Prog-Gnosis: Getting a Feel for Picking Techniques with "Somnarium"

Hello everyone and welcome to my new Guitar World instructional column. Over the next few months, I’ll be demonstrating some of the techniques and approaches I rely on in the writing and performing of the music I play with my band, Animals as Leaders. Hopefully, you will find these ideas useful in your own musical endeavors.

I’d like to begin with a look at some excerpts from the song “Somnarium,” from the most recent Animals as Leaders album, Weightless. The majority of the music I play with the group is performed on an eight-string guitar, tuned (low to high) E B E A D G B E. In the examples included here, the parts have been arranged for seven-string guitar (low to high, B E A D G B E). If you have only a six-string, fear not, as only one note—the low Af at the beginning of bar 6 of FIGURE 1—is played on the seventh string. On a six-string, this note can be played at the fourth fret on the sixth string, though a quick shift up to ninth position will be necessary to play the notes that follow.

The opening riff in this song was written as an etude that I could use to practice my hybrid picking—the pick-hand technique that combines flatpicking and fingerpicking. Throughout bars 1–5 of FIGURE 1, I pick the lowest note of each figure with the pick and follow it with fingerpicking, using my middle finger, ring finger and pinkie to sound the notes on the higher strings. You will find some challenging pick-hand movement through this section as well as some really nice harmony as you shift from one chord form to the next.

In bar 6, outlining the Afmaj9(+5) chord, I switch to alternating between a flatpicked and a fingerpicked note, and then I wrap up the phrase in bars 8 and 9 with a combination of alternate (down-up) and economy picking. Economy picking, also known as “rest-stroke” picking, entails the use of the same pick direction when moving from string to string. In bar 8, there are two areas where three consecutive notes are performed by playing one note at a time on successively lower adjacent strings. This also occurs on two strings in bar 9. For these notes, I use consecutive upstrokes when moving from higher to lower strings. Notice also the inclusion of a single bar of 3/4 in bar 5 alongside a basic 4/4 feel.

The riff shown in FIGURE 2 follows immediately on the heels of FIGURE 1, entering at 0:29 seconds into the track. Here, I use the same approach but shift from Af major to Af minor. Using a similar motif but transforming it to a different tonality is a great way to expand on any musical idea. This figure once again is performed with a combination of hybrid and economy picking.

The last riff included here, illustrated in FIGURE 3, begins at 1:39, and I consider it to be the “hook” of the song in that it is repeated many times. Harmonically, I begin by moving maj9 voicings down the neck, but I wrap it up with a slight twist, incorporating m(maj7). Also, the rhythmic syncopation of the figure causes it to sound like the beat is turning around with each successive phrase, but, in fact, I think of it as alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4.

Part 1

Part 2

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