The Shred Decoder: Expand Your Melodic and Rhythmic Control
Unleash the power of shreddy subdivisions.
- Understand how to work different rhythmic subdivisions into a rock groove.
- Combine related arpeggios all over the fretboard.
- Learn how to combine pentatonic sounds with arpeggio-based lines.
In my experience, constructing lines has always been about texture and structure. Developing ideas for soloing and writing melodies takes a keen sense of harmonic and rhythmic context. It’s about seducing the listener and delivering a ride that’s hard to forget—a ride that caters to the listener. Of course, it’s important to write for yourself and from the heart, but also remember that if your heart’s intent is to inspire others, then you’re on the right track for the long haul. And this is where melody comes in.
Melody deserves a certain level of priority in relation to harmony and rhythm. In this lesson, I’m going to show you a quick way to start improving your lines. The good news is music knows no bounds and music doesn’t care what level you’re at. Harmony and rhythm need to help each other tell your story.
In Ex. 1 we’ll be playing the Em7 arpeggio (E–G–B–D) in two positions. Don’t worry, we won’t get into too much theory, just remember these shapes can be transposed into any key. The top one starts in 10th position and shifts up the neck, while the bottom one starts in 5th position. Getting these under your fingers will help map out quite a bit of the fretboard. I try to only visualize one octave at a time, and then take that shape and move it wherever I need to chase the melodic and rhythmic ideas that inspire me.
Ex. 2 follows the same idea, but this time using a Gmaj7 arpeggio (G–B–D–F#). I’ve chosen E minor and G major because they are closely related key centers. When learning these arpeggios, focus on the string pairs that occur in each octave. In the extended arpeggio that ascends from the 2nd fret, notice how the patterns recur in each octave. That’s not always the case, as you’ll see in the second arpeggio that ascends from the 9th fret.
Next, we’re going to use the first Gmaj7 arpeggio—the one with the recurring pattern—to practice running through a sequence. Think of Ex. 3 in groups of five. When practicing such lines, I like to use drum grooves instead of a metronome. Now here’s the twist: To progressively challenge my technique, I keep changing the subdivision of the meter I’m using. For example, we’re in 4/4 time here. As I develop the sequence, I’ll increase the subdivision from quarter-notes, to quarter-note triplets, to eighth-notes, to eighth-note triplets, then 16th-notes, and finally 16th-note triplets. That not only increases my speed but it also forces me to be rhythmically aware, thus giving me both speed and accuracy. It gives me full control. Take your time with this example because we’ll apply the same shifting-subdivision concept to the next one.
We revisit the Em7 arpeggio pattern at the 12th fret for Ex. 4. Let’s take a moment to talk about picking. Please use whatever technique you feel most comfortable with, but if you must know, in the corresponding audio clip I’m using as much legato technique as I can. For those not familiar with this term, it means I’m using hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound many of the notes, as indicated in the notation and tab. But there’s no need to get hung up in the picking technique. If you want to pick every note using alternate or economy picking, then do so with style. If you want to hybrid pick, go for it. The point is to increase your rhythmic knowledge and execute some creative ideas.
Now it’s time to step up the subdivisions. In Ex. 5 and Ex. 6, we’re using the same arpeggios we mapped out earlier, only this time we’re playing 16th-notes. If this is something you haven’t done before, don’t be alarmed. Just think of it as a slight increase in speed. Learning to shift subdivisions with seamless control is a great way to expand your ability to develop lines.
Enough with the exercises—let’s make some music. Ex. 7 starts out by traversing the Em7 arpeggio with 16th-notes, then transitions into the next octave using 16th-note triplets. Then for variety, we mix in some pentatonic lyricism. That brings me to a side note: Always step away for a moment from using only arpeggios by mixing in some pentatonic or scalar lyricism to your lines. A line composed of only arpeggios can sound stiff and redundant. One way to avoid this is to sprinkle some scale tones into the phrase.
In Ex. 8, we’re using Em7 arpeggios again, but the position conveniently gives us a full three octaves to work with. Instead of sticking exclusively to the basic shape, I also included some pentatonic moves. Notice how mixing 16th-notes and 16th-note triplets add color to the line. The key to sounding like a professional player is to make sure your playing offers the listener variety in rhythm and note choice.
We head back to the Gmaj7 shape for Ex. 9. It starts out in the lowest octave, which is at the 2nd fret, and once again mixes in that good ol’ E minor pentatonic (E–G–A–B–D) tonality. We repeat the same thing an octave higher, but because we run out of real estate, we need to slide up before finishing off the line in a G major tonality.
In our final example (Ex. 10), we return to the Gmaj7 arpeggio in its higher position, though we’re treating it a bit more lyrically this time around. No sequences, just playing bits and pieces of the arpeggio.
The Unpredictable Playing of Robert Quine
Explore how a rogue player combined punk, rock, and avant-garde in a truly original voice.
