shred your enthusiasm

Chops: Intermediate Theory: Intermediate Lesson Overview: • Add some blues firepower to your lick arsenal. • Become a string-skipping ninja. • Develop the skills to become a harmonic ninja

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Add some blues firepower to your lick arsenal.
• Become a string-skipping ninja.
• Develop the skills to become a harmonic ninja by implying the root note.

Traditional blues is usually not improved with large doses of athleticism. I can just imagine the song titles that might result from such a combination:

“One Bourbon, One Scotch,
and One Protein Shake”
“I Got my Mojo Jogging”
“Hellhound on my Treadmill”
“The Thrill is Brawn”
“I Can’t Quit Yoga, Babe”

I could keep riffing on these puns, but I think you get the idea. And now that I’ve built my metaphor, I’m going to contradict it by playing a bunch of my favorite 16thnote and 16th-note triplet licks over some unsuspecting blues changes. The speed of these solo phrases is definitely not traditional, but the notes still fit over the chords, the fingers get an invigorating workout, and there is enough bending and syncopation to pay tribute to the crucial sounds of the original art form.

Overall, I like having these types of phrases in my guitar phrase toolbox, just in case I need to turbo-charge a blues and give it some rock teeth. So let’s take a look at how it works in Fig. 1.

The first six notes form an awesome phrase and exercise by themselves. It’s a simple three-note pattern that alternates between two different ending notes. When played with alternate picking—which is what I recommend—the picking will reverse itself, in relation to the left hand, every three notes. This reversal can be infuriating at first. But with some slow and accurate practice, you can turn an enemy into a friend and add some serious indestructibility to your alternate-picking technique.

In the second measure, a couple of pull-offs are included to give some muchdeserved rest to the picking hand. And make sure to give proper attention to the bend at the end. It is the first chance for the solo to breathe, so savor the moment.

For measures three and four, I repeat the established patterns, but alter the notes to fit the IV chord (D9). You may notice there is no D note in this whole two-measure section, even though it’s played over a D9 chord. I leave the root note to the bass guitar and/or the ear of listeners who will infer it.

How does that work? All the notes that make up a D9 chord are being played in the solo, except for the root (D). Since 4/5 of the notes from the chord are there in the solo, the remaining unplayed note is strongly implied by the context. I never pass up an opportunity to use the word extrapolate, and that is what the ear does when the chord progression and the notes of the solo all point to the same root note, even if it’s not actually there. Last but not least, the phrase ends with another bend. Don’t miss this opportunity to shake it.

Measure 5 begins with 16th-note triplets. Harmonically, I chose notes to outline the E7#9b13 chord. That chord has so many symbols and numbers it almost looks like an abbreviation for a swear word. But don’t worry—it’s just notes, and this opening lick only uses four of them.

I highly recommend taking a close look at the combination of downstrokes, upstrokes, pull-offs, and hammer-ons that happen during the first six notes. My teaching experience tells me that most guitarists will find this particular combination to be counterintuitive at first. But this is a great opportunity to open up a new door of technique. Great sounds lie within. Slow, accurate practice will guarantee your success.

Immediately following the triplets, a couple of syncopated notes lead into a string-skipping challenge. The left hand shape alternates between tiny and large stretches, which will wake up the fingers and the brain. The resulting notes continue to outline the V chord. Enjoy the bend and vibrato at the end.

And finally, the last two bars resolve to the I chord. The 16th-note triplets at the top are best picked, starting with an upstroke. But what if you’re more comfortable starting with a downstroke? What would Al Di Meola do? The answer is “up.” It’s worth a try.

The return to 16th-notes summons a sparsely populated Am9 arpeggio. I purposefully chose to play only the b3, b7, and 9, and leave out the root and 5. Since there are only three different notes, the arpeggio has wider interval skips than if all the notes were included. And by only playing the most colorful notes, the harmonic character is magnified. It makes the listener go, “Ooooh!”

I end with the 3 and the root … the strongest, bluesiest, rockingest, two notes in the cosmos.

Once you have built all these details into a solid solo, it’s up to your ears to make stylistic decisions. I suggest being like a bouncer at a nightclub, but a very cool and reasonable one. You have the muscle to intimidate and keep people out of the club. But instead, you reserve the muscle to break up the occasional fight, and the rest of the time you keep the peace and act generously with the guest list.

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Balance hammer-ons and pulloffs with picked notes to create a smooth sound.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Rekindle your deep love for minor and major triads.
• Balance hammer-ons and pulloffs with picked notes to create a smooth sound.
• Learn about powdered-wig rock.

Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.

If King Louis XIV were to strap on an electric guitar, what would he play? My guess would be triads. There is something regal about the sound of triads. So as you sit atop your throne and gaze across the realm, contemplating swords, sorcerers, and serfs, you might enjoy picking and pulling-off some triads in the key of E minor (and finally resolving to E major). Let’s look at the details.

Left-Hand Stretching: Your left hand will get a good workout from these triad phrases, but you’ll never have to stretch more than a major third interval (four frets). I jump up an octave towards the end in order to make the stretching easier. If your hand is sending you signals of panic or discomfort, please jump up an octave at anytime. There you’ll find the frets are much closer together and the major third more stretchable.

Balancing Pick and Legato Techniques: I wrote out my exact picking pattern for the first measure. This combination of picked notes and left-handgenerated notes continues throughout the following measures. So once you’ve got one bar, you’ve got them all! (The last bar is the exception because I used a different phrase for the ending.) I can’t stress enough how important this exact combination is to making these phrases playable. One method to check that you are in sync is to observe what pick stroke you are using on the downbeats. For this phrase, it should always be a downstroke on the downbeat.

The Rhythm: The hammer-ons and pull-offs allow you to squeeze the fast 16th-note triplets into the phrase without having to stress the picking hand. These phrases don’t require much muscle, just accurate technique.

String Skipping: There’s a lot of string skipping here, and if you like triads, you’ll like these fingering shapes. After you have memorized the shapes, you can try your own phrasing ideas inside them. Again, I must emphasize that the balance of picking and legato techniques is the key to making these work. Why do I keep saying that over and over again? Because it’s true.

The Last Measure: I decided to end with a different phrase. It still uses triads, but the pattern is different. Please make note of where the hammer-ons occur and make sure to play them in those exact locations.

I hope you enjoy these triads, and for the ultimate in powdered-wig rock ’n’ roll make sure to check out a band called The Upper Crust and their aristocratically excellent song “Let Them Eat Rock.” Indeed!

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If one had to choose the best “one, two, three, four” in all of recorded music, who would get the prize?

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to play guitar and count to four at the same time.
• Feel the rush of an Em9 arpeggio.
• Create long phrases by combining odd-numbered lines in different octaves.

Click here to download sound clips from this lesson's notation.

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.

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