Extreme Sweeping: Jean-Marc Belkadi’s Polytonal Plectrum Pyrotechnics

December 13, 2007

Piano players.

You don’t need to be a musicologist to hear how Berry took boogie woogie piano riffs, applied them to guitar, and cranked ’em through an amp so loud that asbestos flakes likely snowed down on the Eisenhower-era gymnasium crowds he so thoroughly “reeled and rocked” in the ’50s and beyond. Berry’s sound, of course, opened the floodgates to so many wild electric guitar styles that today, unfortunately, most guitarists rarely look to other instruments for inspiration.

Los Angeles-based guitar guru Jean-Marc Belkadi is one of the exceptions.

“The polytonal and bi-tonal licks I’m going to show you are directly inspired by listening to pianists such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, as well as saxophone players like Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson,” says Belkadi, one day before embarking on a clinic tour of Europe (which would include a stop in his native city of Toulouse, France). The examples Belkadi shares can be used in rock, jazz, fusion, even shred metal, and they all have a cool, modern sound. And, thanks to sweep technique, they can each be played quite fast. Also, any of the examples can be used as an exercise to improve sweep timing, because keeping the notes evenly spaced as you rake your pick across the strings in either direction is one of the trickiest challenges of the style.

Sensei to the Stars

You don’t have to be an amateur guitarist to need guitar lessons. Even the pros like a good schoolin’ now and again. And if you’re a professional guitarist, singer, or actor in the Los Angeles area who’s fishing around for a guitar teacher, it probably won’t be long before someone refers you to Jean-Marc Belkadi. Like his mentor, the late, great guitar genius Ted Greene, Belkadi is quickly emerging as one of the most in-demand and respected guitar instructors in Southern California and beyond. Over the years, the former GIT staffer’s roster of students has included Dweezil Zappa, Ricardo Montalban, Rafael Moreira (Rock Star house band), Joe Holmes (Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth), Joel Whitley (Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill), Justin Derrico (Pink), singer/actress/John Denver ex-wife Cassandra Delaney, Matchbox Twenty drummer Paul Doucette, Sean Matthew Landon (Michael Landon’s son), Austin Ward (Sela Ward’s son), and even Martin Chirac (grandson of the former President of France, Jacques Chirac).


By loose definition, a polytonal melody travels through multiple keys, chords, and/or harmonies in a relatively short amount of time, typically over a static background key. If the phrase tags only one other tonality, it can be more specifically described as bi-tonal.

Tips From the Grand Master

When it comes to sweep picking, Frank Gambale is the style’s undisputed champion, in both senses of the word. With his impossibly fluid lines and flawless command of the technique (shows marked superiority), Gambale is unparalleled as a sweep picker. Plus, he has always been the style’s most impassioned and articulate proponent (militant advocate or defender). In the September ’87 GP, Gambale shared some of his insights into his signature playing approach with an eloquent lesson article entitled, simply, “Sweep Picking.” Here are some of the pointers he offered:

  1. Keep the notes as separate as possible—almost staccato (short)—at first, especially when crossing multiple strings. Newcomers to sweeping tend to run the notes together.
  2. Watch your picking hand and make sure you are using a single movement when sweeping across strings, not separate successive strokes.
  3. Always practice with a metronome or drum machine, making sure that the notes are clean and even.
  4. Be critical and honest when evaluating yourself. It’s harder to sweep at slower tempos, so start with medium ones (sixteenths at q=60-100 bpm).
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