• Develop an appreciation for Quine’s fearless style.
• Learn how to rip through fiery solos.
• Understand how to combine elements of soul, punk, and rock into a single solo. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Robert Quine was the kind of guitarist whose playing has never been mistaken for that of anyone else. By the time he made his recording debut with Richard Hell and the Voidoids on the iconic punk masterwork Blank Generation, Quine was already in his mid-30s and had developed an unmistakable sound. In a 1997 interview with Jason Gross for Perfect Sound Forever, the guitarist explained, “By many peoples’ standards, my playing is very primitive but by punk standards, I’m a virtuoso.”
It’s hard to overstate just how unpredictable Quine’s playing was. As a soloist, he could easily reference Chuck Berry or biting Chicago blues licks while channeling the sound of Albert Ayler’s overblown tenor sax or heading into Derek Bailey-style territory in just a few measures, while as an accompanist, he used raw harmonic and rhythmic materials in a totally supportive but personal way.
Quine, who died in 2004 at the age of 61, led a career that PG writer Tzvi Gluckin called a “paradox” in his September 2019 profile of the guitarist, Forgotten Heroes: Robert Quine. Gluckin summed up Quine’s career and playing as such:
“Quine was a niche player, yet somehow fit in multiple contexts—whether commercial pop or confrontational art—and was at home on projects by artists as diverse as Matthew Sweet, John Zorn, Lloyd Cole, and Lydia Lunch. He played for the song, didn’t overplay, but stood out anyway. You can always identify Quine on a track, even though his playing is tasteful and song appropriate. It’s also high-mid focused and unpredictable.”
Blank Generation is one of the ultimate documents of punk-rock lead guitar playing. Quine’s treble-heavy tone and aggressive attack is totally punk, but many of the licks he plays are rooted in the blues and early rock and roll. On the album’s title track, Quine’s first lead break begins with a conventional bluesy lick that goes off the rails as the guitarist slashes across his Stratocaster’s open strings, similar to Ex. 1.
Click here for Ex. 1
On paper, Quine’s second lead break on the song is straight out of the rock and roll handbook—as we see in Ex. 2—but his fierce bends and heavy picking make it sound like he’s strangling the notes out of the neck.
Click here for Ex. 2
As a rhythmic player, Quine drew from the same wellspring of influences. Blank Generation’s “Love Comes in Spurts” shows how he complemented a song’s rhythm with his accompaniment, from the use of an Aadd9 chord over guitarist Ivan Julian’s A major strums to his Keith Richards-style use of a second inversion D and first inversion G major shapes to imply a shuffle. As the song’s chorus closes, he uses a spiky and repetitive tritone pattern to contrast the band’s ascending power chords (Ex. 3).
Click here for Ex. 3
When he takes a solo later in the song, Quine uses a series of deconstructed rock and roll licks, each of which would have sounded natural coming from the hands of James Burton, but he assembled his ideas in a much more angular fashion as seen in Ex. 4.
Click here for Ex. 4
Quine was a masterful interpreter and could capture a song’s emotion like few other players could. He explained to Gross, “One thing that's crucial is that I listen to the lyrics. Like with Lou Reed’s 'Waves of Fear,’ if it had been about making an egg cream, my solo would be different than a guy having a nervous breakdown. It’s really obvious to do this but it’s important.” Ex. 5 is just one example of how Quine sculpted this anxiety-ridden solo using dissonant notes and bending and shaking them as if literally pulling the song’s emotion from the strings. While the studio recording is excellent, it’s worth seeking out live recordings to see how his playing on this song stretched out in performance and to watch Quine’s unique craftsmanship in action.
Click here for Ex. 5
While Quine never released a proper solo album, he did a number of duo records, some of which were recorded at his apartment. Basic, his duo record with drummer Fred Maher, shows a different side of Quine’s playing where, with his guitar in the foreground, he could spend time exploring chords more extensively than when he was in a supportive role. Quine told Gross that the album’s opening track, “’65” was, “One of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.” The song sets the tone for this multi-layered album and finds Quine stretching out on a series of woozy, delay-soaked chords as seen in Ex. 6.
Click here for Ex. 6
Quine fit in equally with the most abstract collaborators and the most mainstream songwriters, and his work with Matthew Sweet is evidence of how his playing could bolster a well-crafted pop song. On “Girlfriend,” Quine was given plenty of room to really rip. As seen in Ex. 7, he alternates from melodic bends to a series of wiry half-step slurs before coming to a tight conclusion.
Click here for Ex. 7
As you can see, it’s difficult to pin down Quine’s playing into a few succinct examples, but the greater point is that there was a fearlessness in his music. Hopefully this lesson will open your ears and hands to the contributions of the one of guitar’s true iconoclasts.
Top 10 Lessons of 2020
This year we looked into how to solo like Garcia, bend like the late Peter Green, and think deeper about the blues scale.
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