Prog-Gnosis: How to Play the Thumb-Slapped Intro to "An Infinite Regression"

This month, I’d like to demonstrate how I play the intro to “An Infinite Regression,” the opening track from the latest Animals as Leaders album, Weightless. This part features a very unusual and unique “double-thumbing” technique that, I believe, was pioneered by the great jazz bassist Victor Wooten. As usual, all of the licks in this column are arranged for seven-string guitar (low to high, B E A D G B E), though I play the part on an eight-string.

For this intro, I use my pick-hand thumb to sound consecutive notes with a downstroke followed by an upstroke, after which I use the index and middle fingers for fingerpicking. Along with the fret-hand tapping that initiates each phrase, the combination of these different techniques lets you devise cool, rhythmically complex and deceptive-sounding riffs like this one.

Let me first illustrate the basic technique I use to play the intro lick in “An Infinite Regression.” As shown in FIGURE 1, I begin with an Fs root-fifth shape, which I hammer on with my fret hand’s index and ring fingers on the seventh and ninth frets of the low B and E strings, respectively. This is followed by the previously mentioned downstroke and upstroke with the pick-hand thumb, sounding the third and fourth notes in the phrase, followed by the pick-hand index and middle fingers sounding the fifth and sixth notes. In bar 2 of FIGURE 1, I use the exact same technique but switch to the notes E and D, played on the seventh fret of the A string and the 10th fret of the low E string, respectively.

Many of you do not own seven-string guitars, so I’d like to show you how to play this lick on a six-string, as illustrated in FIGURE 2. On a six-string, begin with a hammer-on to the low E string’s second fret, followed by a hammer-on to the fourth fret of the A string. In bar 2, I move over to the second fret of the D string and the fifth fret of the A string. The lighter gauge and thinner tone of these higher strings hinders the power of the lick when played on a six-string guitar, so I suggest picking up a seven-string (or, even better, an eight-string!) to play this tune, as it will sound heavier and more authentic.

Now let’s get to the riff that comes in at 0:17, as shown in FIGURE 3. Instead of playing the riffs as sextuplets (six-note figures) as I had done in FIGURES 1 and 2, I play it as straight 16th notes, which results in a “two against three” rhythmic feel, with two different melodic shapes consisting of six evenly spaced 16th notes falling across three beats.

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