Back to School Joel Hoekstra’s Hard Rock Hybrid Picking

It's hard to say who the hardest-working man in the guitar business is, but Joel Hoekstra would certainly make a strong contender for the title.
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Hoekstra holding court at Musicians Institute.

IT’S HARD TO SAY WHO THE HARDEST-working man in the guitar business is, but Joel Hoekstra would certainly make a strong contender for the title. Fresh off a massive arena tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the versatile lead guitar sharpshooter will now spend a huge chunk of 2011 on a lengthy world tour with Night Ranger. And whenever Hoekstra finally returns to his home in New York City, his “down time” consists of playing eight shows a week on Broadway, maintaining his role as the over-the-top ’80s rock guitarslinger in the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages.

In Hollywood for the musical’s recent LA premier, Hoekstra stopped by his alma mater, Musicians Institute (class of ’92), to say hi to the place where he tracked many sessions for his three solo albums, and to humbly pass on some of his experience to the next generation of guitar professionals. First, Hoekstra offered a theory on why it is he lands so much highprofile work. “Maybe it has do with how obsessively I prepare and shed for each new gig,” says Hoekstra, who has also been a hired gun for everyone from the Turtles and Alan Parsons to Ray Parker Jr. and Joe Lynn Turner. “A lot of times, the first time I play with a band is not at rehearsal, but onstage, at soundcheck, the day of the gig. From the first note, I want it to sound like I’ve been in the band for years.”

One reason Hoekstra got the Night Ranger gig was because he is so handy at eight-finger hammer-ons à la Jeff Watson (one of the band’s founding guitarists; the one Hoekstra replaced). But octa-digital tapping isn’t the only time Hoekstra employs the extra fingers on his picking hand.

“I also do a lot of hybrid-picked stuff,” says the guitarist of his penchant for using a pick-and-fingers attack to sound riffs and melodies. Ex. 1 demonstrates Hoekstra-style hybrid picking at its simplest. Played evenly and confidently, and perhaps with a touch of palm muting at the bridge, the phrase sounds good at any tempo.

“The line is straight out of the A minor pentatonic scale,” says Hoekstra. “Hold your pick between your thumb and index finger. In each pair of notes, the first note— the higher one—is plucked with the middle finger [m], and the second note is picked with a downstroke. And, if you like a more ‘outside’ sound, try shifting the second half of each measure either up or down a halfstep [Ex. 2]. That plucking finger is really useful for string skips, too [Ex. 3].”

Before this lesson closes, be sure to test drive more extreme hybrid licks from Hoekstra—specifically, hybrid-picked phrases that employ all available plucking fingers on the picking hand. “First, start by adding the ring finger [a],” suggests Hoekstra, playing a rising power chord progression in Ex. 4. “In this example, each new chord root is the next note in the A blues scale.”,4.jpg

Now, if you haven’t already, check out the very helpful video of this lesson. It features Hoekstra demonstrating every example here (and much more), including the hybrid tour de force that opens the video and closes this lesson, Ex. 5. A rippling Am-C phrase that works the A Dorian mode, this final riff employs every finger on both hands, including regular plucks of the picking hand’s pinky [c]. “Like all the riffs in this lesson, it sounds great with tons of distortion,” says Hoekstra, “provided you sound each note independently, so the notes don’t mash together.”

Jude Gold is GP’s Los Angeles Editor and Director of GIT, the Guitar Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. Comments? Email him at