Working with Ornaments

Ornaments are zippy melodic embellishments used to heighten a line’s drama. Flamenco, bebop, Celtic, and shred metal are among the guitar styles that feature ornamentation as an essential part of the music.
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In the previous EZ Street (“Exploring Slurs,” April ’05), we saw how a combination of hammers, pulls, and slides can make a melody more expressive. In this lesson, we’ll add pizzazz by shuttling between a target note and its upper and lower neighbor tones. In the classical world, different shuttling patterns have specific names. Thankfully popular music is more informal, so you don’t have to memorize a passel of terms. What really matters is having some essential ornaments at your fingertips.

Ex. 1 contains three embellishments that all follow a classic pattern: target note, upper scale tone, target, lower scale tone, and target. Hey, don’t stress over those sixteenth-notes: If you play the phrase very slowly, you’ll discover that much of the activity consists of finger-friendly hammers and pulls. In this example, the target tones are open G, open D, and open A, and the neighboring scale tones lie a whole-step above and a half-step below the targets. Start at a relaxed tempo and gradually pick up the pace once you’ve assimilated the melodic and rhythmic structure.

In Ex. 2, we spice up a series of chords by connecting one to another with a melodic ornament. This illustrates how a relatively simple move can add sophistication and intrigue to your chording. The concluding half-step trill (an unbroken series of quick hammers and pulls) is another timeless ornament. To play it, relax and bounce your 1st finger on and off the second string. At a slow tempo, aim to wring from five to seven tones from this trill.