** As featured in issue 26 **
Hi there and welcome to this issue’s Modern Rock Techniques guitar lesson, with the first part in a series looking at the legato guitar technique. This technique gained popularity from the impact of Eddie Van Halen’s 1978 debut album, featuring his incredible showpiece Eruption and innovative new legato-based guitar sound.
With the guitar undergoing refinement in response to the new levels of available gain towards the end of the 1970s, the legato style was becoming more accessible, and with its fast and fluid tone, would become a trademark of early modern Rock players such as Randy Rhoads, George Lynch and Warren DeMartini, as well as mid to late 1980s virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Richie Kotzen and Greg Howe. This month, we’ll start by looking at the ascending half-roll version of the technique, which is based around a sextuplet timeframe and follows the standard convention that the first note per string is picked, with all subsequent notes either hammered-on or pulled-off to.
I’ll be playing through the examples using our Hard Rocker backing track from last month’s solo study, which is in A Dorian (ii in the key of G) and with a tempo of 120bpm. Follow the links on the page to download the tabs, diagrams 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.
Example 1: Our first example is based around the position 7/A Dorian mode, configured as a 3-notes-per-string form, starting from the b7 (G) on the low E-string. If we were to regard the first note, G as the root note instead, then we would see this form as position 1 G major scale. This is the parent key consisting of the intervals R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, however, in our rock context, we are viewing these intervals as pointing towards the root note A, and so we have the formula: R, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6 and b7. The Dorian mode is the second mode in a key and is one of the most widely used minor modes in Rock with its bright and colourful 6th degree, setting it apart from the other two minor modes Phrygian and Aeolian, both of which contain the darker sounding b6th. Set your fretting hand up square and dropped with plenty of space from the underside of the neck to the cup of the hand. The thumb will rest in the middle of the back of the neck, and with the hand stretched with space between each of the digits. Hit down confidently, aiming right up to the fret wire.
After playing through and memorising the first shape, try to set the goal of learning all seven shapes within a week or so. The main consideration with legato playing is keeping the unplayed strings muted off, and most of this can be achieved by positioning the fretting hand first finger so as to mute the lower (bass) string above with its tip, as well as all higher (treble) strings underneath by remaining fairly flat over the strings.
As you move across the strings, the picking hand will then start muting off the lower strings unattended by the fretting hand. With a high gain setting an essential part of the sound, muting the unplayed strings is critical to achieving the characteristic smooth effect.
Example 2a & 2b: The next step is to turn our repetition exercises into a vocabulary of Rock runs by leading into an ‘exit’ or finishing bend and vibrato. From the 7 positions, we can narrow the strongest musical choices down to 3 master positions based around forms that host a chord tone of a root, 3rd, 5th or b7th, when finishing with a bend on the B string. Starting with our position 7 form, we can lead into an exit on the B-string, targeting the 6th degree and bending up to the b7 (Ex 2a). This shape also hosts a common exit, bending from the b7 up to the root note (Ex 2b).
As you ascend into the bend, the fretting hand position angles slightly with the thumb moving up and over the neck in order to clamp the bend in place, pivoting using a rotation of the wrist for the wide vibrato. From here, try to visualise the underlying Am pentatonic scale in position 1 and carry on improvising with additional rock phrases to contrast the legato run.
Remember that the pentatonic scale formula of R, b3, 4, 5, b7 is within our Dorian formula and can be used as a visual landmark.
Example 2c: Moving on to our second master shape, position 2 (based around the B Phrygian shape, but remember the backing track is keeping us within an A Dorian tonal centre, so we can recognise it as a ‘Phrygian shape’ yet bear in mind the notes/intervals are still pointing towards A). This shape leads us into a semi-tone bend from the 9th to the b3rd, another strong chord tone. Continue improvising based around Am pentatonic position 3.
Example 2d: The final master shape is A Dorian position 4 (based around the D Mixolydian shape), which leads into a bend from the 4th degree to the 5th. We can continue to improvise visualising the underlying Am pentatonic scale in position 4 for some complimentary rock phrasing.
Example 3: The next step is to build upon our basic legato run with some more interesting variations. This next example ascends 9-notes over 3 strings, before moving back to the A-string and ascending straight through the shape as before, finishing with the b7 to root note exit bend and vibrato. These types of sequence are well used in rock, and often some repetition can help build longer and more interesting runs. Try this and similar ideas across the other two master shapes.
Example 4: We can also approach our master shapes from the previous scale position. In this example we’ll ascend a basic 4-string run in position 6, before moving horizontally on the D and G strings into position 7, and heading straight to the exit. Try this approach for our other two master shapes.
Example 5: Finally we have example 5 which demonstrates how we can cover greater distance on the fretboard using octave ‘blocks’ to navigate from one master shape to another. Starting in any one of the three master shapes and playing the first two strings (6 notes) in three octaves, will lead you to a bend on the B-string, targeting a strong chord tone and allowing you to move into familiar pentatonic based phrasing.
That’s all for this issue. Thanks for joining me and I’ll see you in the next Guitar Interactive for the second part in our legato series, which will be looking at the full roll technique with groupings of 7.