Riffs are the building blocks of classic rock. They are the earworms that stick with you and make the songs memorable. In this video, you will learn how to play five of the most popular riffs from Deep Purple, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.
The envoy of evil honors Tony Iommi's ominous opening odyssey that is a foreboding fight between light and dark that ultimately sparked several subgenres of metal.
It doesn’t have to be all cowboy boots and yee-haws!
• Learn how to comp using hybrid picking.
• Add nuance to your playing by combining pick and finger string attacks.
• Add speed and fluidity to your lead playing.
The first thing most guitarists think of when they hear the phrase “hybrid picking” is undoubtedly twangy Telecasters. While that may be the most common use of hybrid picking, it is far from the only application. Diving into hybrid picking opens a whole new world of control, timbre possibilities, ideas, speed, and more.
As beginning guitarists start to move into the intermediate level, they typically build speed by practicing alternate or economy picking. It makes complete sense–especially to someone who’s new to the journey–that if you’re holding a pick, that’s what you should strike the strings with. I grew up learning how to play taking a slightly different route. Personally, I found it easier to be faster–and cleaner–to hybrid pick phrases, lines, and solos. It clicked with me and therefore was the technique I homed in on when growing from a beginner to an intermediate player. My alternate and economy techniques still aren’t as comfortable as hybrid picking, so here are some ideas from a guy that learned things from a bit of a different perspective. If you feel like your playing has plateaued, this might help you to keep climbing.
Small note: I use the pad of my fingers when hybrid picking and not the nail.
Step 1: Focus on the Small Differences
In Ex. 1 you’ll find what I consider to be one of the main benefits of getting comfortable with hybrid picking. I pick every note of the phrase on the first pass, but hybrid pick it on the second. On the second pass, the root note (open 4th string) is the only note the pick hits. I generally like to approach hybrid picking with an “each finger is assigned a string” method, meaning in this example the middle finger picks the note on the 3rd string and the ring finger picks the note on the 2nd string. Listening to the same two phrases played differently, you’ll note that there’s a tad more feel and nuance the second time through. These are subtle but can make all the difference in the world when it comes to creating, playing, recording, or performing parts. The combination of a mountain’s worth of small differences like this are what sets the pros apart!
Step 2: How to Play Chords with Hybrid Picking
Ex. 2 is how I love to use hybrid picking when comping. In this example the pick is handling everything on the 5th string while the middle finger picks the 4th string, the ring finger picks the 3rd string, and the pinky picks the 2nd string. Not only does hybrid picking this groove allow for a ton of control, it allows the pick to rhythmically separate from the rest of the fingers, creating a faux bassline. Again, using the middle, ring, and pinky fingers give a softer touch to the upper end of the chords, creating a more nuanced feel.
Step 3: Time to Go Low
Taking the idea of the pick handling the low end of the chords and giving the notes focus while the fingers contribute to clarity and softness on the upper end of the chords, we get Ex. 3. The pick only strikes the 6th string, while the middle finger picks the 3rd string, and the ring finger picks the 2nd string. This example of hybrid picking is widely used by guys like John Mayer and allows a player to have a ridiculous amount of control over what strings are being struck when playing something clean such as this.
Step 4: Let’s Get Sweeping
Applying this concept to lead playing, Ex. 4 replaces what would typically be an upward sweep with hybrid picking. The pick strikes the A note on the 7th fret of the 4th string. Then, the middle finger picks the C# on the 6th fret of the 3rd string, the ring finger picks the E note on the 5th fret of the 2nd string, and the pick strikes the F# on the 7th fret of the 2nd string. This is followed by a downward sweep of the same notes in reverse order. To end the lick, I pick the open 4th string. That’s when hybrid picking allows me to play a rolled Dmaj7 chord. These two embellishments are highly useful when both soloing and comping, and once again are a small touch that provides some “spice.”
Step 5: Enough with the Clean Stuff
Ex. 5 is a lick I use (I should probably say abuse) consistently. My sweep picking skills are abysmal. In part because I haven’t dedicated the appropriate time to practice them, but also partly because I tend to hybrid pick as a cheat or workaround. The lick is based on a G major arpeggio beginning at the 10th fret of the 5th string. I then pick the 4th string with my middle finger and the 3rd string with my ring finger. From there, I gather for a few notes with the pick on the 3rd string and repeat the pattern again across the fretboard. However, the second hybrid-picked part of the lick begins by striking the 9th fret of the 3rd string with the pick, then using my middle finger to pick the 8th fret of the 2nd string and my ring finger to pick the 7th fret of the 1st string. To end the arpeggio, I strike the 10th fret of the 1st string with the pick. The last bit of the phrase is a garden variety blues lick ending.
Hybrid picking is an extremely valuable tool that I think every guitar player should have in their arsenal. A player can have more control, feel, and timbral options compared to only using a plectrum, and it’s an easier way to add velocity with very minimal right-hand movement or tension. Try hybrid picking different grooves, licks, arpeggiated chord shapes, and even pieces of lead lines you already know to begin exploring how the technique can work for you.
