Hong Kong-born Herman Li is a successful guitarist, streamer and gamer best known as one half of DragonForce’s two-guitarist co-op alongside Sam Totman. Herman’s style draws from power metal and speed metal genres as well as video games.
Li combines these elements and lots of techniques to create an effect akin to a high-energy arcade game soundtrack meets virtuosic metal guitar explosion. Herman combines fast alternate picked scales, tapping, sweeping and whammy bar harmonics, all performed in quick succession to create an exciting and exhilarating salvo of notes.
In this lesson, we will look at each of these core techniques starting with some single-string picking in Ex1.
DragonForce music is typically played at higher speeds so your picking hand will require training in order to maintain control. Rather than tremolo picking as fast as possible, warm up by playing 16th notes, 16th-note triplets and 32nd notes with a drum loop or metronome, keeping the picking consistent in timing and volume.
Keep your arm relaxed by avoiding excessive force to your pick strokes and instead let just the tip of the pick pass across the string. Example 1 is played with constant 16th notes at 180bpm with some melodic 3rds played with the fretting hand. As you play along to the backing track, listen to the harmony guitar and blend your part with it.
Example 2 is another two-guitar harmony part, this time played with tapping. Here we are using minor triads played as 1, b3 and 5 intervals from low to high. You can experiment by turning these into major triads with a major 3rd, or as diminished triads with a flattened 5th.
Our third example is a single-note riff that’s played across two strings and features palm-muted alternate picking. Again, avoid digging deeply into the strings with the pick by using just the tip; let your distorted amp tone do the aggressive work, not you!
For example 4, we combine a picked scale lick with pull-offs and some natural harmonics. These are played by placing your fretting finger directly over the fretwire, picking the string then releasing the finger. In this lick we use the whammy bar to add some vibrato, but to get that brutal DragonForce style you can abuse the bar with as many dive-bombs as you wish.
Our fifth and final example is based on sweep picked major and minor triads played across the top three strings. Pay attention to the picking directions for the smoothest approach to playing these cleanly and economically. Again, the idea is to gently glance over the strings rather than digging in hard with the plectrum.
Play each example starting slowly and relaxed and gradually speed up in small increments in order to build up the required dexterity over time.
Get the tone
Amp settings: Gain 8, Bass 4, Middle 5, Treble 6, Reverb 2
Ideally you’ll need a guitar with a vibrato, and a modern tube amp distortion tone with plenty of gain. Set the EQ relatively evenly for a consistent tone across the fretboard. Use an overdrive pedal as a boost in front of the amp, with the gain at zero to help tighten the palm-muting sections, then add a delay effect low in the mix for some extra dimension.
Example 1. Stretchy 16th-note lick
Use your first and fourth fingers to fret these major and minor 3rd stretches and repeat the same melodic shape within each position. Use alternate picking to articulate the 16th notes evenly throughout.
Example 2. Minor triad lick
Picking-hand tap the 19th fret with your first or second finger and use the first and fourth digits of your fretting hand to execute the legato notes. Play the B minor triad melody on the second string, then move to the first string and repeat it as an E minor triad.
Example 3. Alternate-picked two-string lick
This riff is based in the key of D minor (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C) and played on the fourth and third strings. Use the side of your palm to mute the strings near the bridge and use alternate picking to keep up the momentum.
Example 4. Pull-off lick with whammy bar enhanced harmonics
This lick begins with an E minor scale (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D) pattern, followed by a natural harmonic at the 17th fret coupled with some whammy bar vibrato. Next, use pull-offs to descend the first string and finish with a sustaining harmonic at the 17th fret.
Example 5. Sweep-picking lick with arpeggios
Start this sweep-picked example with an upstroke, then a pull-off, followed by another upstroke. Next, glide your pick downwards across the three strings to ascend the arpeggio. Maintain this picking approach as you play through the progression.