PHOTO: Cindy Moorhead
The TAB and audio files provided in the lessons below are bonus content for the Holiday 2017 issue of Guitar Player. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs, and more, pick up the issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar Player Online Store.
How to Shred: Rock Leads Using Pivot Arpeggios
By David Brewster
The goal of building single-note playing technique and increasing speed is a popular and passionate one among many improvising guitarists in a variety of musical styles. While there are several paths one can follow to develop the finger strength and dexterity required to perform fast, clean licks and runs, you'll find there's much to gain by taking a small fragment of a scale or arpeggio and drilling on it until it becomes comfortable and seemingly effortless to perform. In this lesson, I’d like to show you what I find to be a particularly effective approach to achieving this objective, and that is to use what some call a “pivot” arpeggio as a musical springboard to generate cool-sounding repetition licks that flow and work well in a variety of musical contexts. We’l begin by focusing on a popular arpeggio-based pivot lick that has been employed by many rock, metal and jazz players alike. As you work through the examples and concepts presented in this lesson, you'll hopefully learn how to generate your own variations based on a single musical idea. Doing this will no doubt expand your repertoire of licks, so this is a worthwhile pursuit for any aspiring lead guitarist. Let’s get started!
At the core of this lesson is the aforementioned pivot arpeggio, which may be thought of as a major seven shape. After a quick listen to Gary Moore's opening guitar solo in “End of the World,” from his classic album Corridors of Power, you'll locate the origin of this timeless and breathtaking legato phrase. During the middle section of Moore's solo, you'll hear him distinctly perform a fluid legato repetition lick (performed in two different fretboard positions) that has since filtered into the playing of countless other guitarists over the years.
Ex.1 depicts a basic version of this celebrated lick, performed here on the D and G strings, in the key of E minor and at a moderate speed, using an eighth-note triplet rhythm. In terms of notes and their melodic-harmonic function, we have the note set G, E, C, B, which form a Cmaj7 arpeggio and, relative to an E minor tonal center, give us the minor third, root note, minor sixth and perfect fifth, respectively, painting an an Em(addb6) sound, which lives within the E Aeolian mode (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D), also known as the E natural minor scale.
Practice the repeating note pattern slowly until you get a feel for how the phrase should flow and develop the two-hand coordination necessary to perform it quickly, seamlessly, and with minimal effort, which you’ll discover entails keeping both hands as relaxed as possible and using economy of motion—small, efficient movements.
As you practice the lick, strive for a connected sound as the movement between the two strings and slurred activity begin to merge. The pivot here is the C note located on the D string’s 10th fret, which functions as a sort of hinge or fulcrum connecting the B note on the D string’s ninth fret and the E note located at the same fret on the G string. After this pivot and string cross is performed, the six-note sequence begins again on beat three, on the 12th-fret G note, and the entire cycle repeats.
After you've practiced this lick a bunch of times at a slower tempo and acquire a feel for how it’s supposed to flow, you can kick it into high gear by performing it twice as fast at the same tempo, as 16th-note triplets, as demonstrated in Ex.2. This figure recalls the blistering flurry of notes heard in Moore’s “End of the World” solo, and as you play through the example, notice that once you've performed the entire six-note sequence four times (in bar 1) it shifts down a half step and one fret (in bar 2), from the key center of E minor to Eb minor.
Once you're comfortable playing the lick this way, shift it up an octave to a higher fretboard position and the top two strings, as illustrated in Ex.3. This phrase recalls the octave shift you'll hear Moore employ during his aforementioned solo. Notice that we're employing the same fingering shape and movement on the top two strings that we used in previous on the D and G strings, only now we’re three frets higher up the fretboard.
Ex.4 introduces a variation to our previous six-note sequence, by reaching up to the high note A at the 17th fret and substituting that note for the 15th-fret G every other time. This move requires a bit of a fret-hand stretch and some limberness to reach the high A note with your pinky, so be patient, and make sure your hands are warmed up first before attempting this move. With practice, it will become easier to execute.
Note that, as you reach for the A note, you can shift your fret hand up the neck slightly, then quickly shift it back down the play the E note at the 12th fret again with your index finger. The introduction of high A note adds variety and color to the sound of the lick and transforms our six-note sequence into a longer and more interesting 12-note phrase. It also reveals a new harmonic application that we can explore with this idea, which is to repurpose it to the key of A minor, producing cool, jazzy Am9 and Am(add9) sounds.
Ex. 5 offers a Steve Vai-inspired eight-note variation on our pivot arpeggio that’s played in a faster rhythm of 32nd notes and includes both the G and A notes, beginning with a pick-hand tap on the A note, followed by two pull-offs to the fret hand. You can hear Vai utilizing this type of lightning-fast, dizzying phrase in several of his songs, typically performed in conjunction with his wah pedal, which he’ll often use to accent specific notes, giving his solos an aggressive edge.
