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This article was originally published in issue #26
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Jeff Loomis is one of the acknowledged shred-masters of the 7-string guitar. But don't let that put you off! GI's resident 'extended guitar' genius Sam Bell guides you through the Loomis style in a way that you can handle either on a 7-string or the regular instrument. Of course, you'll need a spot of talent - but Sam can help there, too!
In this issue's Tech Session I am going to be looking into the style of the amazing super-shredder Jeff Loomis. I had the pleasure interviewing Jeff and his guitar sidekick Keith Merrow from Conquering Dystopia in this issue (be sure to check out Sam's interview - Ed), in which Jeff and Keith give some inspiring words of advice to all of us aspiring guitarists. Doing a tech session in the style of Jeff Loomis is no easy feat, however I've worked hard to put together a solo in his style that showcases some of his signature licks and concepts. Jeff Loomis is known for his use of 7-string guitars, in this issue's tech session I am using a 7-string guitar, however it is entirely possible to play today’s solo study on a standard tuned 6-string guitar.
Two of the perhaps most noticeable influences in Jeff's music and playing are Jason Becker and Marty Friedman who played in a band together, Cacophany, when they were younger. Jason and Marty both would use exotic scales to create dark sounding riffs and mix them with classical influences to create a new breed of Metal. The pair would also experiment with strange harmonies between the guitars on lead lines in order to create a dissonant and tense mood. Jason was known for his technical ability, particularly in sweep picking huge melodic arpeggio runs, clearly and articulately at high speeds! Jeff seems to have taken a big influence from these guys in particular, and it is evident in his high level of technical ability and songwriting.
The Backing Track:
Before we start delving into the terrifying licks, I would like to draw the attention to the harmony of the backing track. The first section starts with an underlying riff that implies the following chord progression:
Cmaj7#11 to Em
These two chords are part of the same diatonic key G Major. I included their extensions however as the notes in the riff highlight the #11 for C. The backing then takes a dark turn heading to the note of B which as we will find out when we come to the licks in this solo the different things we can do with a static B note riff in order to create the exotic and dark sounds that are signature to Jeff’s playing. OK, now we have looked into the background of Jeff harmonically and influence wise, let’s take a look at the solo I put together!
Before we jump in I just want to say one of the many awesome things about Guitar Interactive magazine is that its columns come with Guitar Pro tabs and PDF downloads so you can see exactly which frets I am playing, and if that’s not enough I have also explained the licks in the demonstration video! So be sure to check out the tab for this tech session as there are a lot of notes!
Lick 1: Huge Sweep Picked 3 Octave Arpeggios
The solo opens up with some three octave arpeggio sweeps that span all 7 strings, however if you have a 6-string you can move the notes from the B string onto the E string, the only issue is that the position shifting will be a little bit more tricky especially with the particular sweeping sequence we are looking at.
The first arpeggio is implying our Cmaj7#11 chord, we are using a ‘C Shape’ arpeggio starting with our little finger at the 15th fret and descending all the way down to the low B string, the arpeggio then comes back up to the A string and down to the B again before ascending all the way to the top with a mirror of the low end sequence where the top note changes on each turn highlighting the #11 from our Cmaj7#11 chord. Be sure to pay close attention to the accents and timing of these sequence turn abounds as these help keep you in time with the track. The C major sweep arpeggio repeats once more before moving the exact same sequence but this time moving to a 3 octave Em arpeggio starting at the 19th fret high E string.
Lick 2: Diminished/Chromatic Arpeggio Waterfall sequence
Here we have a Jeff Loomis signature lick that can be found in many variations in his work. This lick uses Diminished 7th Arpeggios in groups of 5, using 2 – 1 – 2 patterns, meaning the pattern has two notes on one string followed by one note on the next followed by two, take note of this pattern as it can be inverted in Minor 3rds (moving up or down 3 frets). The sequence starts on the High E string and descends with a particular picking motion that helps accent the groups of 5. The pick directions following the 2 -1 – 2 arpeggio pattern formula are as follows:
Down, Up, Up, Up Down
The pattern then jumps back a fret and down a string and follows the same sequence, however after the sequence is completed we ‘fill in’ the gaps chromatically on B string before ascending up the previous two arpeggio patterns ending on a half step bend from below the highest note of the phrase. The lick then repeats up a minor third before moving on into the next lick.
