** As featured in issue 28 **
Hi there and welcome to this issue's Modern Rock Techniques lesson column, with the third part in our series looking at developing the legato guitar technique. This time we are going to extend some of the legato guitar concepts we’ve been working on over the last two issues, with some additional finger tapping notes.
The scalar based legato and tapping style was used by Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch and many of the early modern Rock players as rapid-fire licks to add colour and contrast to their Blues/Rock influenced phrasing. This style of combining both techniques in a flowing and seamless way gained popularity with players that came to prominence in the mid to late 1980s, such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Reb Beach.
Following on from the last issue, we’ll be using our A Dorian backing track, originally taken from the Issue 24 solo study `Hard Rocker,’ and with the target tempo of 120bpm. Follow the link on the page to download the tabs and backing track.
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 solo and lesson, I used my Ibanez J CRG-2 TB 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.
This first example is based around the A Dorian position 7 shape, relative to our 3-notes-per-string system, however we can also visualise it within the Am pentatonic scale in position 1, with the tap extending the idea in position 2. This way of seeing the 6th degree (7th fret B-string) and the 9th (7th fret E-string) as additional modal ‘colour’ tones within the familiar pentatonic territory, will help you make the visual connections from the fast legato idea into your existing pentatonic-based Rock vocabulary.
Hold the pick as usual and use the second finger to tap so as to blend the two techniques seamlessly. These ideas also use left hand tapping or ‘hammer-ons-from-nowhere.’ Hammer down hard and from a height at first using the fretting hand fourth finger, and aim right up to the fret wire.
Try isolating the first two beats and using as a repetition exercise to develop strength, stamina, timing and accuracy. As you hit the exit on the B-string, bending from the b7 up to the root note, imagine this to be the first note of your next phrase and continue improvising.
Following our legato muting guidelines set out over the last two issues, remember to mute the lower string above with the tip of the fretting hand first finger, also muting off the higher string underneath with the underside of the finger. All other lower (bass-side) strings should be muted off by the picking hand, which is placed over the fretboard near to where the tapped note is played.
Listen out for any dissonant noises which may indicate muting problems, and once memorised, practice until the technique is clean and accurate with all notes of equal velocity. The next step is to find your base speed on the metronome and practice at this speed each day for five minutes continuously (shaking out any fatigue in the arms as soon as it arises), increasing the speed gradually each week as deeper familiarity occurs.
This example uses the 2-beat repetition exercise from our previous example and develops the idea with a legato roll and tap on the B-string, before descending with a hammer-on-from-nowhere to the G-string and targeting the b3 to exit.
The finishing note is played using tone-wide Rock vibrato by pulling the string downwards, and can be played either using the first or second finger. In order to place yourself inside the underlying Am pentatonic scale, try using the first finger to vibrato and carry on improvising using your existing pentatonic-based Rock vocabulary.
In this next example we will take our previous idea and build into it with a sequenced half-roll legato run. Practice the idea slowly so you can see the fretting hand first finger muting the string above with its tip, each time it ascends to the next string. All lower strings are muted off with the ‘heel’ and thumb-pad area of the picking/tapping hand.
Once memorised, apply the same idea using our ‘3 master shape’ approach from the last couple of lessons, applying to A Dorian position 2 (Phrygian shape) finishing on the G-string 5th degree, and position 4 (Mixolydian shape) finishing on the b7. The idea will also work well in position 5 (Aeolian shape), targeting the root note on the G-string.
This next example takes our 3-string concept from example 2, and develops the idea by moving into the next position horizontally. This idea can be further applied through all the remaining shapes so you can move into and out of the idea wherever you are on the fretboard. The example finishes with a vibrato note on the b7, 8th fret B-string.
Throughout all of these examples, remember to keep the fretting hand square and dropped, with plenty of space from the underside of the neck to the ‘cup’ of the hand and with space between all the digits. The thumb should be positioned in the middle of the back of the neck, except when finishing on a bend and/or vibrato, whereby the hand position will slightly angle, the thumb moving up and over the neck. From this clamped position, effectively forming a pivot, the bending motion will come from a rotation of the wrist and forearm, the fingers remaining rigid.
This final lick uses a tapped note to extend a full-roll legato phrase over beats 1 and 2, before repeating the same phrase through three octaves, finishing with a sliding tap to exit on the B-string root note. Keep the thumb in the back of the middle of the neck, and stretch out the fretting hand with the fingers hovering right over the notes to be played. As soon as you have played the last tapped note, move quickly back to the pick-up area to hit the final downstroke, finishing with vibrato.