This column is called POV because I hope to give a different point of view on playing guitar, and taking your playing to another level.
Lesson one: Let Melody Take You Away … Out of the Box.
I love playing guitar. I try to play as much as I can. But given my day job and various responsibilities, it’s tough to find the time to stay in physical shape. When I do get a chance to play, I find myself doing scales for dexterity and muscle building, with time for little else. It’s easy to fall into a rut: if scales are all you practice, then it’s likely your improvisational solos will sound like scales.
One exercise I do to get out of the “scale rut” is to play vocal melodies. I’ll use anything, from a Frank Sinatra song to an Iron Maiden song to a Sade song. I purposely choose vocal melodies because vocalists are forced to work within the limits of breath and range, and, as a result, their note phrasing and selection are inherently different from those of a guitarist.
For the sake of this lesson, we will use an example that is arguably one of the most famous melodies of all time: "Over the Rainbow." It begins with a simple octave interval. From there, it moves to various notes, all within the octave that has been established.
YouTube it, and pay attention to the phrasing Judy Garland gave the piece, and try to mimic that. Jeff Beck also does an amazing rendition, with his own style of phrasing. Let that inspire you to try your own phrasing.
Playing vocal melodies on the guitar will make the muscles in both your left and right hands behave differently than they do when they play scales. That muscle “relearning” is the key to this lesson, and to hopefully get you moving in a new direction.
One last thing: I often borrow from vocal melodies in my own lead work. Rephrasing a song’s key melody into a solo unifies the song’s parts into a certain sense of wholeness. One recent example is in the song "Any Given Day," on the Arch/Matheos release, Sympathetic Resonance. The first two measures of the solo mimic the vocal melody in the part preceding it before going off in its own direction. Have a listen, and I hope it helps.
Frank Aresti has played guitar for Fates Warning, All That Is, and most recently, appears on the new album from Arch/Matheos, Sympathetic Resonance, which is out Tuesday, September 13, on Metal Blade Records.