Middle Section Solo Part 1: Bends and note choice
We have now reached the middle of the Jeff Loomis style guitar solo. We start off with a nice bendy phrase with wide vibrato followed by some wide interval slides. We are using notes from the B Phrygian Dominant scale in this particular part of the solo: B, C, D#, E, F#, G, A which is a mode of E Harmonic Minor.
Middle Section Solo Part 2: B7b9 Arpeggio sequence
Another thing that I hear Jeff do a lot in his playing is his use of 7th arpeggios in a Phrygian Dominant environment. The notes in a B7 chord fit inside of B Phrygian Dominant B, D#, F# and A and it can create a little bit of harmonic ‘light’ in a harmonically dark sounding area. Jeff will use a lot of this interplay between light and dark sounding ideas in order to create tension and release in his solos. This particular arpeggio lick however features the b9 (C) that we find in the B Phrygian Dominant scale so we end up with a B7b9 arpeggio.
Fingering wise I am using mostly two notes per string in order to help the groups of 4 going up in 3rds sequence I am using throughout this phrase with the exception of some string skipping before the lick turns around and descends back to the B.
Middle Section Solo Part 3: More Cascading Diminished arpeggios!
The next lick adds a step more tension to the last lick we played, we are using the same kind of Diminished arpeggio patterns we saw in the Diminished/Chromatic part of this solo, however we are ascending more strings this time before ending on some tricky bends. I play the note I am about to bend with one finger whilst another finger is behind ready to instantly bend up to that targeted note, the phrase then moves higher up the fret board with a similar phrase but this time with a few more notes before the target bend. Jeff does a lot of this kind of phrasing with bending in his playing, it could be traced back to his Marty Friedman influence.
Middle Section Solo Part 4: Furious Phrygian Dominant 3 Octave Picking Lick
Before the middle section solo gives way to the next section, we end this section with a descending flurry of alternate picked notes starting at the 23rd fret, once you have the first 3 strings worth of the sequence it should be fairly easy to see how the pattern repeats. This lick is very inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen, another one of Jeff's early influences on his playing. Be sure to practice this lick slowly at first, concentrating on clarity, articulation and watch out for those string changes!
Ending Section Part 1: Diminished String Skipping
This lick is based on our chromatic diminished sweeping lick we saw near the start of the solo, however this time I wanted to demonstrate that you can use string skipping and alternate picking in order to create a similar sequence and effect. We ascend up 4 notes of the arpeggio before moving up a string and up a fret before playing another 4 notes. We then descend chromatically 8 notes before repeating the whole lick up a Minor 3rd. I alternate picked all of the notes in the performance of this solo, watch out when string skipping and executing the chromatic turn around at the end of each section of this lick
Ending Section Part 2: Whole Tone Alternate Picked Finale!
We end the Jeff Loomis style solo with a flurry of alternate picked whole tone scale notes. The whole tone scale is a scale consisting of only whole tones, it can create an eerie dreamy sound, and it can also sound terrifying and exotic when Jeff uses it like this!
The sequence uses a three note per string fingered whole tone scale, we are ascending the scale with a sequence based on one of Paul Gilberts classic alternate picking licks, however we have flipped it upside down in reverse and lengthened the phrase. I particularly found this lick tough due to the fact we are crossing strings using inside picking. The first string of this lick starts and ends on a Down stroke before crossing to the B string with an Up stroke, this creates an ‘inside’ picking motion, most guitarists find this a little bit uncomfortable at first, so I suggest taking the four notes of this lick and practicing only those notes finishing on the B string note until you feel comfortable enough to continue. The lick simply moves up in whole tones once the first sequence of 12 notes is completed before ending on a high bend on the E string 22nd fret.
So that brings us to the end of this Jeff Loomis style tech session, I hope you've enjoyed going through the licks and taking a deeper look into the amazing style of one of today’s most terrifying shred guitarists! Be sure to take these licks and apply them into your own playing, taking a ‘concept’ from each lick and applying it to other scales, arpeggios, rhythms and techniques can spawn hundreds of new licks, so get experimenting and most of all have fun!