Randy Rhoads: Rhoads to Success
Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine December 2006
The private teachings of Randy Rhoads (based on Robert LaFond’s Rhoads Scholar:
Memoirs and Memories of an Aspiring Rhoads Scholar).
Talk about a brush with fame! In 1979, Robert LaFond was a 19-year-old guitar player living in Los Angeles. As a high schooler, he says, “Part of my regular routine was to see my two favorite local bands, Van Halen and Quiet Riot, about every other week.” Both bands were up-and-coming acts on the Sunset Strip, and Quiet Riot’s guitar player, a slight young man named Randy Rhoads, became one of LaFond’s favorite local guitarists. When a friend offered to hook him up with Rhoads for lessons, LaFond jumped at the chance.
At the time, Rhoads was 23 and splitting his time between teaching during the day and performing at night with Quiet Riot. LaFond studied with Rhoads, for about one year, at the Musonia School of Music, which was run by Rhoads’ mother, Delores. During that time, he says, “I learned more about the guitar than in all my previous years of study combined.”
“At my first lesson, Randy asked me who my favorite guitarist was, and I said ‘Al Di Meola.’ Randy proceeded to play a tune from Al’s Elegant Gypsy album at lightning speed.”
Luckily for the rest of us, LaFond kept his lesson notes intact over all these years and has lovingly put them together in an “e-book” that he has made available through his web site, RhoadsScholar.com. We’ve excerpted portions of the book for this exclusive lesson. Here, as in LaFond’s e-book, many of the handwritten lessons Rhoads prepared for LaFond are presented in their original form, as well as in the standard tablature format.
LaFond got the idea for his book after reading Quiet Riot bassist Kelly Garni’s remembrances of Rhoads in the March 2006 issue of Guitar World. He notes, “Kelly has really helped to keep fans of Randy Rhoads inspired by the late guitarist’s musical accomplishments and has provided keen insight as to what it was like to know Randy.” Garni wrote the forward to LaFond’s book and authenticated its contents.
LaFond recalls that Rhoads “taught hundreds of students,” and that “each student, regardless of skill level, received personal attention from Randy designed to help that student become a better player.” According to LaFond, Rhoads distilled theory into a practical teaching method. In addition, he says, “He always stressed the importance of developing my ear—by learning how to critically listen to music so that I could accurately figure things out on my own—along with the pursuit of finding my own voice on the instrument.”
Throughout the course of Rhoads’ lessons, he utilized a specific methodology for teaching: in presenting material for study, such as scales and patterns, chord forms and substitutions, he would use either the guitar’s sixth or fifth string as a primary reference point. Focusing on sixth- and fifth-string root notes in this way facilitates transposing the lesson material to other areas of the fretboard and, subsequently, to all 12 keys.
One of the first things Rhoads would show his students was a “box” pattern for the five-note minor pentatonic scale, intervallically spelled 1 f3 4 5 f7, that enables a guitarist to play the scale across the strings in two octaves without moving the fret hand up or down the neck. FIGURE 1 illustrates the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) in fifth position, starting on the sixth-string root note and with the root note circled in each octave and the fingering indicated below the tab. This scale form can be moved anywhere on the fretboard: also shown in FIGURE1 is the G minor pentatonic scale (G Bf C D F) in third position and the C minor pentatonic scale (C Ef F G Bf) in eighth position.
Another important element in Rhoads’ lessons was a demonstration of how to create riffs from chord forms, which he labeled “blues riffs,” as shown in FIGURE 2. Here, a fifth-position A7 chord shape with a sixthstring root is shown first, followed by single notes, which aren’t part of the chord but may be used to create bluesy-sounding riffs. Rhoads called these “chord extensions.” One typical way to incorporate these extensions is within a standard rock and roll rhythm part, as illustrated in bars 2 and 3 of FIGURE 2. One can also use this concept to create single-note riffs, as shown in bars 4–7. Rhoads then demonstrated how this approach can be used with a fifth-string-root D chord in fifth position, as shown in bars 8–14 of FIGURE 2.
In one of the few lessons that focused on pick-hand technique, Rhoads stressed the importance of alternate picking (down-updown- up). Says LaFond, “I was struggling with gaining speed, and Randy slowed things down and had me focus on alternate picking. He stressed that alternate picking needed to become second nature, and I’m glad we instilled this technique as an essential part of my playing habits.”
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