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Lesson Series

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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 6: Percussive Playing

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 24 **

In this guitar lesson we are going to continue our in-depth look at extended range guitar. So far we have looked at melodic approaches to playing the eight string guitar, but today we're going to look at the more rhythmic and percussive modern metal techniques that can be utilised on extended range guitars.

Percussive playing is commonly used on acoustic instruments, to aid a solo piece or add a variety of textures to a song. In progressive Metal styles percussive playing is becoming more frequently used, it can be heard being utilised by players such as John Browne from Monuments and Acle from Tesseract. Before I delve deep into this awesome approach to Metal rhythm guitar, I would like to say that a lot of the techniques we are looking at today are very similar to funk guitar, a lot of the picking hand technique is very similar to what we could hear in a Nile Rodgers guitar part, and a lot of the left hand muting is very similar to what we would hear when a bassist utilises slap technique.

A lot of what I am demonstrating in this issue's column is more concept based than lick based, hopefully it will inspire you to explore the approaches we look at here in more detail and within your own music. Let’s dig in with our first example…

Picking Hard. The dynamics of the picking hand.

In our first example I have put together a short etude that looks at the variety of different ways we can approach picking notes and palm muting. The angle at which your pick hits the strings can dramatically change the tone of the string. The more parallel of a pick angle you attack the string with, the duller the initial attack will sound, the more you angle the pick the more scratch and attack you will hear when striking the string.

Combining different pick attacks with palm muting can make even the most straight and basic rhythms sound funky and syncopated due to the changes in dynamic accenting different parts of the beat. Another thing that I feel it is worth thinking about is how hard and with how much pick you attack the string with. The harder and more solid you hit the string, the more the string will vibrate causing several effects that could equally be desired and undesired. Hitting the string harder brings out the tone of the string even more, and gives the note a more aggressive sound, it also depending on the gauge of string you are using can make the string go slightly sharper in pitch. This effect is commonly used by bands like Periphery, Meshuggah and Monuments, who use the pick dynamic to create a very moody type of dynamic during a riff as the ‘swell’ caused by the hard pick attack creates a pulsing vibe. Picking hard is one of the key elements in metal rhythm playing, it brings conviction, tone and tightness to the sound if used well.

Before I move on I would like to stress that the term ‘picking hard’ doesn’t mean you are thumping the guitar with the pick which would cause all kinds of undesired inconsistencies and lack of accuracy, I mean that we are using the picking in the way the famous martial artist Bruce Lee would perform a one inch punch. He would talk about punching through the object, moving through it with the weight of his movement whilst mentally visualising a target behind the object being punched. In our case the object being punched is the string, and the fist is our pick! This way we are using a relaxed motion in order to create the aggressive pick attack rather than brute force which would cause tension, lack of accuracy/musicality and possibly injury. I would at this point highly recommend watching the video with this lesson, and also check out some of the guitarists from the bands I have already mentioned in this column.

Palm muting and ‘Purring’

Palm muting is the art of lightly resting your picking hand palm on the string you are picking to create a muted effect. This is a great tool to create tight sounding rhythm guitar parts that sound aggressive and syncopated if mixed with hard picking. However, this one more tool that palm muting can be used for, and that was nicknamed ‘Purring’ by the guitarist Pete Graves of UK tech metal band Red Seas Fire, since then Misha Mansoor from Periphery and countless other guitarists have been using the word purring for the technique I am about to explain, and it’s a beautifully simple technique with a lot of cool applications beyond metal, so experiment!

Purring is a slow palm mute, what I mean by this is the palm mute is slowly ‘rolled’ onto the strings when playing a note or chord, it creates a ‘purring’ sound that sounds very heavy with a bass doing a similar technique. Try it out with all sorts of chords, my favorites are major 7th chords moved around in minor 3rds, enjoy!

What about the fretting hand?

Earlier I mentioned that the fretting hand portion of this percussive approach to metal rhythm guitar was similar to that of a bassist who is utilising the slap technique. In many ways what I am about to describe is very similar. We can use the left hand to slap extra muted notes, or we can use it to mute whilst picking hard. First of all let’s take a look at the slap style left hand muting. We can mute the strings with our fretting hand index finger and slap lightly onto the strings with our middle/ring fingers to create a percussive attack on the strings, mixing with notes and purrs can create a multitude of crazy syncopated riffs. I highly recommend checking out the band Tesseract who utilise this technique through all of their music to great effect! The other form of fretting hand technique is simple muting, we can mute a note with the fretting hand and still pick the string hard to create a percussive effect.

One final thing I shall mention about the fretting hand and all of these techniques is that I encourage you to mix these percussive techniques with melodic ideas as I demonstrate in the second example in this column which is a riff from my song ‘Icicle’ that uses lots of the techniques we have looked at in previous columns combined with percussive fills between some of the licks. Be sure to check the downloadable tab and pdf that comes with this column to see how I string all of these ideas together and see if you can come up with your own variations.

So that brings me to the end of our 6th extended range guitar column, I hope you enjoy some of the techniques we have looked at so far. As I always keep saying, I highly encourage you to experiment fully, explore and listen out for new ways of attacking the string with the pick, there is a whole world of sounds available if you mix up all of the techniques we have looked at today, even the most rhythmically simple of riffs can be turned into a super heavy and funky syncopated metal riff that is bound to have people head banging!

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