Hot Triplets

March 1, 2005

We began our journey into the world of head-turning lead guitar by extracting recurring themes from an A minor pentatonic scale (“Lead Guitar 101,” Feb. ’05). In that lesson, we used fast repetition to build drama in a phrase. Now, we’ll add triplets to the equation and hear how they can pump energy into a lick. But first, a quick definition: A triplet is a set of three notes played evenly in the amount of time normally reserved for two notes of the same value. For example, eighth-note triplets occupy the same rhythmic space as a pair of eighth-notes; quarter-note triplets have the duration of two quarter-notes, and so on.

Splitting a two-beat duration into three equal parts creates palpable rhythmic tension. Playing a sequence of triplets further heightens this tension, as you’ll hear in Ex. 1. Composed entirely of triplets, bar 1 features a three-string, T-Bone Walker move on beats one, two, and four. The quick pull-off in beat three temporarily breaks the melodic and rhythmic pattern without interrupting the underlying triplet pulse. Like a breaking wave, tension builds across bar 1 and is then released at the quivering second-string A. Notice how we’ve attacked 14 tones, yet remained within one octave of the A minor pentatonic scale. (In fact, we’ve only played four different pitches.)

With its triplets and sixteenth-notes, Ex. 2 may appear daunting, but don’t let appearances fool you. If you step slowly through the lick, you’ll see it consists of relatively easy maneuvers. Part of the melodic intrigue comes from following a bend with a string jump (beats one and two). In beat three, we enhance our A minor pentatonic palette with Eb, the b5. Known as the “blue note,” the b5 is an essential color in jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, and rock. By adding the b5 to our A minor pentatonic scale, we convert it to an A blues scale.

Ex. 3—a classic rockabilly lick—adds two more notes to an A blues scale: the 6 (F#) and the 9 (B). To get Ex. 3 up to speed, simultaneously plant your 4th, 3rd, and 1st fingers on the appropriate string, pick the highest note of the triplet, and then pull off the remaining two notes. With practice, you’ll be able to quickly shift this “clamp-pick-peel” move between adjacent treble strings. g

Next time: Oblique bends.

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