** As featured in issue 52 **
Have you ever had a lick that’s so good, you could use it in many musical contexts, but have to be careful not to overuse it? This is one of those licks! Its foundation is based in bluegrass, as it sounds like a banjo lick, but it’s right at home in country, blues, and if done properly, in rock too. Versions of this lick, at least in essence can be heard by Eddie Van Halen in “Finish What You Started,” to several Albert Lee and Jerry Reed improvisations. I’ve even adopted very similar versions from a guitar arrangement of “Dueling Banjos,” by Martin Tallstrom.
The secret behind it is the open strings and the many keys you can play it in.
Let me break it down for you…
Let’s start in the key of G. “G” is a great key to play in because every open string on the guitar is in the key. To make things simpler, the only open string we’ll be using for this example is the G string.
The notes we’re going to outline actually follow a G7 chord, so you can play this on top of a G major chord, or a G7 chord. Starting on the 12th fret, we’ll play a descending pattern down to the 3rd fret arpeggiating the triads using the D, G, and B strings. (See example) Depending on the genre and song you can change the tempo as well as playing it unmuted or muted (with your palm) to give it a more staccato/chicken-picked feel. Even though it is possible to play with sweep picking, in my opinion, the most authentic and best sounding way is to use hybrid picking, incorporating both your ring and middle finger, as well as your thumb, or pick. This arpeggiated pattern that you use on every chord-change follows a “reverse banjo roll.”
Now that we have taken care of this lick in G, let’s try it in other keys. The next would be over an A7 chord. I especially like using this lick over a blues chord progression, like a Texas shuffle, because the open string is still “G”, so the dominant 7th voicing is highlighted throughout the lick. Basically, you play the first lick we did, but move it up a whole step on the neck, starting on the 14th fret. (See example)
Next is in the key of C. If we adopt the same pattern, but starting on the 17th fret, and rearrange the order of the chords, or “6ths” intervals that we’re playing, we have a new, fresh melody. This has a very “major” and happy sound even though we will be playing a Bb along the way, just because the drone note is still G; the 5th of C.
For the key of D, we play the same picking pattern, but the strings and chord voicing and positions are a bit different. We’re now playing on the A, D, and G strings, with the “D” being the drone string.
Let’s try it in B now. Once again, it’s the same picking pattern, but we’re on the first 3 strings (e, b and g) and we’re starting on the 11th fret.
Lastly, the key of E. It’s played exactly like the one before, in B, but moved up to start on the 16th fret.
Before I wrap this up, I wanted to add this cool, little twist. You can change the melody and chord progression to minor, instead of a major feel, to give it a more serious, or somber approach, like the vibe of Bon Jovi’s, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, or even something Sting inspired. (See example in B minor) Here’s a progression to try it over (hold or play each chord for 2 beats, except the Em7 is held for 4 beats): Bm - Bsus2/A - Gadd9 - D/F# - Emi7 - Gadd9 - A, and repeat. That’s it for this lesson. Have fun with these new licks; Use it, but don’t abuse it!
Thanks for watching, and see you next time!