Interview: Megadeth's Chris Broderick Talks Technique
"My musical tastes don’t belong to any particular genre," says Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick. "The only requirement is that the musicians are proficient and the music meets the intent of the composer."
With his monolithic chops and die-hard work ethic, Broderick has emerged as the scariest monster shredder on the planet. As he makes clear in the above quote, Broderick has a deep respect for both music and musical performance and has pushed himself relentlessly in the pursuit of technical proficiency and musical freedom. No less an authority than Dave Mustaine calls Broderick “the greatest guitar player Megadeth has ever had.”
Now 40, Broderick started playing guitar at age 11. A fan of all things guitar-related, he’s studied rock, metal, jazz, fusion, classical and country, as well as advanced music theory and sight reading. Not surprisingly, his list of favorite guitarists is diverse, and includes rockers (Greg Howe, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, John Petrucci, Marty Friedman and George Lynch), jazz players (Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Allan Holdsworth and George Van Eps) and classical guitarists (John Williams, Paco de Lucia, Scott Tenant and Pepe Romero).
Broderick joined Jag Panzer in 1997, replacing Joey Tafolla, and performed with the group for 11 years, during which time he also frequently played live with Nevermore. The guitarist joined Megadeth in 2008 and can be heard shredding his way through the band’s latest album, Endgame. Megadeth are currently on their Rust in Peace 20th anniversary tour. While the band was in New York, Broderick took some time off from his busy schedule to give Guitar World this glimpse into his virtuoso shredding technique. Watch for his new column, Chaos Theory, to begin appearing in these pages in our June 2010 issue.
How did you become interested in the guitar?
In early middle school, I was really more of a jock than anything else. Then one summer, I went away, and all I did was eat oatmeal and watch cartoons, and subsequently I became a very overweight kid. Back at school in the fall, I was ostracized by all of my jock friends, but I ended up meeting some cool new friends that didn’t care what I looked like or how I acted. It turned out that they were all really into metal.
Were any of these guys guitar players themselves?
Yes. In fact, one of them would always get annoyed with me, because whenever I was at his house I was always saying, “Come on, let’s go play your guitar!” because I didn’t have a guitar of my own. He’d say, “No, let’s go ride motocross,” or something like that.
How old were you when you got your own guitar?
When I was 11, I bought one of his friend’s guitars, which was a Sears guitar that was just horrible. You couldn’t even tune it. It had, I think, 18 frets, but it didn’t matter—I had to have it. It had been painted red with a can of spray paint, and I taped it with black tape so it would look like an Eddie Van Halen guitar.
Were you a big Van Halen fan?
Oh yeah. He was one of my first guitar heroes. I loved to do all the pick scrapes and simple repeated pull-offs to open strings. I remember all of that stuff amazed me so much, even though it was just the tip of the iceberg.
So what got me into the guitar in the very beginning was this big shift in my social life. And as soon as I had a guitar, I knew that I wanted to be a guitar player.
Did you take formal lessons or did you learn mostly by ear, on your own?
No, I took tons of lessons as my guitar playing progressed through high school. At one point, I was taking two classical guitar lessons, an electric guitar lesson, a violin lesson, a piano lesson and a vocal lesson every week! It was definitely way too much to manage. I was also taking some college courses while I was still in high school, so the workload was pretty heavy.
Did you consider going to college for music?
The ironic thing about that is, when I was in high school, I almost dropped out because I was so into guitar. All I wanted to do was play. I went to my mom one day and said, “I can’t deal with school anymore, and I know I want to play guitar.” My mom begged me not to drop out of school, so I stayed there for another week, and during that week I discovered that you could actually go to college for guitar. I never realized that was possible. So I went to University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music and majored in classical guitar performance.
At the time, were you dedicated to classical guitar or were you more interested in becoming a rock guitar player?