In Ex.6, we have another Vai-influenced tapping variation on our lick, now played in the context of the key of D minor. Here we're shifting the fret-hand shape down two frets, to 10th position, then back up to 12th position while keeping the tapped A note stationary throughout. This variation creates a unique twist to the sound of the phrase and transforms it into an even longer and more interesting two-bar idea. As you play around with this and the other examples presented in this lesson, use your imagination and creativity and try exploring and experimenting with different keys and tonal centers and transposing both the left- and right-hand notes to different frets.
Also inspired by Steve Vai, Ex. 7 presents another harmonic repurposing of our original six-note pivot arpeggio sequence, similar to a fast legato run the guitarist played in his solo on the David Lee Roth song “Ladies Nite in Buffalo” (Eat ‘Em and Smile). Here we’re starting out with what looks like a Cmaj7 shape played in 12th position, which, when played over a D bass note, implies either a D Dorian (D-E-F-G-A-B-C) or D Mixolydian (D-E-F#-G-A-B-C) sound. In bar 2, we shift the shape up a perfect fourth and five frets, to 17th position, which gives us an Fmaj7 shape and a cool Dm9 (D-F-A-C-E) sound. Try to make the abrupt position shift sound smooth and seamless.
Ex. 8 is inspired by Nuno Bettencourt’s brilliant intro solo in the Extreme song “Mutha (Don't Wanna Go to School Today),” from the band’s eponymously-titled debut album, and offers another highly useful variation on our six-note pivot arpeggio shape. Here we're moving up the fretboard through a series of implied chord changes and arpeggio movements, using both our familiar Cmaj7 shape (bar 1), transposed up to Fmaj7 in bar 4—and a new, minor-seven shape (bars 2 and 3), which incorporates the use of wider intervals and finger stretches and may be analyzed as Dm7 then Em7, or F6 and G6, respectively.
This extended run should ideally be articulated quickly and cleanly, so practice nailing the position shifts from bar to bar, with the goal of producing a seamless flow of notes across the entire four-bar phrase. Notice how this example moves through an Em-F-G-Am chord progression, which reveals another path that you can explore with this concept—matching the underlying chords of a progression with shifting melodic arpeggio shapes.
There's much to be learned and earned from taking a short musical idea and expanding and developing it into variations and longer phrases of connected repeating sequences. This “reduce, reuse, and recycle” musical mentality is crucial to understanding how you can borrow a musical lick or phrase and creatively transform it into a seemingly endless assortment of new sounds and possibilities. Now that you've fully-explored this pivot arpeggio idea, branch out and look to discover additional licks and phrases from other guitarists whose playing you admire. Doing so will help you uncover even more variations, fresh sounds, and new ideas to put your own stamp on.
An In-Depth Look at Willie Nelson’s Tasteful Soloing on “Time of the Preacher”
By Jesse Gress
The year was 1975 when American country music singer-songwriter, author, poet, actor, activist, philanthropist, and badass guitarist Willie Nelson—who for years had been fighting record labels that discouraged his desire to record his songs devoid of the schmaltzy string arrangements and over-production values that pervaded popular country music of the day—finally put his foot down and got his way. The result was country’s first concept album, Red Headed Stranger, which marked Nelson’s move from RCA to Columbia Records, and presented for the first time Willie’s songs, along with select covers arranged in a narrative form and stripped down to their essentials with his trusty, well-worn Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic soulmate, Trigger, mixed front and center.
The album’s opening track, “Time of the Preacher,” recently featured on the AMC TV series The Preacher, epitomizes the “outlaw country” genre that Nelson subsequently spawned, and hosts a classic guitar solo that’s a little bit country and a little bit jazz—not surprising, considering Willie cites “gypsy jazz” legend Django Reinhardt among his main musical influences.
Now, Willie is well-known for his off-kilter, laid-back vocal and guitar phrasing, i.e. getting slightly ahead of or behind the beat in a really good way, but the original studio version of this solo is about as straight ahead as you’ll ever hear him play. Contrast this with live performances from years later, however, and that’s a whole ‘nother story. Here are the play-by-plays for both.
In the Studio
Nelson’s studio solo—presented as 16 bars of 6/8 meter in Ex. 1—is framed by a simple eight-bar, IV-I-V-I progression in E (A-E-B-E) played twice, and it offers a textbook example of Willie’s knack for balancing tasteful melodic playing with just a touch of flash.
He begins by mimicking the vocal melody with a pickup into two bars of the IV chord (A). It’s a 5-6-b7-6-5 lick (B-C#-D-C#-B), incorporating a slide that targets what becomes a 2-1 slide into the root of the A chord starting on the downbeat of bar 1, followed by a Django-style descending A major arpeggio that reverses direction halfway through bar 2.
The E-based phrases in bars 3 and 4 emphasize first the 3 and 5 (G# and B), and then a pair of 3-to-4 bends (G#-to-A), both of which create a suspension and release to G#. Note how both bars end with a 16th-note triplet, and how the second one sets up a series of descending broken sixth intervals that beautifully outline the V chord (B) in bars 5 and 6. Also noteworthy here is how Nelson approaches the bottom note of each sixth interval with a half-step (one-fret) slide, and how the rhythm morphs from 16th-note triplets, with the last note tied, to a pair without ties. He covers the return to E in bars 7 and 8 with a thrice repeated 2-3-6-5 motif (F#-G#-C#-B). The F# is initially played as the first note of the second triplet, before Nelson tightens up the rhythm and plays the next two as grace notes.
