Guthrie Govan's Slippery Licks

Examining Guthrie Govan's music, licks, and innovative ideas are worthwhile study for any guitarist.
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Few would argue that Guthrie Govan is an inspiring musical guru. His ability to easily incorporate many advanced techniques is beyond impressive, not to mention his phrasing, feel, tone, and quirky rhythmic sense. One specific area of his playing includes blurry slip-and-slide licks and phrasing, complete with seamless position shifting all around the fretboard. Govan has a knack for discovering innovative ways of moving around the neck, and a number of his favorite sliding licks will be analyzed and demonstrated in this lesson.

Ex. 1 is inspired by the sliding moves found in Govan’s instrumental opus “Waves,” from Erotic Cakes. The interesting intervallic structure found in this lick is typical of his style, and the combination of unorthodox movements and finger-twisting slides creates a modern and fresh sounding idea.

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The next lick [Ex. 2] features an open-voiced minor 9 arpeggio that moves along the fretboard, with a cool, alternating shift-slide on the A and B strings as it shifts up the neck. Notice how the arpeggios used in this lick move through several keys as it ascends, but the fingering remains constant as it slides upward into higher positions.

As you play through Ex. 2, you should notice that we’re taking the three-note Em9 arpeggio and shift-sliding it along the fretboard, using the Em9-Gm9-Am9-Cm9-Dm9 progression as a guide. The combination of wide-spaced intervals, an alternating note grouping, and some clever slide moves creates an unusual and unique sound. This one is definitely Guthrie-approved.

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Govan likes to move around the neck and along the strings using a variety of fingering movements and position shifts, and Ex. 3 features an ascending diagonal movement that he likes to explore. Notice how this Dorian-flavored idea has a smooth and blurred sound, thanks to the combination of slurred legato phrasing and a challenging shift-sliding technique.

To continue exploring Govan’s fretboard movements, play through Ex. 4 to get a feel for a descending diagonal movement. As you play through this lick, you should notice the shared fingerings as this lick moves across the strings and shifts into lower positions.

Ex. 5 reveals an interesting variation to standard pentatonic movement, shifting an E minor pentatonic scale in a reverse-diagonal direction. This idea should feel strange at first, as we’re ascending through the scale but moving along the strings in a descending manner.

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The next idea showcases Govan’s fondness for sliding into jazzy sounds, but it’s camouflaged as a blues lick. As you play around with Ex. 6 you should listen for and notice the use of jazzy extensions, including the use of 9ths (F#) and major 7ths (D#). The bluesy sound comes from flirting with the minor and major 3rd (G and G#).

The final idea in this lesson is a real showstopper and features an advanced string-skipping legato lick with some unusual sliding moves. As you play through Ex. 7, you might find that it requires additional patience and practice to perform this lick smoothly, cleanly, and accurately.

String-skipping licks like Ex. 7 are quite common in Govan’s playing, and these ideas allow him to weave new sounds and licks intervallically and all over the fretboard. You can also find skipped ideas like this coming from shred legends like Paul Gilbert, Richie Kotzen, and John Petrucci. Seek out some of their ideas for more string-skipping concepts and licks like this.

As you dive deeper into different sliding approaches and techniques, you’ll discover there’s a wealth of new ideas and licks waiting for you to uncover and fully explore. In time you’ll become more familiar with Guthrie’s idiosyncratic playing style, and examining his music, licks, and innovative ideas are worthwhile study for any guitarist, especially those searching for new ideas, moves, and sounds. Good luck!