When I first went into college, I don’t think I had the right mindset to study classical guitar. I was doing it with the idea that to become the ultimate guitarist, one would have to be a classical guitarist. I had heard a decent amount of classical music, but I hadn’t built up a real repertoire of standard classical guitar pieces. When I got to college, all of the other guitar players there had already done that, because they had been classical guitarists for quite a while. That was eye opening for me, and over time I began to see how much easier it is to play an instrument—or do anything, for that matter—if you have a real passion for it.
In the beginning, classical guitar was very hard for me, because it was so technically oriented and I didn’t have that love and dedication to the style that I needed to develop. I soon began to see the classical guitar as something very different from the electric guitar, and I think about the two as very independent of one another in terms of how you approach and consider them. I actually think of the electric guitar as being closer to the violin, in that it’s more adaptable to single-string melodies.
When you were starting out, what was your favorite style of music to play on electric guitar?
I was definitely way into metal in the beginning, and Van Halen was the guy all of my friends and I wanted to be. I remember hearing a song with fretboard tapping and thinking, Wait—he’s using both hands to execute notes on the guitar? That’s going to be way too difficult to learn to do! It was probably something along the lines of this [FIGURE 1], which of course is pretty rudimentary in regards to fretboard tapping.
Very shortly after that, I got into Yngwie [Malmsteen], and then that was the new ideal: everything is Yngwie! And so, I had to learn to play this [FIGURE 2], which is a typical, Yngwie-type classical-inspired lick. I learned everything I could from Yngwie’s albums, and then from there it went on to the Shrapnel artists, like Jason Becker, Marty Friedman and Greg Howe, who I really loved. Greg’s newer stuff is really great; I totally dig everything from Introspection onward. I also got into more eclectic people, like Scott Mishoe, who used to do all of this wild slapping and popping stuff on guitar, so I incorporated a little bit of that into my playing.
As time went on, my influences broadened, and soon I was heavily influenced by flamenco music and guitar players like Paco De Lucia, Paco Peña and guys like that.
Did studying the guitar in college help you get to where you wanted to go as a player?
It did, but what I found in college was that everyone was either a classical snob or a jazz snob, and unfortunately I was neither. But I did pick up influences from both of those styles of music. My most recent “new” influence is country guitar, which has been a little harder for me to fully get into. I’ve never dug country music that much, but as soon as I heard people like Chet Atkins and Danny Gatton, I was hooked. And nowadays, I’m really into Johnny Hiland. I love his playing.
At some point you realize that there are smoking players in every form of music. So, lately, I’ve started trying to incorporate little things from the country guitar players into my playing as well. I guess that’s why my influences are so broad—I can appreciate the effort that everyone puts into their craft.
From the tremendous amount of work that you’ve put into the guitar, do you feel like you’ve got a pretty firm handle on all of these different styles?
]No, because the funny thing is, as time goes on, the realization of how much you don’t know only gets worse! I only see more and more things that I need to approach on the instrument—more different techniques, more styles, more players.
I remember a time about 15 or 20 years ago when I’d sit down with the instrument and say, Well, I’ve already practiced my scales, I already worked on my arpeggios, I’ve worked on this and I’ve worked on that, and I don’t have anything else to practice. But today, there is just a minefield of things to work on. It’s too much! I finally came to the conclusion that you’ve just got to go toward whatever it is that interests you the most at any given time. Hopefully, you’ll zigzag your way through the patterns of everything you want to learn. Eventually, you’ll come full circle.
How did you come to join Megadeth?
I got a call from Dave Mustaine’s management company just before the end of 2007, and they asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for Megadeth and, of course, I said yes. So we set up a time for me to go to Dave’s house and talk with him. When I got there, Dave greeted me along with [bassist] James Lomenzo, and we just started to talk and see how the fit would be. From there I played for them a little and then it was straight to work. I had to learn 22 songs in a month for the first show, which was in Europe.
Now that you are in Megadeth, do you have time to work on your classical playing or are you playing mostly electric?
