted a demo. Varney was floored, not just by Becker’s technique, but his rich, deep knowledge of composition, harmony, and counterpoint. Varney offered Becker a deal with Shrapnel, pairing him up with Marty Friedman to form the speed metal band Cacophony. Becker cut his first Cacophony record for Shrapnel, Speed Metal Symphony,when he was just 16.
It wasn’t long before word of Becker’s abilities began to spread, and he joined David Lee Roth’s band for A Little Ain’t Enough. Around the time of the recording, Becker started walking with a limp. He eventually went for tests and was given the devastating news that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Before the disease totally robbed him of the ability to play, Jason spent time recording, but eventually he was unable to continue as a guitarist. Becker’s story may seem tragic, but it’s also an inspiring testament to the human spirit and Becker’s love of music. To celebrate his amazing life, a full-length movie documentary, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, was released in 2012 to critical acclaim.
Becker’s playing style includes fast alternate picking, sweep picking, legato, tapping, hybrid picking, advanced whammy bar phrasing, and an instantly recognizable vibrato. He often employed a technique of landing on a note that was outside the scale—essentially a “wrong” note—and then slowly bending it to become an inside note. This technique helped with tension and release. Japanese music was also a big influence and Becker was known to employ the Japanese pentatonic scale, or Hirajoshi scale, which is based on the tuning of a koto.
The track I’ve composed for this month’s lesson borrows ideas from the Cacophony pieces “Images” and “The Ninja,” and also Becker’s solo composition “Altitudes.” As well as having the full track with all of the guitar parts, I’ve included two backing tracks. Backing track one includes guitar two and guitar three’s harmony parts, which accompany the composed solo for guitar one. Backing track two has no harmony guitars, and only the rhythm guitar is included, so that you can try ideas of your own and don’t have to stick with what I’ve written.