Ex 1a b c: Here are 3, ½ roll repetition exercises that are sub-divided into ‘a, b and c. ’The significance of this system is that all the ‘a’ exercises concentrate on the low strings with a stretch of 2 tones between each finger. These exercises should be played with the first, second and fourth fingers. The ‘b’ exercises concentrate on the middle string set with a semi-tone and a tone, played again using the first, second and fourth, and the ‘c’ exercises are on the top strings with a tone and semi-tone between the first, third and fourth fingers.
In all these exercises be aware of the following things: Fretting hand: follow the rule that in order to keep the technique clean you set up the first finger to mute the string above the one you are playing, most noise will come from this string. The first finger will make contact with the string that you are playing lower down on its pad, compared to the other fingers that should be slightly arched and making contact nearer the tip. As a result of this you should see that the first finger is lying over any higher strings and muting them too. When you do fig 1a, all the strings would be muted by the first finger except the low string being played, as you cross onto the A string, the tip of the index finger then mutes the string above (the previously played low E string) and all the higher treble strings underneath the finger. The right hand starts to mute as you move up to the middle two strings, so when playing on the D string for example, the right hand will mute off the low E string by resting on the heel of the hand, which may also involve the fleshy thumbpad resting lightly on the front of the guitar. So between the two hands it is possible to obtain a completely clean technique with no string noise in the background.
Picking hand : follow the rule that legato is a technique that is based on the principle that you only pick the first note on any string and all subsequent notes are either hammer-ons or pull-offs. Follow the picking directions on the tab and make the strokes light enough that they do not interfere with the fluid sound of the technique.
Ex 2 : After the repetition fragments, we can explore the next level and apply our skills to 6 string runs. In bar 1, the technique is applied to the scale shape and in bar 2, the run is applied over 3 octaves, Octave blocks are very common visual pathways on the fretboard in modern rock. Simply take the first 2 strings (6 notes) of any scale shape and then play up in octaves rather than following the scale position. You’ll notice that the pattern that is established on the first 2 strings is identical as it moves over the string sets. This is good for potential speed. Once you have become accustomed to this example, do the same in all 7 positions. It’s a great way to memorise your scale/octave patterns whilst practicing your technique.
Ex 3: In this example, we are joining position 6 and position 7 symmetrical 2 string patterns together before applying over the fretboard in 3 octave blocks every 2 beats. The last note uses tone wide rock vibrato. The linking together of symmetrical shapes is common in modern rock as it facilitates longer fretboard coverage and lends itself more readily to faster ideas than the more offset, unsymmetrical areas. The “Exit” or finishing note uses tone-wide/ push-upwards rock vibrato and is played on the index finger. In order to get the aggressive vibrato happening, it is important as you ascend onto the high two strings, that your thumb moves to the top of the back of the neck and over upon hitting the finishing note. The vibrato comes from a rotation of the wrist similar to turning a key in a lock and pivots from the thumb over the neck and index finger jammed just above the main knuckle under the fretboard. The fingers themselves must remain rigid.
Ex 4: These next repetition fragments give a workout for the development of groupings of five. Try to tap your foot on the metronome and strive for an even velocity with the picked notes being the same dynamic level as the hammer-ons and pull-offs. The first example has three notes on the lower string and seven on the higher string. This equals ten, so despite the string change after three notes, we still feel it as two groups of five. Therefore concentrate on tapping your foot on the high fourth finger hammer-on and try to hit harder slightly in order to accent it. This will help lock in the five’s feel. Imagine a pendulum swinging and you are accenting the lowest and highest notes and reinforcing that feel by tapping your foot. Keep your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck with your hand wide open and close to the fretboard in order to mute.
Ex 5 and 6: These next two examples are odd note groupings played through with the full roll legato technique and are in the style of highly influential rock virtuoso Joe Satriani. Highly recommended is Joe’s legendary guitar instrumental debut “Surfing with the Alien,” released in 1987. The first example is in quintuplets and the second example is the same run applied to septuplets which is a roll and a half. Listen to the slow audio demonstration to feel the timing and learn and memorise slowly with good tone and timing before applying any speed. Try to keep all notes equal in velocity and even in tone. This style of legato requires more stamina than our earlier ½ roll examples and will need short but regular daily practice sessions to gain familiarity over a week or so. When any tension builds up in the forearm, it is critical to shake off immediately. The licks both exit on a bend from the b7 to the root note A. After the bend, lodge the pick into the string above to ensure a clean tone wide rock vibrato.
Ex 7 : Here we have a run that uses a combination of ½ and Full roll technique all played as sixteenth notes. Again, try to really feel the accent on each beat, and tap your foot to reinforce the feel. It is challenging at first to get the absolute smoothness and timing to make a 3 note per string scale sound as strict sixteenth notes.
Ex 8: This next example is a sixteenth note phrase with the slide every two beats. The slide enables us to glide through the positions seamlessly. Aim to play the pick strokes as lightly as possible and maintain an even velocity through the positions. Try to perfect the time keeping by playing along with the slow version, building speed gradually over months of daily practice. I have recorded the remaining examples firstly at our slow “learn” tempo of 60bpm, then at standard top sixteenth note speed of 160bpm and then to demonstrate the freeform effect I have kept the tempo at 160bpm and played as fast as possible trying to feel the nearest and most convenient target exit note. This may seem haphazard, but most modern rock players use this technique as a fifth gear and are often more conscious of the effect that it creates rather than strict subdivisions. Once you can play sixteenths at 160bpm, you’ll find that you can easily accelerate the technique and play freely over the pulse whilst still being aware of the beats underneath.
Ex 9 : Here we have a sixteenth note example which takes the previous pattern concept and applies it to a greater range. On the exit notes on all these runs, as we are in A Dorian we will try to target notes that can be viewed as within the Aminor Pentatonic framework as they will be strong against the backing Aminor chord. So we could say that the runs are using the mode to cover distance and the pentatonic scale acts as the resolving point whereby we can carry on improvising with our basic blues vocabulary, but presented in a modern rock way with aggressive tone wide vibrato.
Ex 10: This next example is a descending run in the style of rock virtuoso Steve Vai. Highly recommended is his instrumental album “Passion and Warfare,” released in 1990, as well as his earlier albums with David Lee Roth. The example moves down through the positions using full roll Legato and slides. Notice the absence of the pick on the way down as fretting hand hammer-ons lead onto the new string each time. This enables a smoother more fluid sound and is common in modern rock players of the mid to late 1980’s. Try to strive for an equal balance in the velocity of the hammer-ons and pull-offs. The hammer-on is slightly different sounding to the pull-off and so we will try to minimise this difference with clean accurate technique.