One of the coolest things
about rock lead guitar is that a little sleight
of hand not only makes fast phrases easier
to play, it often makes them sound more
natural, too. For instance, if you play the
zippy ascending run in Ex. 1 accurately and
with a confident attack, almost none of
your listeners will notice or care that you
didn’t pick every note.
That’s right, you cheated—at least by
the standards of alternating picking purists.
Like a lava-blooded, late-’70s Uli Jon
Roth or Edward Van Halen, you slurred
the second note in each sixteenth-note
triplet by hammering it instead of actually
picking it, and the lick still rocked. (By
the way, if the example looks at all note-y
or daunting written out, you’ll be relieved
to discover its general fretboard pattern is
a simple, symmetrical one, as outlined in
the grid in Ex. 2.)
There are, of course, other gratifying
ways of sneaking hammers into single-note
runs. Retaining the first example’s picking
pattern for each triplet—a pick downstroke
followed by a hammered note followed by
a pick upstroke—rephrase the line by shifting
the notes one pulse earlier in time. This
results in Ex. 3, which features a pickup note
played with a pick upstroke just before the
first bar line. (Remember: The downbeats
always occur on pick downstrokes.) At
steep tempos, this pattern is even easier
to pick than the first one, because it gives
your pick more time to skip to the next
string, as the jump occurs during the hammered
note. For the best sound with both
examples, accent the down-picked notes.
Experiment, and be sure to apply these
patterns to your favorite three-notes-perstring
Now, let’s look at how to sneak hidden
hammers into non-scalar triplet sixteenths,
such as those Jason Becker picks so nimbly
in his solo on David Lee Roth’s blazingfast
boogie, “It’s Showtime.” I was tasked
with playing this very solo at Becker’s Not
Dead Yet festival in San Francisco earlier
this year, and I discovered that at a million
beats per minute (give or take), this lesson’s
“hammered note replacement therapy”
tactic is more than a little handy.
Take, for instance, Ex. 4. Featuring a
“hammer-on from nowhere” (as Greg Howe
would call it) on the 5th fret of the third
string, this line is worth looping.
evenness, and observe how the hammered
string skip makes the lick more manageable
at Roadrunner speeds. Then, see if you can
spy the same phrase hiding in the longer
“Showtime”-style line in Ex. 5.
Before we wrap up, let’s downshift to
straight sixteenths (four pulses per downbeat—“
one-ee-and-a, two-ee-and-a,” etc.).
Using a pick downstroke followed by a hammered
note, a three-string triadic arpeggio
such as Ex. 6 becomes easy to play fast.
The pattern repeats: downstroke, hammer,
downstroke, hammer, etc. Pursue this
approach, and you’ll find it makes elaborate
string-skipping lines such as Ex. 7 a
dream to play.