Need some inspiration? Liven up your playing with these 10 fresh techniques

Close up of woman's hands playing electric guitar
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Our aim with this feature is to illustrate some cool playing ideas and fresh approaches for electric guitar players of all styles and abilities. Be it grooving with simple funk lines like Cory Wong, working with Hendrix-style chord embellishments, shredding up the fretboard with tapping pyrotechnics, or trying the show-stopping spectacle of slap bass guitar style playing à la Guthrie Govan, there is hopefully something here for everyone. 

We’ve created 10 tab examples, each with its own backing track for you to play over. As is often the way, it doesn’t matter if you can’t manage to play every example in full. Just try to pick up the main themes and techniques. Hopefully you’ll pick up a few new bite-sized phrases for your arsenal of licks. 

Right, let’s get rocking!

Example 1. Funk and disco popping lick

(Image credit: Future)

This kind of syncopated single-note line is common in funk and disco, but is it rhythm or is it lead? Well, it can be either. Used as a repetitive motif, it’s a great rhythmic backup to funk chords. Add a few pentatonic or blues-inflected variations and you’re in lead territory – just remember to keep it sparse and simple. 

Example 2. Hendrix-style R&B

(Image credit: Future)

Another ‘is it rhythm or lead?’ scenario here with a melodic chord style that rock icon Jimi Hendrix developed from soul great Curtis Mayfield. There are at least two notes ringing out at any time, but there’s constant movement and a melody that catches the ear. If you’re using this approach in a band, try to complement the vocal melody. 

Example 3. Jazzy octaves 

(Image credit: Future)

It’s often easier to move octave shapes along the length of the string, but we’re confining our Wes Montgomery inspired lick to a fairly narrow area of the fretboard. It gives focus to what is a simple melody, before moving up to a satisfying high at the end. For practise, see if you can play the lick along the length of the strings as well.

Example 4. EVH-style tapping 

(Image credit: Future)

It’s a case of ‘maximum bang for your buck’ here in this shreddy Van Halen-style tapping lick. Yes, admittedly it is super-fast, but bar 1 comprises just one simple three-note phrase, and bar 2 is very similar with two three-note motifs. Start slowly, build speed, rinse and repeat! Job done!

Example 5. Slap guitar

(Image credit: Future)

Slap is far more common as a bass technique, but there’s fun to be had on guitar, too. There are three components here: the ‘pop’, where the pick hand ‘snaps’ a string off the frets then lets it ping back onto them; second is the thumb slap on the bass string; finally there’s the fret hand slap on the strings, indicated by an X in the tab. 

Example 6. Combining slide and fretting

(Image credit: Future)

Slide guitar can be tricky, so it’s worth remembering that you can still use your fretting fingers too – slide greats Brett Garsed and Sonny Landreth are masters of this. For our lick, place your slide on your second finger. The third finger of the fretting hand can fret the notes indicated in the tab above the slide. 

Example 7. Natural Harmonics

(Image credit: Future)

This lick uses natural harmonics to create a classic rock sounding run. Keep your first and third fingers spread wide so they hover over the 5th and 7th frets. Picking the strings with a sweep style technique will help with the speed aspect of articulating this lick. 

Example 8. Jeff Beck-style faux slide

(Image credit: Future)

Here we’e using the whammy bar to play slide and pedal-steel style licks. Now, even if slide isn’t your bag, there’s a beautiful fluid sound to this technique that’s worth experimenting with. Jeff Beck and Steve Vai are masters. 

Example 9. ‘Lizard down the throat’ gargle 

(Image credit: Future)

This Satriani idea can be tricky to get right, but it has a cool sound when you do. The first finger is used to fret the opening note and moves in an ascending slide up the string. At the same time the whammy bar is gradually dipped down. 

Match the rate of the upward slide and the downward dive and the pitch stays roughly the same and a strange gargle is created. Check out Ice 9 on Surfing With the Alien to hear it in action. 

Example 10. Artificial Harmonics

(Image credit: Future)

This is a way of applying harmonics to fretted notes, instead of the more commonplace open-string ‘natural’ harmonic. Start our lick by placing your first finger on the 5th fret, before simultaneously targeting a 17th-fret harmonic and plucking the string with your pick hand.

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Jon Bishop

Jon Bishop is a UK-based guitarist and freelance musician, and a longtime contributor to Guitar Techniques and Total Guitar. He's a graduate of the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford and is touring and recording guitarist for British rock 'n' roll royalty Shakin’ Stevens.