Steve Howe

During his multi-decade tenure with prog-rock pioneers Yes, guitarist Steve Howe has successfully experimented with a host of different styles, including blues, jazz, classical, surf, and fusion.
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One of the coolest aspects of Howe’s playing is his down-home country picking, particularly the fleet-fingered fretwork reminiscent of Jimmy Bryant and Chet Atkins.

The shimmering Ex. 1 is modeled after a run from “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Start each successive hammer-on with your 1st finger, and keep the open E ringing as you work your way up the neck. For a cool pedal-steel vibe, nail that tasty oblique bend in bar 3 with your 2nd and 3rd fingers.

Recalling a figure from “Starship Trooper,” Ex. 2 is based on a sixth-position E6/B grip that moves to the second and fourth positions, spelling out Cmaj13/G and D6/9, respectively. It also integrates a hip fingerstyle technique known as Travis picking (named after its chief practitioner, country legend Merle Travis). Dig those alternating bass notes played with your thumb on the downbeats, as well as the smooth-as-silk Western swing harmony.

For Ex. 3’s chicken-pickin’ à la “Roundabout,” simultaneously snap the double-stops in the first measure with your picking-hand thumb and index finger. This riff is based on a G blues scale (G, Bb, C, Db, D, F).

The cascading pull-offs in Ex. 4 evoke Howe’s rippling lines on “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Each measure outlines a different major-6th arpeggio (root, 3, 5, 6)—a Western swing staple that also works in a rock, blues, or jazz context. Country music never sounded so progressive!