If your playing needs a creative kick up the backside, look no further! Here we’re looking at some ideas that you can run with and really make your own. At face value, these are relatively simple ideas – but then that’s the point.
Have a look at our example riffs, but focus more on the techniques than the music itself. With the techniques down, try including them in your own music.
1. Pick scrape to chord combo
Hold an A chord, then use the edge of your pick to scrape along the string towards the nut. The plain strings sound different to the raspy wound strings, so try them all out.
As you get near the A chord, flick your pick across the strings to sound the chord. You get extra points for flamboyance – so don’t be shy! Obviously, try it with any chord.
2. Hammer-on and pull-off licks
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are the antidote to picking every single note. For a pull-off, play the higher of two notes, then, without picking, pulling your finger off the string to sound the lower note.
Hammer-ons are played by picking one note and then ‘hammering’ your finger down onto the next note without re-picking the string. Easy!
This rolling Randy Rhoads-style lick is a great workout for all four fingers. The arched lines over the tab and notation tell you to play either a hammer-on or a pull-off.
An obvious alternative to alternate picking, down-picking is best done by resting your hand on the bridge and targeting the string in question.
Move your pick back past the string using the shortest route possible, avoiding a wide looping motion that wastes time and energy.
This challenging groove-metal riff recalls Pantera, Devildriver and Lamb Of God. Of course, we’re talking about down-picking here, but try down-up style alternate picking to hear the difference too.
4. Use muting in your strumming
Include some rhythmic strumming on deadened muted strings by simply lifting off the strings. Don’t take your fingers all the way off – just stop pressing down.
Keep your wrist relaxed and try to avoid locking your hand and arm out. If your strumming motion comes from your elbow, you need to try and move your wrist more.
This is the kind of high-register funk riff heard in Chic’s disco stylings, pop from Prince and the harder sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That means the technique is versatile and you can use it in your own music!
Notice all the ‘X’s in the tab – these are the muted notes where you have to lift your fretting fingers.
Tapping is like a hammer-on played with your other hand – you just need to decide what to do with your pick. If you ditch your pick, use your thumb for extra stability.
If you’re keeping hold of your pick, you’ll probably tap with your second finger. Alternatively, hold your pick with your thumb and second finger – then tap with your first, EVH style.
This is a challenging lick designed for more advanced players to hone their skills. If tapping is new to you, you can practise any three-note group – it will still sound awesome.
6. Pinched harmonics
Also known as the ‘squealie’, pinched harmonics are played by touching the string with your thumb as you pick. Both pick and thumb should strike the string at the same time.
Pinched harmonics will only sound at certain points on the string, so you’ll need to experiment to find the best spot. Aiming 24 frets higher than the note you’re fretting is a good way to find out.
Zakk Wylde loves pinched harmonics, so this Wylde-style riff is a great way to practise low- and high-register pinched harmonics. Dial in loads of distortion to really help the harmonics sing.