Lick of the Week: 2-Finger Symphony

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:


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Climbing the K2: Finale

I hope you’ve been having fun with the first two-thirds of the Kreutzer #2 so far. It’s a great demonstration of how a variety of melodic techniques can be integrated into a very musical effort, and not sound too “technique-y”.

So here’s the final part of the K2, basically eight bars with a closing bar. We’ll break it down following the tab below:

Picking up where we left off last time:  Bar 17 continues the cool melodic shape started in the previous bar. The shape spells out intervallically as 5-6-7-R’-R-R’-7-6 (still continuing with the one-note displacement begun back in bar 9, so the shape really starts with the 2nd note of the bar). This shape can be worked diatonically down the neck for some cool results. Bar 18 is mostly a short G Mixolydian run, with a couple of thirds thrown in, to transition to the next shape.

The next three bars (19-21) utilizes the pedal point technique to great musical effect. Melodic development begins with a G-Em-A-F-B (harmonic minor)- G run, then a couple quick out-of-key nods (A major and B harm. minor) to build additional melodic tension, leading into the finale.

Heading into the homestretch, the first two beats of bar 22 are D Dorian, transitioning from G back to the home key of C. The key gets emphasized for the finale with some cool arpeggios working in the major 7th (B) to add some musical urgency and resolution. Bars 23 and 24 are identical, reworking the arpeggio as a back-and-forth grouping of 4ths and 3rds, rather than straight up-and-down. The final bar (25) is a quick ascending CM7 arpeggio resolving on a final C note.

Hopefully the K2 has provided you with some ideas for skill-building and melodic development. Once you get it up to speed, it’s a really fun piece to play, and should inspire you for a long time to come. To start off 2013, the entire piece will be offered as a PDF e-book, with additional analysis and relevant exercises to work on. Till then, play hard and have fun!

Climbing the K2, Part 2

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to work with the first eight bars of the Kreutzer Etude #2 posted last week. That first section introduces a deceptively simple but very effective melodic line which descends and then builds back up diatonically along the key of A minor, transitioning in the next eight-bar section, tabbed below:


Remember to stick with strict down-up alternate picking until the patterns are smooth and comfortable, and then you may start to spot opportunities where some legato phrasing or economy picking might be useful. Definitely experiment with palm-muting to accentuate beats and phrases.

The first two beats of bar 9 begin with the triad melodic figure from the first eight bars, but here it extends one 16th note into the next beat, which affects the next musical motif. This little bit of rhythmic displacement is an effective tool to make simple ideas sound more intricate, and not like a dry scale. For the rest of this section (and on to bar 22), the first 16th note for every beat will be the final note of the bar preceding it. So there’s that high A note starting the third beat of bar 9, then the eight-note descending melody, ending on the first beat of the next bar, and so on.

The melody for this section is simply the first six notes of the scale at the respective mode position, then back to the 4th, then up to the 7th (a jump of a third, major or minor depending on mode and position). The intervals spell out 1-2-3-4-5-6-4-7, and descend Am-G-F-Em-D. A simple and effective exercise to internalize this section would be to run the modes all the way up the neck on the A-D-G strings. The rhythmic displacement will probably present the greatest challenge to practice, but once the transition from Section A is smooth, it should be easier to lock in with the displaced melody.

You can see in the final bar of this section (bar 16) how the ascending scales resolve  (with a pretty wide intervallic leap, which can be mastered starting at slower tempos) into a new melodic shape,which continues into the final section of the piece. Next week we’ll post the final nine bars of the K2, and show a simple and effective exercise to get this seemingly complicated (but very cool sounding) melodic shape under your fingers, and move it around with ease. For now, concentrate on learning this section, and combining it with the section from last week, making a smooth, musical 16 bars (so far). More fun to come, so stay tuned!