Over the years, I’ve noticed that guitar playing is like a winter sport. During the summer, guitarists, like everyone else, divide their time between recreation, work and practice, but when the cold months arrive, they start playing guitar again in earnest. Unfortunately, after a long break, we often find that our skills aren’t quite where they need to be.
This month, I’m going to present a crash course that will help you get your chops back in shape quickly and effectively. Spend about 45 minutes a day on this month’s examples and I guarantee that you’ll be back in shred mode in no time at all.
FIGURE 1 shows an unusual riff that combines a variety of different and essential techniques. It’s not based on any particular scale but can be analyzed as starting with a phrase based on the E blues scale (E G A Bf B D), switching to phrases based around E major pentatonic (E Fs Gs B Cs), which can also be thought of as Cs minor pentatonic (Cs E Fs Gs B). The melody presented is based on a phrasing scheme built around an odd-numbered rhythmic pattern, as seven notes are distributed evenly over two beats throughout the three-bar figure.
I begin with a pull-off from the ring finger to the index, using these two fingers again to fret the next two notes. Each seven-note group ends with three notes that descend chromatically, fretted with the ring, middle and index fingers. The picking technique is of equal importance: the first note is picked with a downstroke, followed by the pull-off and another downstroke. I then use consecutive upstrokes for the next two notes by performing a “reverse rake” across the A and low E strings. This is also known as “rest-stroke picking,” or, more formally, economy picking. I then pick the last two notes down-up.
This melodic “shape” moves up one whole step and then moves up another whole step while moving to the next higher pair of adjacent strings. The subsequent shape is identical but moved to the next higher pair of adjacent strings. The phrase ends with a similar shift but with a slightly wider fret-hand reach, incorporating notes located at the 12th fret.
FIGURE 2 combines straight alternate (down-up-down-up) picking with legato pull-off phrases. The alternate-picked phrases, illustrated in bar 1, are based on the E blues scale, and the legato pull-off sections, shown in bars 2 and 3, are based on the E Phrygian mode (E F G A B C D). Pick each note in bar 1 with attention to clarity and precision. The same approach is necessary for the pull-off phrases that follow in the first and second endings. There are some wide fret-hand stretches here, so be sure your fret hand is warmed up, and keep it relaxed throughout.
FIGURE 3 is a “pivot” lick reminiscent of an Iron Maiden riff. I use alternate picking throughout this exercise, pivoting between the fourth and fifth frets on the A string and then the D string. This is a great workout for developing independence between the pinkie and ring finger. Take your time and work up to tempo gradually.