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This article was originally published in issue #18
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Tom Quayle shows you how to grasp the style of the incredible Greg Howe
Hey guys, welcome to this Greg Howe Tech Session. In this lesson I’ve written a short solo that attempts to capture some of the key elements of Greg’s wonderful style, combining elements of Rock, Jazz, Funk and R&B playing into a unique and instantly recognisable sound.
Greg has some very identifiable and personal technical and theoretical approaches in his playing and it would have been impossible to incorporate all of these into a one minute long solo but I’ve taken some of the most identifiable elements and tried to incorporate them into the licks presented here.
The first section of the solo up until bar 18 is all based around A Dorian, so we’re soloing over an Am7 chord. This scale has come to dominate and signify the sound of modern, Rock based fusion due to its inherent Jazz qualities and funky sound. This is due primarily to the natural 6th interval contained within the scale and Greg exploits this interval all the time in his solos and I’ve tried to do the same using a number of different methods.
Lick 1 starts with a triplet based Am7 arpeggio in 7th position, played using a combination of legato and slides. The first thing to watch out for here is the tricky, first finger position shift into the 9th fret on the D string, allowing us to move into an Am9 arpeggio for the last four notes of the bar. Also note the use of the b5 interval (8th fret on the G string) for an added bluesy element. The lick ends with the classic Greg Howe ‘side to side’ vibrato technique. Try to slide as accurately as you can above and below the target note (12th fret) by about two frets either side. Removing your thumb from the back of the neck also helps in the execution of this technique.
This lick starts on beat three of bar two and has a reverse version of the Am7 arpeggio that we started with. We then have a short chromatic passage leading into a D7 arpeggio in bar 3 outlining the b3rd, root, 6th and 4th of our Am7 chord, giving us a Jazz influenced element to the solo. Greg’s approach is very much based on using diatonic arpeggios from the key to outline certain intervals over the chord played by the rhythm section and this is a technique that will be used again in Lick 3. The lick is finished with a Rock based Blues phrase. For added authenticity try to accent each downbeat with a stronger pick attack.
This lick is based almost entirely on an F#m7b5 arpeggio. When played over the Am7 chord this arpeggio outlines the 6th, root, b3 and 5th of the chord giving us that jazzy tonality that Greg is so famous for. We’re basically superimposing chord VII over the II chord in the backing track to achieve this sound. Notice that the phrase starts on the 2nd 16th note of the bar for a syncopated feel and how the use of triplets and 16th notes gives the phrase a ‘changing gears’ quality. The tricky 16th note triplet arpeggio at the end of bar 6 may take quite a bit of practice to get up to speed so start slowly until your muscle memory has nailed the phrase.
This lick is a variation of something I heard Greg play from his solo ‘Last Minute’. This is a tricky phrase to execute well thanks to the position shifts that start with a full step bend. The idea is to sound like a synth player using a pitch wheel so try to make the position shifts as smooth as possible. In bar 9 I tried to remain synth like with some wider intervals and the subtle pitch bend on the penultimate note. Make sure you hammer into the 20th fret before the band, bending the note up very quickly before releasing. You’re trying to create the impression of a pre-bend but on a hammered note. The result is a very synth-like pitch change as if you pre-bent the pitch wheel and let it return to pitch after the note has sounded.
This lick is pure Greg Howe with a cool and very hip descending Blues scale phrase followed by Greg’s trademark hammer-ons from nowhere and tapped scalar runs. The first part of the phrase is based on an Am Blues scale but starts on the 4th 16th note of the bar for added syncopation. Make sure to play the three notes of the 2nd beat in bar 11 as hammer-ons in order that you can get your right hand into a tapping position for the next run. The accelerating scale run is based on Greg’s 3 note per string tapping runs that require you to hammer on the first note of each new string with the first finger of the left hand and execute the 3rd note on each string with a right hand tap. I recommend using the 2nd finger on the right hand to tap so that you can keep hold of the pick for the end of the run. This technique allows for hugely fast flurries of notes that sound super smooth and has been adapted and used by many modern Rock and Fusion players. At the end of this line we have more of the ‘side to side’ vibrato and some screaming bends to add rock authenticity.
This lick is a classic Greg style intervallic phrase based around an Am pentatonic scale. The line is executed using a combination of picking and right hand middle finger for a hybrid picking approach. Pay careful attention to the notation here as the middle finger directions are in the notation rather than the tablature, as indicated by the lower case letter ‘m’. There is also some interesting rhythmic displacement of the C (10th fret on the D string) pedal note. You may also find the octave jump at the end of the phrase a little tricky so take some time to get used to the position shift required to execute these two notes cleanly.
This line is a Jazz influenced chromatic line leading into an arpeggio based phrase that resolves into the chord changes in bar 18. Make sure that you land on the 3rd finger for the 8th fret of the B string (3rd note of the phrase) in order to comfortably perform the next two notes. There are some weird fingerings used here so pay careful attention to the video in order to not get confused. The last two arpeggios of the phrase are an Am9 followed by an Em7outlining the 11th and 9th of the Am7 chord before sliding into the 9th fret in bar 18 giving us the 5th of the new chord – F#m7.
This line, played over the new chord changes, is a syncopated (off the beat) 16th note phrase that outlines the chords through the use of chord tones. This is an area that Greg shows a lot of prowess in, being able to negotiate both simple one chord vamps and complex chord changes, thanks to his big Jazz and Fusion influences. Bar 21 is interesting thanks to the use of a C# Superlocrian scale line over the C#7#9 chord at the end of this bar. Notice how, throughout this whole line, I am sliding into and out of notes in order to add a more vocal quality to the phrases. This is something Greg does a lot in his playing and is useful in all styles to aid your phrasing whilst improvising.
This final lick is primarily based on a F#m pentatonic phrase and it’s worth remembering that, with the right phrasing and rhythmic approach, the humble pentatonic can sound as fusion as it gets and Greg exploits this a great deal, never afraid to use ‘simple’ scales instead of more complex ones. The phrase starts off the beat again with a bluesy phrase before turning into a monster, pentatonic tapping lick utilizing hammer-ons from nowhere and tapped notes as with the previous tapping
phrase from lick 5. In this case we’re skipping a string each time to create a very cool pentatonic phrase with a position shift half way through before descending again. You have to be quick and accurate with the right hand to get in and out of this phrase in order to execute the short ending line to close the solo. This last phrase is an Ab7 arpeggio played by the whole band before resolving back onto our Am7 chord to end.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this solo and learned some of the elements of Greg Howe’s incredible style. He is a huge influence on many modern guitar players and whilst it is impossible to capture all the elements of this style in a short solo like this, I hope this solo helps you to develop your own ideas and pushes you forward as a player. Good luck and as ever we’d love to hear your versions of this solo!