** As featured in issue 29 **
Hi there and welcome to this month’s Modern Rock Techniques guitar lesson column, with the fourth part in our series looking at the legato guitar technique. This month we are going to look at ideas based around the quintuplet subdivision, which involves playing five notes per beat using the full-roll hammer-on and pull-off technique. We’ve already looked at this guitar technique in the guitar lesson from issue 27, where we developed ideas using septuplets or groups of seven. Both of these odd-note groupings are well used by modern rock guitar players such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Richie Kotzen.
This style of legato playing provides a faster and more complex sound than the simpler sextuplet-based ‘half-roll’ style that we started off with in issue 26. Once described by Joe Satriani as the sound of ‘liquid mercury’, this fluid sounding technique is frequently used to build intensity during solos and improvisation in the modern Rock style.
This week we’ll be playing our examples over the downloadable backing track ‘Full-Roller’, which features an uptempo hard-Rock feel based around the A Dorian mode - which is the second mode in the key of G major, and with a target tempo of 160bpm.
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.
The first example is based around the A Dorian position 7 shape, starting from the b7th degree (G). To gain initial familiarity with this run, a good idea is to establish the feel of the subdivision by dividing the whole idea into three two-string sets covering the low E and A, followed by the D and G and finally the B and E strings.
By isolating and repeating these individual sets for five minutes each, we can develop the three fingerings used in 3-notes-per-string scale playing - fingering 1, 2 and 4 when using two consecutive tones, 1, 2 and 4 when using the semitone-tone shape and 1, 3 and 4 when using the tone-semitone shape. In this position, the two string sets are symmetrical and provide a good starting point for developing timing, accuracy and stamina with the technique.
If you are new to legato playing, be aware that you may experience a rapid escalation of tension or fatigue in the arms, wrists and hands. When this occurs it’s very important to shake out your hands and arms until any tension has subsided. After a week or so of regular practice, with each example played for five minutes per day as part of your overall daily practice routine, you’ll notice an improvement in your stamina.
Once you have the three sets under control, link them together across all six strings, ending with the stop note before repeating. When the example is consistent in timing and tone - find your base speed and stay on it for a week or so before increasing.
Example 2a, b and c
We can take our initial repetition exercise to the next level by looking at an ‘exit’ or finishing phrase. This will allow us to generate musical ideas using the technique and help us to integrate the licks alongside our existing modern Rock-based vocabulary.
In example 2a, our run is played over the first four strings in the first bar. Try to pick lightly and hammer-on hard and from a height at first - the fretting hand square and dropped with plenty of space from the underside of the neck to the cup of the hand, and with the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck.
In the second bar, the pattern continues to ascend before rolling back on the high E string and using a hammer-on-from-nowhere on the B string to lead back up to the root note. This bar is executed using the alternative fingering - 1, 2 and 3 which sets the hand at more of an angle and is well used by classic and modern Rock players when leading into bends. Finally the b7 at the 8th fret B string is struck on the downstroke - bending up a tone to resolve back on the root note and finishing with slow wide vibrato.
In examples 2b and c, we then continue by applying this finishing phrase to A Dorian in position 2 (Phrygian shape) - which gives us a finishing bend up a semitone from the 9th to the b3rd, and then position 4 (Mixolydian shape) which gives us the bend from the 4th degree up to the 5th. As these three runs all use strong chord tones (R, b3 and 5) to resolve, they are the most stable choices found within all seven of the potential scale shapes, and are key areas to build vocabulary around.
Once you’ve finished the phrase, try to continue improvising using A minor pentatonic ideas as a contrast. Further to this - try playing a stock blues phrase before the run. By surrounding the new idea with existing ideas that you are already comfortable with, you will learn to integrate new ideas into your playing quickly.
Examples 3a, b and c
We can use our ‘three master positions’ concept to explore a range of different finishing ideas. In the following examples we’ll finish on the G string - using the fretting hand first finger to pull downwards for the vibrato. This will give us the resolving b3rd degree in position 7, the 5th degree when finishing in position 2 and the root note when finishing in position 4. Again, this concept is targeting the stronger chord tones of the minor triad - effectively providing a system which we can use to build our vocabulary around.
For the final vibrato, angle the hand as soon as the final note is struck with the thumb moving up and over the neck to form a pivot with the first finger just above the knuckle. From this pivot, use a rotation of the wrist and forearm to execute the vibrato motion - similar in feel to turning a key in a lock, and with the fingers remaining closed together in support and rigid.
In this example, the run ascends in position 7 to resolve on the finishing semitone bend on the high E string from the 9th to the b3rd. Try playing this idea using the more classically based fingering - 1, 3 and 4, and with the bend on the third finger. As you ascend up onto the high two string set, you’ll need to angle the hand position slightly, with the thumb moving up onto the top of the neck for the final bend and vibrato.
Our final example features a single-string legato roll starting in position 2, and which descends down through the positions on the high E string before moving onto the B string and resolving with a semitone bend from the 6th degree up to the b7th.
Moving away from the legato principle that the first note is picked and all subsequent notes are played using either hammer-ons or pull-offs, this lick features a picked note on each beat which helps bring out the accent every five notes.