Don't let his amiable Sunset Strip swagger, arsenal of face-melting chops, and high-profile gigs with Night Ranger, Trans- Siberian Orchestra, and Broadway’s Rock of Ages fool ya—Joel Hoekstra is no mere poster boy for shred metal’s glory days. As evidenced by solo CDs such as 13 Acoustic Songs and The Moon Is Falling and Night Ranger’s latest acoustic live CD/DVD, 24 Strings & a Drummer [Frontiers], the versatile guitar man is a creative and compelling musician whether emotively picking an open-tuned steel-string or improvising with altered scales on a fiery fusion excursion.
Whether your bag is metal, fusion, blues rock, classic rock, jazz, or country however, this Manhattan-based maestro’s 10 tips for finding cool new sounds around a root-position A minor pentatonic scale should inspire some creative fretboard exploration. “For Ex. 1, I’m utilizing the raised 3rd and 7th and lowered 5th chromatic passing tone pairs already inherent in the blues scale, but adding a wide-interval string skip after each one for a more abstract sound,” explains Hoekstra. “Next, start on the first string for Ex. 2, an A Aeolian lick which adds the 9 (B) and also the b9 (Bb). This gives me a four-note chromatic sequence played with a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs. I then move the sequence down across all six strings, changing to a three-note chromatic row on the fourth and fifth strings only.
“Ex. 3 begins by scaling a chromaticized Eaug arpeggio that functions as the V chord in A minor. Then I’m sequencing the pattern up an Adim triad before resolving with a phrase that jumps up to the b9, finally resolving straight down the Adim again. Ex. 4 starts on A and essentially works a root-third-seventh arpeggio thru the pentatonic scale. For this lick, I’m using hybrid picking, playing the second and third note of each grouping with my middle and ring fingers respectively, but you can certainly flatpick it if that’s more comfortable for you. Ex. 5 is another hybrid-picking lick that’s all about using the notes of the blues scale as the basis for a series of descending root-fifth-octave power chords arpeggiated in triplets.
“For all you jazz heads out there, Ex. 6 is derived from the altered scale—the melodic minor scale a half-step above the root of a dominant chord. In this case, we’re playing a climbing legato F melodic minor sequence over an E7alt, then resolving with a descending blues-scale-based run.
“These next two pattern-based licks are about as knuckleheaded as you can get. Begin Ex. 7 playing your pinky on the 8th fret of the sixth string, your third finger on the 7th fret of the fifth string, your second finger on the 6th fret of the fourth string and your first finger on the 5th fret of the third string—a pattern that actually spells out a Caug chord. Now hammer on your pinky to the 8th fret of the third string and work the pattern backwards, then up across the next set of strings and so on. Ex. 8 just reverses the shape, beginning with your first finger on the 5th fret of the low E. Again, I’m using hybrid picking—this time adding my picking-hand pinky to grab the fourth note of the sequence—but these runs work just as well if you sweep pick them.
“Let’s finish off with some outside two-handed tapping ideas. For Ex. 9, I’m assigning the first two notes of the A minor pentatonic scale to my fretting-hand index finger and pinky respectively. I’m playing the next two notes of the scale on the same string by tapping them with my picking-hand index and middle finger. If you’re not an experienced tapper, just try the sequence on one string to get the hang of it. Remember to scoop up and across the string when you tap to get the best articulation of your notes. Once you have the sequence down, work it across the next two strings, displacing it up a fret on the fourth string for some cool-sounding ‘out’ notes. For our final otherworldly A minor lick, Ex. 10, let’s try some octave tapping—that’s simply tapping a note 12 frets above on the same string then releasing to the original note. I walk this idea right up an A blues scale on the three lowest strings but invert the order of some of the chromatics to make it sound more hip. For the top three strings I’m switching it up, playing a legato five-note-per-beat group pattern. This may seem a little weird rhythmically, but it makes perfect sense ergonomically when executed as a series of three tapped notes and a pull-off.”