Halfway through bar 8, Willie hybrid picks three descending 16th-note triplets, surprisingly outlining A7, G#7, and E7, before targeting C#, the 3 of the A chord on the downbeat of bar 9, which, along with bar 10, consists almost entirely of A chord tones (A, C# and E). He targets the 3 of E (G#) via a whole-step grace-note slide on the downbeat of bar 11 before filling bar 12 with a descending Eadd2/9 arpeggio. The half-step G#-to-A bend that rings into bar 13 now functions as the 6 and b7 of B, the V chord, and foreshadows another round of descending broken sixths, this time condensed into one-and-a-half measures. Willie concludes the solo and song in bars 15 and 16 with arpeggiated open E and A-chord shapes.
Live on Stage
Nelson’s typical live performances of the same solo in the years that followed tended to be a little more wild and aggressive, and played about 10 beats per minute faster, as illustrated in Ex. 2. The opening pickup, for instance, paraphrases the studio version but displays some of the guitarist’s aforementioned signature quirky rhythmic phrasing, along with a quarter-step bend and release, and chromatic 16th-note pull-off.
Bars 1 and 2 feature a repetitive rhythmic motif applied to descending A chord tones, tagged with a clever sliding chromatic approach to B, the 5 of the E chord, on the downbeat of bar 3. A cool chromatic descent in the second half of the measure—dig that quarter-step bend and release—targets G#, on the downbeat of bar 4, the remainder of which paraphrases the studio version, albeit with a different triplet pickup into bar 5, where we reprise the four descending sixths from the studio version, applied to a slightly different rhythmic motif that’s enhanced by added B, A, G#m, and F#m backing chords.
The last note in bar 6 slides into three repetitions of a very Django-esque E major pentatonic motif in bars 7 and 8—dig that strategically placed open B string—before leading into the IV chord with a pair of syncopated chromatic double-stops.
Like the studio version, bars 9 and 10 feature more arpeggiated A-chord tones, but this time they lead back to the tonic E, via a quick hammered-and-pulled filigree. After arriving at a targeted B note in bar 11, we encounter the same chromatic lick from the second half of bar 3 played one octave higher and with a slightly different rhythm. Another G#-to-A bend in bar 12 creates a suspension that resolves to the same three-note pickup as in bar 4.
The line continues into those now-familiar descending broken sixths, adapted to yet another rhythmic variation, again played over the changes B-A-G#m-F#m. A slightly busier-than-before set of arpeggiated open E-A-E chords fills out bars 15 and 16, drawing the solo and the song to a satisfying close—a cool compositional touch.
Nelson’s super-expressive soloing isn’t easy to capture on paper, and these transcriptions can only take you so far, so be sure to listen to, study, and ultimately absorb the artistry of this true American master.
“Southern Nights” By Glen Campbell
By Jesse Gress
Need a real head turner in your vocabulary of country licks? Try this one on for size. In 1977, with inspiration from Jerry Reed, the late Glen Campbell’s cover of Allan Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” received more airplay than any other song that year. Reed’s contribution was the crazy cool lick—essentially two single-note lines simultaneously converging from opposite directions—that Campbell tagged onto the song’s opening E major pentatonic hook.
Ex. 1 shows both parts in action. The upper part is simply a descending one-octave E blues scale starting on G, the b3, with an added F#, the 2/9—G, F#, E, D, B, Bb, A, G, or b3, 2, root, b7, 5, b5, 4, b3. Meanwhile, the bottom part takes a different tact. Here, we begin on a low F# (which shouldn’t work, but somehow does with the top line’s G--that’s a flat-nine interval!), and then ascend a whole step to G#, the 3 of E.
From there we ascend chromatically to B (via A and A#) before jumping to D and a pair of D#’s, both played on the fourth string. Combining these two parts can be tricky, so the best way to get them down is to visualize each eighth note as a harmonic interval and play them using hybrid picking with your pick and middle finger.
We’ve got the aforementioned flat nine (G over F#) on beat one, a flat seven (F#over G#) on the “and” of one, a fifth-plus-octave (E over A) on beat two followed by a major tenth (D over A#, a.k.a. Bb) on the “and”, B octaves on beat three, followed by a minor sixth (Bb over D) on the “and”, and a tri-tone flatted fifth (D# over A) on beat four, followed by a major third (G over D#, a.k.a. Eb) on the last eighth note leading into a targeted E chord in the next measure.
Take your time and gradually work the lick up to tempo. It’s a finger-twister that’s well worth the effort!
While paying tribute to Barney Kessel in his July 1976 The Complete Musician column, Jimmy Stewart actually composed an original piece in the style of Mr. Kessel. Quite a tribute, indeed—as well as a musical challenge to you, if you opt to tackle it. Have fun. Bonus! Hear GP’s Jimmy Brown demo this tune on his ’65 Gibson Barney Kessel double-cutaway hollowbody. — Michael Molenda