** As featured in issue 33 **
Hi there and welcome to this issue’s Modern Rock Techniques guitar lesson column, with this part in our series looking at legato-based ideas. This time we are going to look at developing a sweep picking and left hand finger tapping approach to arpeggio guitar licks and lines. We are then going to integrate this approach with some of the legato guitar techniques we’ve been looking at over the course of the series - this time focusing on full-roll lines which descend through the positions using slides. Developing this modern guitar technique will enable us to combine scale and arpeggio ideas seamlessly, and offers a fast, fluid and melodic sound which is often used to build intensity in guitar solos.
A well used trademark in the styles of mid to late-1980s modern rock virtuosos such as Tony Macalpine, Greg Howe and Richie Kotzen - this issue’s routine is based around the sweeping, left hand tapping (otherwise known as ‘hammer-ons-from-nowhere) and full-roll legato style with slides. I’ll be demonstrating the sextuplet ideas over our original backing track Hard Rocker at 120bpm, and with the sixteenth-note ideas played at 160bpm over our more recent backing track Full Roller. Both tracks are based around the A Dorian mode, which is the second mode in the key of G major, and are downloadable along with the tablature by following the link on the page.
Get the Tone
To get a good modern rock tone, set the gain on your amp to maximum, with the bass and treble set slightly boosted (1 o’clock), and the mid-range either slightly scooped (10 o’clock) for rhythm or boosted (1-2 o’clock) for lead. For the lesson, I used my Ibanez J Custom with Bare Knuckles VH II pick-ups, through an Axe-FX II - set up with the Brit Super amp (based on the Marshall AFD head), along with a tubescreamer style overdrive pedal and some stereo delay.
Our first example is a practice routine based around an A minor triad in bars 1 and 3 and a G major triad in bars 2 and 4. Both triads are in position 3 (C shape in relation to the CAGED system) and feature a sweep stroke when ascending, and with a left hand tap or ‘hammer-on-from-nowhere’ on the B string when descending. The first two bars feature the arpeggio starting from the low G string and the second two bars demonstrate the technique starting from the highest note.
Try to ensure that the sweep stroke is played lightly and in one single motion. To keep the notes well separated and to avoid any dissonant clashes - focus on the fretting hand with the finger pressure released as you play the next note. Practice the exercise slowly until memorised before repeating continuously for five minute per day as part of an overall routine. When playing exercises continuously - always stop and shake out the hands and arms whenever you feel the onset of any tightening sensations, tension or fatigue.
After a week or so, and when the exercise can be repeated continuously with good accuracy, timing and tone - try increasing the metronome by 10bpm or so - again practising daily for another week. As speed is developed, you may need to spend more weeks dedicated to mastering a certain tempo before the deeper familiarity occurs which will provide a breakthrough. At these plateaus - concentrate on measuring your progress not in terms of speed, but from the feeling of progression in your timing and control.
On the fretting hand - keep the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck, and with plenty of space from the underside of the neck to the cup of the hand. For the left hand tap or ‘hammer-on -from-nowhere’ - hit down hard and from a height at first to develop timing and accuracy, and concentrate on an equal velocity between all the notes.
On the video lesson - after the routine has been played to the click, I have also included a demonstration over our original 120bpm backing track Hard Rocker, where I extend the example to cover four repetitions of the arpeggio in the first bar, before resolving onto the G string with wide ‘pull-downwards’ vibrato. On the versions in bars 3 and 4 which start and finish on the high E string - I’m targeting the third finger for the finishing note as it’s a stronger finger for the wide vibrato style. This also helps to set the hand at an angle, with the thumb moving up and over the top of the fretboard to form a pivot with the first finger just above the main knuckle, and with the vibrato coming from a rotation of the wrist and forearm similar to the action of turning a key in a lock.
Our next example develops our initial A minor and G major repetition fragments by filling in a scale note on the high E string. Configured as sixteenth-note repetition fragments, and with the high E string played using a legato ‘full-roll’ technique, we can see almost immediately how the arpeggio shapes can lead us in to scale based ideas.
To convert these technique building fragments into mini-licks or for use as a finishing concept, try applying some vibrato - pulling the G string downwards by a whole tone in depth, and with three vibrato ‘pulses’, which in this style are often played as strict subdivisions to the beat.
