** As featured in issue 25 **
Welcome to my new Modern Rock Techniques guitar lesson column. This series will focus on developing the main advanced guitar techniques used in the modern rock guitar style including legato, tapping, sweeping, picking, string-bending and vibrato.
This style emerged in the late 1970s, inspired by advances in amplifier technology which saw increased levels of available gain. The new saturated tone inspired the birth of a technical revolution, with players modifying their necks and customising their instruments for maximum speed and playability, often using light-gauge strings and low actions. Along with the advent of the Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, the conditions were set and it was Eddie Van Halen’s 1978 debut album, featuring the ground-breaking showcase Eruption, which introduced a new modern era of Rock guitar playing.
This advancing style rapidly developed throughout the 1980s, with a near constant stream of pioneering players. From the flash, hot-rodded styles of the late 1970s/early 1980s greats such as EVH, Randy Rhoads and George Lynch, to the neo-classical virtuosos of the mid 1980s such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore and Tony Macalpine, to the legato driven pyrotechnics of players like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Greg Howe, the modern Rock style rapidly evolved as one of the most technically challenging and exciting styles to play.
This month, we’re going to start off with a modern Rock style solo study called Hard Rocker, which is based around the A Dorian mode (ii in the key of G), and with a tempo of 120bpm. Included in the lesson is a downloadable extended backing track for you to try applying some of the ideas presented, and which we’ll be referring back to over the course of the series.
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.
Rhythm Guitar Part
The track opens with a sixteenth note single-line riff in A Dorian (R, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7), featuring hammer-ons and pull-offs set against a palm-muted open A-string pedal. For good clean separation between the open A and the hammer-ons and pull-offs, try muting off the low A-string with the tip of the fretting hand first finger when playing the higher notes on the D-string, also laying the finger fairly flat so as to mute the higher (treble side) strings underneath the notes being played.
In bar 2, there is a pull-off from the b3rd on the A-string, 3rd fret for a bluesy touch before ascending, hammering an open-string Em triad on the low E-string (gives us the b7 and 9th when viewed from our A Dorian perspective), followed by an Am triad (R, b3, 5) on the A-string before ascending to the open D-string and targeting the 6th degree (F#) on the 4th fret by hammering-on from nowhere.
This 6th degree is the first indication that we are in A Dorian specifically, as the other two possible minor modes - Phrygian (R, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7) and Aeolian (R, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7) both contain a b6 (F). The riff continues with a second time variation fill in the fourth bar, before repeating bars 1-4 with an anticipation, starting from the last eighth note of the bar and finishing in bar 8 with G5 and D5 power-chords.
The B-section starts in bar 9, and provides the backing for the lead solo. The harmony alternates between an Am7 (or we could view it as a C5/A) and an Am6, and is played alongside the palm-muted open A-string pedal using downstrokes. Again, try to get good note separation by muting off the open A-string when striking the chord fragments with the tip of the fretting hand first finger.
In bar 12, there is a single line fill featuring a bluesy curl or microtonal bend, which can be played by pulling the string downwards slightly before resolving to the open A-string. Then, starting as an anticipation on the last eighth note of bar 14, the progression moves to an open Cadd9 chord in bar 15 and then on to an open G5 and D5 in bar 16, resolving to the A5 in the final bar.
Lead Guitar Solo
Following on from the A-section riff, the solo starts in bar 9 with some double-stop ideas, including a semi-tone bend from the 6th up to the b7 on the B-string, which clashes nicely with the Root on the high E-string. From the fourth beat and into bar 10, the next part of the lick features an Am pentatonic blues-based lick, with a curled note or microtonal bend (pull slightly sharp!) on the b3 (5th fret G-string). The lick then moves into some pull-offs played using pinch harmonics. Try to dig in, sliding the first fingernail over the string, with the pick following through at an angle. Whereabouts the picking hand is positioned will affect the pitches of the harmonics, so experiment until you find the sweet spot.
In bar 11, there is an ascending Gmaj7 arpeggio (R, 3, 5, 7 = G, B, D, F#), although slightly randomised with some open strings, and which gives us the b7, 9th (same as 2nd degree up an octave), 11th (same as 4th) and 13th (same as 6th) when viewed from our A Dorian perspective, providing an Am13 sound. These extended intervals offer us a more sophisticated note choice with the characteristic Dorian interval - the 6th degree, adding colour. See fig 1 for a neck overview of this superimposition.
In the last beat of the bar, there is a fourth finger slide up to the 15th fret on the high E-string, before descending through bar 12 with a Cmaj7 arpeggio (R, 3, 5, 7 = C, E, G, B). Again, superimposed over our underlying A Dorian tonality, we can view this collection of notes as a b3, 5th, b7 and 9th, relative to our A Root note, providing an Am9 sound. See fig 2 for an intervallic overview.
From the fourth beat and into bar 13 there is a seamless transition into an ascending Am add9 arpeggio (R, 2nd or 9th, b3, and 5th - see fig 3), which leads into a pedal tone idea targeting a semi-tone bend from the 9th to the b3 on the 12th fret, B-string. For the sweep strokes, hold the pick fairly parallel to the string. The technique should feel similar to dragging a stick through park railings as the pick drops, resting momentarily on the higher string before pushing through in a single motion.
From the fourth beat and through bar 14, we have a bluesy sounding line based around a superimposed D7 arpeggio (V in the key of G), which then leads back down the fretboard, sliding with the fretting hand first finger, finishing on the 6th degree at the 4th fret D-string, and pulling downwards for the vibrato. In a D7 context, this line would move via a chromatic passing note to target the 3rd degree on the second beat of bar 14 as well as the finishing vibrato note of the phrase on beat 2 of bar 15, however when viewed from our A Dorian perspective, this equates to the 6th degree, again a colour tone and defining Dorian note (see fig 4 for overview).
These types of devices can help you develop and expand your vocabulary, and if you have phrases which are based around dominant chords (V), and which target the 3rd in particular, then they will often work in a parallel way against min7 (ii) chords a 4th lower, with the 6th becoming the target.
From the third beat of bar 15, we have a fast 3-notes-per-string legato run, which moves through the positions using first finger slides. The lick then builds in bar 16 with a sweeping and tapping line outlining an Am triad, before descending through a Gmaj triad using hammer-ons-from-nowhere, finishing with vibrato on the 5th degree at the 7th fret, A-string. Try to hit down on the hammer-ons-from-nowhere hard and from a height at first to build accuracy and strength, before refining as you gradually build your speed.
Throughout the solo, try to keep the fretting hand square and dropped, with the first finger set to mute off the thicker lower string above the one being played with its tip, as well as all higher treble strings underneath. The only exception to this fretting hand positioning is when moving into a bend, whereby the hand will angle forwards slightly as the thumb moves up and over the top of the neck.
Try isolating each lick and break down any problem areas with a series of short repetition exercises. With the legato, sweeping and hammer-on-from-nowhere techniques, there may be a rapid accumulation of tension and fatigue in the hands and arms, and it’s very important to shake out frequently as any tightening sensations arise. After a period of slow and precise memorisation, and when the timing has stabilised to an almost machine-like precision, you will be able to start developing some speed with the ideas.
That’s all for this month, enjoy the solo and backing track and I’ll be back next month for the first in a series of columns looking at developing the legato technique. In the meantime, please feel free to visit my site at www.martingoulding.com