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Andy James - Improvising

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 11 **

Hello and welcome to another edition of Metal Edge! We're going to take a slightly different direction this month and instead of focusing on a specific technique, we're going to look at some patterns that I like to use to when improvising. One of the biggest problems for the aspiring guitarist once you've learnt all of your shapes and techniques is just how to stick them all together in your licks. We're going to look at three licks all in the key of Em, but do your best to put these into as many keys as possible.

As I demonstrate towards the end of the video, the licks we are going to tackle here all come from the minor pentatonic framework. If you skip to the pdf resources for the issue you'll find tabs for the licks and also diagrams of the five minor pentatonic shapes. If you haven't learnt these yet, it's absolutely paramount that you get these together as soon as possible. When I play like this, I'm adding additional notes found in the three note per string system (see iG 9 for charts), but I'm always coming back to the minor pentatonic, so I know how to end a lick.

Lick 1 starts right up the top end of the neck utilising a series of rapid fire pull-offs and sliding position shifts. Note that although I start the lick on fret 24, it will work well if you play fret 22 due to lack of frets. The first technical demand on this lick is strong pull-offs, so remember that a pull-off should lift off the string, it moves off downwards essentially re plucking the string on the way. The other aspect you need to take care of is the position shifts, note that they're all executed on the first finger. As stated before, when I do this I'm focusing on where I'm going to in relation to my pentatonic shapes. I end this lick on a D which is the b7, but if you put some aggressive tone wide vibrato on it it's going to sound great, alternatively you could choose to continue the lick on from here.

Lick 2 takes a simple melodic cell and then moves it up the neck in octaves. The idea revolves around the pattern played starting on the ninth fret of the E string; we hammer from the first finger to the second, then instead of playing the third note from that three note per string shape, we play the third note on the adjacent string. This idea is then moved up in string sets and shifted up the neck, never underestimate the effectiveness of utilising octaves - it allows you to extend a line but giving the audience something they already know. As before, we're going to apply an aggressive vibrato to our final note, but as we're landing on the root you can go for either a tone wide vibrato, or a more Zakk Wylde-esq b3rd.

Lick 3 really ups the bar by dramatically increasing the size of our stretches and adding some wide interval tapping. As before, if you look closely you'll realise we're just taking one melodic cell and moving it up in octaves. We finish the lick in a very Steve Vai-esq tapping fashion where the left hand just outlines the minor pentatonic in shape one while the right hand taps on the 24th fret. If you're without 24 frets, try tapping the lower part of shape five (starting on fret 22). Be careful, utilise a left hand tap when moving from string to string here. It's also important to note that this part of the lick moves up to six notes per click. I'm really fond of ideas like this and use them quite often, so toy around with possible variations on the idea and see if you can come up with any additional ways to get this sort of thing into your solos.

As I always say, there's no better way than to go out and play this stuff with people or in your band. You can use them and adapt them to suit your own means, but the more you use them, the easier they'll be to string together. So until next lesson, stay metal!

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