Welcome to our first “lick of the week” feature, where we’ll use basic ideas to build up to a cool passage of roughly 8 bars in length, that you can then use to impress your neighbors and scare away wild animals.
Our first LotW is an idea that sounds more complex than it is, and it can be played by just about any level of ability. It involves using an open string as a pedal point, with the 1st and 4th fingers forming movable triads around that point.
One of the first “cool licks” that a lot of players learn is the open string pull-off triplet. It’s a staple of many early rock guitar solos, because it’s easy to do and it sounds good. The tab excerpt below shows this in both pull-off and hammer-on form:
As you can see, if your 1-4 fingering is at the 5th position on the E string, you have an A note at the 5th fret, and a C note at the 8th fret. So the A-C-E grouping forms an A minor triad (R-b3-5). In the 4th position you have G# and B at the 4th and 7th frets respectively; G#-B-E is an inverted E major triad.
(Theory note: G#-B-E also spells out G#m6 (R-b3-6), but especially when paired with an Am triad, it resolves more as an E harmonically. It also depends on the key that the triad is being played over. But by themselves, the triads spell out Am-E. As always, it’s more important that it sounds smooth and clean, than to worry about the theory behind it.)
If we played the above triad forms on the B string instead of the E string, the two triads would spell out E-G-B (E minor) and D#-F#-B (B major inversion); on the G string they would be C-Eb-G (C minor) and B-D-G (G major inv.). Again, just listen to how the first triad on each open string resolves into the second one. Pretty cool melodic tension there.
Let’s try a simple four-on-the-floor variation, on the open B string, shown below. This one sounds somewhat like the opening riff of the AC/DC classic Thunderstruck. Even though every other note here is an open-string pull-off, be sure to maintain alternate picking for the picked notes throughout:
Let’s take our simple triad shape, and with a cool rhythmic trick, make it sound more complicated than it really is. Using just that Am triad we began with at the top, we’re going to turn it into a 6-note figure in straight 16ths, for a cool “six on four” sound. The first three bars of the tab below shows the 6-note figure repeating throughout.
Once you get that part up to speed, check out the fourth bar — the last beat of the bar ends with just the first 4 notes of our 6-note phrase, to even out the 4/4 rhythm of the bar. So the entire bar basically goes “6+6+4” as far as the melodic sequences used.
The biggest challenge I had in developing this slightly off-beat 6-note figure was making sure the notes on the open string sounded consistent in volume and tone with the fretted notes. These “moto perpetuo” type of licks, characterized by a smooth, rhythmic stream of notes, need to be played smoothly and consistently. It’s very easy to either “choke” the open note by accidentally muting the string as you head for the next note, or letting it ring for a split second too long.
This phrase is definitely one that sounds smooth and clean with some legato phrasing, as with the first two examples, but per usual, internalize the phrase with strict down-up alternate picking first, then start throwing in some hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Really work on that fourth bar, and get the 6+6+4 figure nice and tight. Definitely use a metronome. Alternating between fretted and open notes can be tricky on your fretting hand at first (especially when the open string note appears on different beats throughout the bar), even when all the action is taking place on the same string. Once you get a nice, clean, even sound at around 112-120 bpm, you’re ready to take this puppy for a test drive through other triads up and down the string.
Basically we’re just moving our 6+6+4 pattern through the Am (C relative major) scale. The indications above the first 5 bars are in some cases an approximation; the B-D-E triad in bar 4 spells out to Bm11, but with no 7th in there, the actual tonality is not quite as locked in as, for example, the A minor or E major triads we looked at in the first example.
The last 6 bars of the piece revert to our original 6-note phrase, running that back through all the positions more quickly. Take it slow to get the quicker position shifts under your fingers, then turn up the burn. The final beats of bar 9 jump the pattern over to the B string, resolving on an E note. Feel free to make a huge 6-string E5 power chord (022450, low to high) to drive it all home.
Good luck, and have fun. This is a great, simple exercise to quickly learn a lot of triads as well. Definitely work up some variations of your own.