The idea of isolation and social distancing may be difficult for some people, but I’m sure most guitar players can put this time to good use. Here are four challenging licks to work on while in quarantine!
Nick Johnston is famous for his atomic-pastel colored Schecter Strats, and an amazingly versatile style which marries ultra modern shred with a Texas inspired blues sound. One thing that is not widely known about the Canadian guitar virtuoso is that he is actually a southpaw who learned to play guitar right handed. This gives his style an unusual emphasis on his left hand mechanics, with incredible suppleness and control over everything his fret-hand does.
This lick features the amazing left-hand mechanics that Johnson is so famous for, running through a series of ascending add-9 arpeggios in a sequence that really works out your left hand!
To play this cleanly, you should combine hammer-ons with economy or ‘sweep’ picking, picking the first note, hammering on the next, then sweeping your pick over the next two notes on the ‘D’ and ‘G’ strings. The arpeggios are in the key of C major/ a minor and run C Maj add 9, d minor add 9, F Major add 9, a minor add 9 and can be easily built upon rhythmically and dynamically in sonically rich ways.
What makes this lick such a workout is the wide stretching and rapid fire position shifts that Johnston executes so flawlessly! Start out slow and gradually work up speed, getting the stretches and position shifts under your fingers before speeding it up.
Nick Johnston Teaches Soloing
Three-time Guitar World Guitarist of the Year (including 2019), Mark Tremonti is best known for his work with bands like Creed and Alter Bridge, but he is also a Grammy Award winning songwriter as well as a dystopian fiction writer. Tremonti is also among the most admired lead guitar players in music today. In this lick we are taking a Tremonti-inspired incremental repetition with a sextuplet pattern broken into segments of 5 and 7 notes that meanders playfully through the key of e minor.
The passage is to be played with all hammer-ons and pull-offs, with only a single note picked on each string. The repeated pattern allows you to turn the lick around and position shift with relative ease. This lick is actually pretty slippery, and can easily get away from you. The key to getting this lick down is to break it down into groupings of 5 and 7 notes, as Tremonti explains in the instructional video below. The odd groupings of odd 5 and 7 note patterns creates an interesting tension when played in an evenly grouped backdrop of sextuplets (6 note patterns). This tension gives the lick a really cool sound as it drives through e minor to rest at an open low E power chord.
Mark Tremonti Teaching legato technique
While everyone else taking part in the 1980‘s shred scene were sweep-picking their butts off, Nuno Bettencourt found another way to skin the arpeggiated cat with rapid fire string skipping arpeggios featured in his classic solos like the Get the Funk Out and Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee. In this lick we’re taking a run through Nuno’s string skipping arpeggio shapes, running through a series of major, minor and diminished arpeggios that you can resolve any way you choose (or can be played seamlessly into the next lick).
When Nuno plays these passages, he’ll often pick most of the notes while palm muting them, giving them a more aggressive tone. When he plays string skipping arpeggios with a more fluid tone, like those in Get the Funk Out, he usually adds two-handed tapping which we’ll come back to in another planned article on two-handed tapping. Like the Nick Johnston lick, this lick really works your left hand with wide stretches and quick position shifts. Work this one up to speed slowly and cleanly before trying to speed it up and you’ll be rewarded with improved dexterity and left hand stamina.
Brian May Reacting to Nuno Bettencourt Solo
Those who have heard Paul Gilbert’s debut with Racer X are sure to remember passages from the solo Frenzy that simply boggled the mind! Gilbert’s brand of lightning quick economy picking and rapid fire sweeping took the then fledgling shred scene to a new level of complexity and daring. All of the other licks in this article work out your left hand, but this lick is designed to improve right and left hand coordination, really working your pick hand as well.
This lick is a diatonic series of ascending sweep-picked arpeggios with descending modal runs that take you on a journey through the key of G major. You start with a run down D mixolydian mode starting at the F# note on the 14 fret of high E string, tearing all the way down the modal position three notes per string down to a C Major sweep arpeggio that starts at the 8th fret of the low E string, bringing you right back up to the high E string where you turn the lick around again and run right down the C Lydian mode. The lick moves up and down the entire key, modal run and then the arpeggio associated with that run, making it a great way to learn the tonalities of the modes in G Major. This is a very challenging lick and a great way to practice your modes and sweep picking arpeggios.
In terms of technique, the lick is designed to have every note picked. Economy picking is the method to be used on the descending modal runs, allowing you to play them quickly and with fluidity. If you aren’t familiar with economy picking, you can play the modal runs in legato style, and then sweep your way up the arpeggios. Paul GIlbert learned economy picking at GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology) where Fusion great Frank Gambale taught. Below is the famous economy picking video that came out in the early 90’s that so many of us watched back in the day:
Monster Licks with Frank Gambale
This lick is really challenging. Like the others, take it slow and work it up to speed over time. It will certainly help with your pick and fret hand coordination, as well as your understanding of the harmonic structures of the modes.
We hope you enjoy these licks as much as we have and that they help get you through your time in quarantine or social distancing! Contact us with any questions you may have about these licks or anything else you are wondering about. Stay safe and well!