Theory: Advanced Beginner
• Create long phrases that include right- and left-hand tapping.
• Learn to make smooth position shifts.
• Combine tapped arpeggios with string skipping.
Recently, I’ve been working on trying to string my lines together to achieve longer phrases. This came about after I was listening to some horn players. It’s interesting to notice how they need to breathe between lines in order to create space, which is just as important as the notes. That said, they also generate some fairly long phrases, which to my ears is pretty cool.
Fortunately for us guitar players, we don’t have the problem of having to stop to take a breath. However, this is not always a good thing because as I said before, the space is crucial to good phrasing. In this lesson we are going to shred some long lines, so it’s okay.
Making your position changes as smooth as possible was very helpful to me when I was trying to figure out how to string my lines together. One way of doing this is to add a chromatic passing tone in order to keep the continuity of the line. This also helps you rhythmically stay on the right track. In Fig. 1, I start with a sweeping Cmaj9 arpeggio (C–E–G–B–D) over an Am chord, which is a pretty cool sound. Played against Am, the arpeggio gives you the b3, 5, b7, 9, and 11, so there are plenty of colorful notes to choose from.
The coolest part of this lick is how it descends. It all starts with the tapping. I use the middle finger of my right hand to tap on the 15th fret and then slide down to the 12th fret. Then there is a new motif that repeats a few times to help me climb down the strings. Notice that the last bit of the line has a chromatic note that is going to help transition into the next lick.
This next lick (Fig. 2) is really fun, and it sounds much more difficult than it is—got to love smoke and mirrors! Now, the trick is how you tap it. Everyone is different and has their own way of doing things, so I advise you to do whatever feels most natural. I use my middle and ring fingers to tap out these notes because I still want to hold onto a pick while skipping strings.
So the notes come out strong and clear, make sure you are aggressive with your left-hand legato and right-hand tapping. This line comes out of the A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G), so we can still use it over a groove in either A minor or C major.
One thing you can try to make the fingering easier is to use the same two fingers on your left hand for all the notes. For example, you can use either your index and ring or index and pinky to go up the scale. I use my index and ring for the whole-steps and index and pinky for the minor thirds.
Fig. 3 has just as much tapping, although there is less string skipping involved, so I am back to using just my middle finger for the tapped notes. The charm of this lick is that it has a little bit of a Greg Howe flavor to it. The easy breakdown of this lick is that I am tapping every third note in a C major scale, which as a concept provides a lot of mileage. I strongly encourage you to create your own ideas from this example. The very last two notes form the most powerful part of this example. This is the same note, I am just tapping the first one then bending into that note, which makes it really stand out.
Fig. 4 is where it all comes together. I simply took the three phrases and slapped them together to make one long musical journey of sweeping, tapping, and legato love. I say I “slapped” them together, but notice how there’s still structure in the way the previous examples ended, and this will offer clues about how to make transitions smooth. When creating your own long lines, be careful not to just slam licks together. You have to make the transitions seamless, otherwise it sounds like the lick was just copied, pasted, and inserted, which is definitely not the goal.
Finally, one other cool thing you get out of this example is all the different techniques I personally enjoy. The two-finger tapping is a favorite because its not too often I get to use these licks. I hope you all enjoy the shameless shredding!
Since graduating from Musician's Institute in 2004, Justin Derrico has toured with artists such as The Calling and Robin Thicke, and also performed with Tina Turner and Beyonce at the Grammys. He is currently touring with Pink as well as playing in the house band for NBC's hit show, The Voice. For more information, visit justinderrico.com.