As you may reCALL from my Guru Appearance in the May ’05 GP [“Video Game Death Licks”], I’ve discovered various ways to play single-note licks that have a robotic, computer-generated sound that often reminds people of the primitive yet super-fast melodies that were the soundtracks to classic video games such as Galaxian and Centipede. This month, I’d like to show you a few approaches that sound a lot like what you might remember hearing if you ever put a few quarters into a Galaga machine. More important, these licks show you some clever and extreme ways of blazing up and down the chromatic scale.
First, make sure you’re confident with the four-note-per-string chromatic scale [Ex. 1]. You should, of course, practice picking every note (using an alternating down/up attack), but, to get that authentic “video game” sound, you’ll need strong legato technique, which you can work on by hammering the first note on each string with your 4th finger and pulling off the next three you descend down the scale. When it comes to ascending, playing the scale 100 percent legato is a bit awkward, so I pick the lowest note on each string and hammer the rest. Whether ascending or descending, the most important thing is evenness. Make sure all the notes are equal in volume, sustain, and duration, because that’s how you get that computerized sound. For extra aggression, experiment with picking the first of every four notes as a pinch harmonic, hammering the rest [Ex. 2].
You’ll find you can play the chromatic scale a lot more quickly and fluidly when you add tapped notes—specifically, two tapped notes per string. I rarely tap with my index finger—I use it only when I’ve already used the other three picking-hand fingers to tap notes. (That way the pick remains conveniently stationed between the thumb and index finger.) To get the sound of Galaga’s aliens swooping down and attacking, tap the two highest notes on each string using your middle [m] and ring [a] fingers. I often play five notes per downbeat [Ex. 3]. Once you’ve got this quintuplet attack nailed on one string, jump from string to string [Ex. 4].