Lately, the pull has definitely been to the electric guitar, and, unfortunately, my classical guitar has been a little neglected. It’s got some dust collecting on it, and I really feel bad about that, because classical guitar is a passion of mine as well. But, like I said earlier, I know that, when I get the time, I’ll just be on a porch relaxing, playing classical and flamenco music on the guitar. I might even pick the violin back up and scare some cats away with it.
For guitar players that have diverse musical interests such as yourself, what would you recommend as a good practice approach?
I think you need to focus on your priorities and realize that there are all of these different things that you want to learn, and as you go through all of the things that make you want to play the instrument, you will hopefully get to everything in due time. To me, having the desire is the best way to grow on the instrument. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to focus on learning all of my chord inversions, playing through all the chord voicings of, say, Fmaj7, like this [FIGURE 3]. I’d do all four inversions with the piano voicing, all four inversions closed voicing, and so on, and then a week later I couldn’t remember any of it. But if you apply that approach to a jazz standard and you try to utilize those inversions, it will stick with you, because you are studying those concepts within the context of a piece of music. That’s a much more desirable way to address it than just running through a series of inversions.
On your current tour with Megadeth, the band is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Rust in Peace, which featured the guitar work of Marty Friedman. During the performances, how close do you stick to Marty’s original guitar parts and solos?
I’m sticking as close as I possibly can. When I’m working on learning a specific riff or part, the first thing I look at are the techniques involved in recreating some of the crazy things that happen on the fretboard, and I play these parts really slowly for a long time. To me, if you try to bring a difficult passage up to tempo in haste, that will only serve to build stress into your playing, which is something that I definitely do not want.
I am very meticulous about trying to get the solos that I transcribe, sonically speaking, as accurate as possible. I have never seen Marty play most of these solos, so I might play some of the licks in a different position than he did. But when I play along to the CDs, I try to make it so that it sounds as locked-in and as tight as it can be. From there, I just try to have some fun with it, too.
A great example is the first distorted solo from “Holy Wars.” I love the way the solo kicks off, in terms of the changes in tonality from G major to Bf major. Once I learned the phrases, it was my goal to find the best way to make those musical phrases come to life. It begins with 16th notes and then quickly shifts to 16th-note triplets or sextuplets. The solo then shifts to G minor pentatonic and a Gm9 reverse arpeggio, followed by ascending octaves and ending with a cool G blues scale riff.
Do you have a set practice routine that you adhere to these days?
As recently as two years ago, I’d start off with exercises, focusing on slurs and legato techniques within a chromatic framework. Then I would go through all of my scales, then through my studies and then through my repertoire. That’s almost a “textbook” approach to practicing. But nowadays, when I first put on the electric guitar, I’ll start with a piece of music, and then I’ll deconstruct it from there.
Can you give us an example?
Sure. If I’m playing a sweep-picking piece like this [FIGURE 4], which is a composition I’m currently working on, I’ll look for the “issues”—the trouble spots—in there. This helps me to focus on the particular areas in each of the arpeggios that I need to work on. Maybe it’s the root form [beat one] that needs work, so I’ll focus on how my pick hand is sitting against the face of the guitar.
These days, everything is about how relaxed I can keep both of my hands. That’s so much more important to me than how fast I can play something or how it sounds, because if all you think about is speed, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. Trust me, I know.
Describe your pick-hand sweep-picking technique.
I think of it as drawing a straight line from point A to point B, dragging the pick across the strings on an even plane. If it’s a small movement within one octave, I recommend a little bit of “wrist contraction,” meaning you should bend slightly at the wrist as you go across the strings. With larger sweeps across multiple octaves, I recommend keeping the wrist steady, and pulling or pushing the whole arm at once across all of the strings.
The range of the wrist is actually pretty limited, so, for all of the tight/fast picking, I rock it back and forth, without moving my hand out of place. When I need to use a larger picking movement, I’ll move the entire arm so I can change the position of the pick to suit the movement across the strings.