MVP: Slash
When looking for an MVP, lots of names came up, but in the end, I went with the player who, in my opinion, added the most value to projects this year, and that player has to be Slash.

Just a few years ago, Guns N’ Roses were considered a bit of a side show. For the record, I absolutely love Chinese Democracy, and the guitarists featured in the post-Slash 1.0 era. The reunion with Axl took a legendary band and put them back on the radar and on the road to playing stadiums. Slash’s style is a masterclass in classic-rock vocabulary, mixing pentatonic ideas with great bends and the odd bit of speed for good measure.

In this short solo composed over a simple blues rock riff in E (Ex. 5), I’ve used notes of the E minor scale (E–F#–G–A–B–C–D) with the added b5 (Eb) for that bluesy quality. The first four measures should present few problems, but as you move into the final section there are some quite quick ideas. Slash isn’t known for being a shred picker, so you’re going to have to mix picking and legato to get these licks to speed. It’s no walk in the park!

Click here for Ex. 5

Best Way to Get Noticed on Instagram: Neo-Soul Licks
It would be hard to avoid the meteoric rise of neo-soul guitar players on Instagram over the last couple of years.It’s developed into an exciting genre that blends the harmonic sophistication of jazz and soul music with modern funk and gospel chops. There’s no denying how impressive and beautiful this genre sounds when played by the pros.An afternoon looking at the playing of Mateus Asato, Isaiah Sharkey, Mark Lettieri, and Lari Basilio should be enough to spur your interest in this exciting, ear-twisting take on soul music.

The example I’ve composed (Ex. 6) is a relatively simple free-time idea in E. The secret is getting the parts to ring out as much as possible, so take each chord as its own idea and work on it slowly until you can play it cleanly and have the notes ring out. Also pay attention to the quick trills and slides, which are a form of ornamentation to decorate the chords. In terms of tone, I’ve gone for a Tele in the middle position and a Twin Reverb with lots of reverb. This helps to give the playing a beautiful ambience.

Click here for Ex. 6

Return of the Year: Joe Satriani
This past year was great for new music, and it’s hard to put aside your excitement when a legend of the scene announces a new release. This can be a double-edged sword though, and it’s often impossible to match the nostalgia surrounding a childhood hero. Thankfully, Joe Satriani’s new album was a hit.

In terms of style, Joe is one of the fathers of instrumental guitar music. His strong ear for melody, creative use of modes, and cutting-edge techniques really set him apart in the early years of his career, and now he’s back—as good as ever.

Ex. 7 uses Joe’s pitch axis theory, which involves shifting modes over a static bass note. So in this example, the bass plays a static C, and every two measures the harmony alternates between C Dorian (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–Bb), and C Lydian (C–D–E–F#–G–A–B). In terms of technique, I’ve explored Joe’s trademark legato ideas, rolling up and down the neck.

The beauty in Joe’s legato style lies in how he avoids playing strictly on the beat with obvious subdivisions. Where common phrasing uses lots of groupings of four- or six-notes-per-beat, Joe often uses groups of five, seven, or beyond! These aren’t planned or counted. It’s a case of rolling around with the hand and cramming the notes in the space allotted before resolving to the next part. So in essence, I’m playing this as fast as my hand will carry me!

Click here for Ex. 7

In Memoriam: Allan Holdsworth
While Allan certainly had the adoration and respect of virtually everyone who heard him, his sound was so ahead of its time he never achieved the following he deserved.Four decades after he broke onto the scene, there are very few people who can really say they’ve mastered what it was Allan did, and I’m certainly not one of them. It was his tongue-in-cheek hatred of the guitar that led him to develop sounds that seemed as far removed from the guitar as possible. His chord work sounded like some kind of synth unit from another planet, and his lead work had a sonic smoothness juxtaposed against some of the wackiest and wildest harmonic ideas you’ll ever hear. There’s unlikely to be another Allan Holdsworth in our lifetime.

Ex. 8 looks into Allan’s beautiful, ethereal chord playing. It’s really hard to pin this down in terms of traditional Western harmony—the chords use 10 of the 12 chromatic notes in total! Things become even messier when you try to give these chords traditional names based on the functional harmony we’re used to.

The concept here is to create more of a soundscape by taking some garden-variety chords and then adding in other notes for color. You’ll notice many of these chords include a major or minor second, which creates a pleasing tension. In all honesty, the wonderful tone Allan used, combined with the soft volume swells and reverb/delay he favored, make almost any chord work sound wonderful.

Click here for Ex. 8