It’s all about subtle but powerful choices.
- Learn about appoggiaturas.
- Develop ways to highlighting dissonance.
- Transform your playing with pitch-led dynamics.
We’ll be looking at the first eight measures. The Sarabande is a slow piece in triple meter. A metronome set between 40-50 bpm could help in feeling the space in between the notes but playing metronomically correct is not the point. It’s all about looking for elements of interpretation in the notation, relying on your ears, and allowing the internal energy of the music to guide you.
Jason Vieaux performs the Sarabande from Bach's Lute Suite BWV 995. This video was recorded live on March 9, 2008
In Ex. 1, you can hear me play the first eight measures in order to simply hear the character of the music and to get it under your fingers. At this stage on the electric guitar, I’ll make sure the notes are not ringing into each other. To do this, I dampen open-string notes with my fretting hand and quickly lift my fingers off of fretted notes to avoid sustaining them. Don’t worry, we will revisit the sustaining quality of the electric guitar as we make more personal choices with the interpretation later.
Now that we have the basics of the piece in our hands, let’s dig into the harmony (Ex. 2). On first look we have Am in the first measure, Dm in the second measure, Bdim in the third measure, and Am in the fourth measure. But there’s a harmonic twist on beat 3 of the first three measures. Each of these bass notes could suggest a different way to interpret the harmony.
For example, in measure 1, the F on beat three could suggest an Fmaj7 chord. However, the function of the bass note on beat 3 foreshadows the harmony of the next measure. Meaning, the F is suggesting that we’re moving to the D minor tonality. Imagine there’s no barline that separates the measures. Think of the music being written as a conversation between measures. Understanding these small details of the music will inform your interpretation.
Now, let’s talk appoggiaturas. An appoggiatura is a musical ornament. It’s technically defined as a dissonant note that is outside of the outlined harmony and is resolved into a consonant note by half-step or whole-step. For example, the dissonant G# in measure 1 resolves to the note A (Ex. 3).
An appoggiatura is executed with a slur, also known as a hammer-on. Try this on the G# to the A in measure 1. Now continue slurring the appoggiaturas in the rest of the example. Take a listen to how I emphasize the starting dissonant note of each appoggiatura by stretching it a little longer than the written value, I then resolve softly into the next note with a slur. In Baroque music, this is common practice: highlighting dissonance and resolving consonances softly. This gives the appoggiatura a sighing quality, like the human voice.
The next aspect we will discuss is pitch-led dynamics, meaning when there’s an ascending melodic line you rise the dynamic and when there’s a descending melodic line you lower the dynamic. In Bach’s music there are no dynamic markings, so much of your interpretation is dependent on your understanding of the melodic line.
Look at the notes on beat 1 of the first three measures in Ex. 4. Can you see the climb to the high B? Listen to how I gradually build the dynamics so that it peaks in measure 3 and I then proceed to lower the dynamic in measure 4. It’s the subtlety in dynamics that brings out the music.
Moving onto the next section, the first two harmonies are F major and G major (Ex. 5). In measure 7 Bach touches on three different tonal centers: C, F, and G. Then, there is a final resolution to a C bass note. Follow the dynamics implied by the descending shape of the melodic line by allowing the dynamics to diminish.
Now let’s work on the appoggiaturas in this section. In measures 5 and 6 there are descending appoggiaturas. Descending appoggiaturas are executed with a pull-off. Remember to highlight the dissonance and resolve the consonance softly. In measure 7 there’s both a descending appoggiatura on beat 1 and an ascending appoggiatura on beat 2. Take time to refine the appoggiaturas in this section of the piece (Ex. 6).
Play down this section again with your new understanding of the harmony, appoggiaturas, and pitch-led dynamics (Ex. 7). Are you starting to feel your own unique interpretation developing by applying these techniques? Remember, every player and every interpretation is unique. That is the beauty of playing this music.
Now, let’s consider the character of the electric guitar. The electric guitar tends to produce lots of sustain, so I often choose to let notes ring a little longer and into each other, which gives a more impressionistic quality to the music.
We can also add to the fun by using a reverb effect with a hall setting, which helps in recreating a cathedral-like space found in many Baroque lute recordings (Ex. 8). By setting the decay time on the reverb to around 2.5 seconds, the notes ring out even further creating interesting harmonic colors.
In measure 1, listen to how I let the very first note ring, and I hold on to the A note right before the F bass note on beat 3. This gives the effect of turning the measure into the Fmaj7 chord that I referred to earlier. While uncharacteristic of Baroque music, this brings out the sustain of the electric guitar and creates new harmonic pathways.
Listen to how I also let the last B note in measure 7 ring through into measure 8. This implies a Cmaj7 tonality. While a bit dissonant, I find it makes for an exciting resolution.
Bach’s music can be intimidating. But we can make this music personal by applying some simple Baroque performance practices. When we add the electric guitar’s sustain and some reverb to the creative mix, we can take Bach’s music into the present and create our own unique interpretations.