Hammer down the second finger confidently and from a height at first on the high E string, and keep it pressed down until pulling back off. This finger then descends to execute the left hand tap on the B string, before the sweep stroke then ascends. Watch through the video demonstrations and aim for an even velocity, with an almost synthesiser-like tone.
Our next example features a sixteenth-note lick which ascends our A minor triad using a sweep stroke, before a legato roll on the high E string sets us up to descend through the positions using slides, and leading from string to string using left hand taps. Starting off in position 3 (C shape relative to the CAGED system or position 2 A Dorian from a 3-notes-per-string perspective), the lick descends to the root note - A in position 1 - finishing with wide vibrato.
The success of this lick will depend not only on good accuracy and timing, but also on effective muting. Try to ensure that all unwanted strings are muted off with the heel/thumb-pad area of the picking hand - nearer to the neck than if you were picking for example.
Also be aware of any higher noises or dissonance which may occur as you pull-off when descending. This may indicate that the first finger is positioned too flat and may be inadvertently pressing down on the higher string underneath. For this technique, other than the first finger which mutes the lower string above as well as all higher strings underneath, your fretting fingers will need to be fairly arched with the pull-offs played gently and moving downwards and slightly outwards in direction.
On the full-speed video demonstration, the idea is played firstly as strict sixteenth-notes at 160bpm over our A Dorian backing track Full Roller, followed by a freeform interpretation with the phrase played as quickly as possible for effect, and with the finishing note targeted on the nearest beat by feel.
This approach is common in the modern Rock lead style, with players improvising at speed using ideas which may have come originally from strict subdivisions, but are phrased as fast note rows - usually much higher than the tempo, and with well timed resolving notes providing the transition back into subdivisional phrasing. With that in mind, the tablature includes a sixteenth note version which we can use to learn and memorise the idea, followed by a fast version which rushes the whole phrase over the bar by feel.
Our fourth example features another way of directing our previous run - this time with the idea descending to finish on the 5th degree (7th fret A string). For the finishing vibrato on all these examples, you’ll need to make a quick transition from the square hand positioning that the legato technique demands - with the thumb in the back of the neck - to more of an angle with the thumb moving up to the top of the fretboard and forming a pivot with the first finger just above the main knuckle. The vibrato will then work from this pivot, with the motion coming from a rotation of the wrist and forearm and with the fingers remaining rigid. As per the last example, the video demonstration includes both strict sixteenth-note and freeform interpretations.
This next example starts by ascending a G major triad, although superimposed over our A Dorian track gives us the b7th, 9th and 11th degrees - extending the harmony and adding colour.
Practice the idea slowly - breaking the example down and reinforcing the sixteenth-note feel by tapping your foot on each beat. Once you have memorised the run and can play it with good accuracy, timing and tone - start the metronome and find your base speed - repeating continuously for five minutes - although shaking out the hands and arms whenever you feel any tightening sensations, tension or fatigue. This speed will mark your starting point and is a speed which should be your fastest while still maintaining the feeling of full control. At the base speed, there should be no unwanted string noise or dissonance on the pull-offs when descending, and all notes should be clear and well timed. Practice continuously for five minutes per day for a week or so in order to consolidate and develop deeper familiarity, before increasing the click slightly by 10bpm or so.
Moving on to our final example for this issue, we have an ascending A minor triad which uses a five string sweep stroke leading into a legato full-roll on the high E string, before descending through the positions using slides.
Isolate the different techniques and work on pushing the pick through the strings in a single motion on the sweep stroke - the feeling similar to dragging a stick through park railings, and with the pick dropping down onto the next string slightly in advance of pushing through. Try to ensure the arpeggio is clean and with any unwanted string noise muted off by the fretting hand first finger - which lays flat across the strings. As you ascend - the heel/thumb-pad of the picking hand moves down to mute off the unplayed bass strings.
With the descending legato run, work through slowly and concentrate of trying to eliminate any dissonance when pulling-off. Set the first finger on each string, so that the tip mutes off the lower string above, as well as all higher strings underneath.
That’s all for now, thanks for joining me and I’ll see you next issue for the ninth part in our series, which will be looking at integrating the sweeping and left and right hand tapping techniques with our legato-based style.