I was never really into metal growing up*, though I can appreciate almost any music and there are definitely some great musicians in that scene. These days though, its seems like there are some uniquely creative shredders out there who cross genres, have incredible technique, musicality and are really interesting to listen to. As a guitarist they grab your ears no matter what kind of music you're into and demand you listen! Immediately I think of guys like Guthrie Govan, Ron Thal (Bumblefoot, Guns N' Roses) or Mattias Eklundh who are shredders from another universe, so musical and can seemingly play anything or any style they want that they could hardly be described as to only a hard rock or metal player. Well, recently this Canadian guitarist, Nick Johnston, starts popping up on my facebook feed. Along the same lines, he's a great player with a refreshing approach. Lately, He's been doing some posts teaching some of his go to lines for improv.
I'm always fascinated to see how other players move around the guitar and love picking apart lines to figure how they think. I've picked up a few of his lines and thought I'd post some transcriptions with insights into how you can get them into your own playing if you're interested. Check it out. You can see him teaching the lick here (he might be tuned down a half step).
Its a cool line where he mixes legato playing (hammer-ons and pull-offs) and hybrid picking over a C minor 7 sound with some chord extensions for color. Here is the line (Ex. 1):
On the way up he uses hybrid picking. Think of every three notes as a grouping. The first note is played with the pick, the second is plucked with the middle finger (marked "m" in the music) after which you hammer on the third note. Same for the next group of three notes. After that, the next group of three (last two beats of measure one) has an extra pull off and starts you descending through the line. On the way down it is all legato, meaning you don't pluck any notes with your right hand and its a hammer-ons and pull-offs party all the way down. Even as you cross strings you hammer-on (marked by "h" in the music). Try it out. It flows pretty smoothly.
I mentioned its over a "C minor 7 sound" as there is more going on than straight C minor. It is a C minor 7 chord with an added 9th and 11th (you could call it a number of things, Cm9, Cm11, etc., etc.). Here is the breakdown (Ex. 2):
If I find a sound I like, I'm always interested to see if I can move it around and really get it into my playing. So, here is the lick moved to A minor (Ex. 3):
It sits there beautifully. Well, then why not try to move it though all the diatonic chords in C major to see what else we might find? (Ex. 4):
Some I liked some more than others. You can see that the original pattern (A minor above) fits exactly the same over D minor here. That's kind of nice. Over the E minor chord you catch a flat 2 which is a little dark sounding. Cmaj7 and G7 work pretty well. Fmaj7 had a #11 (or #4) which was kind of cool. Anyway, moving a lick around like this is really useful for a couple of reasons:
- One, its great practice for getting the general movement of the line into your fingers.
- Two, you explore the neck and have time to absorb the concept, which might lead to other discoveries. For instance, if you hadn't noticed, the entire line is moving in thirds. I broke things up so you could maybe see it more visually here (Ex. 5):
Notice that you have three little chords embedded in the line: an A minor triad ("R" for root, 3 for the third, and 5 for the fifth), a G major triad and an E minor triad. You could really easily break the line into smaller parts so that you didn't always have to start on the 6th fret and could try mixing it fluidly into other lines you might play. Try this for starters (taken from the A minor line, Ex. 6):
So, mess around with it. Be creative. It can be really inspiring to see how other players put ideas together. You can get a lot from that. Again, here is Nick playing the line.
Practice up and don't forget to be musical!
P.S. In the video he moves through 4 note patterns at the end. I'll try and get to that soon as its a nice way to make the line more flexible.
*Thanks to my friend Lyndon to changed my lack of metal awareness and introduced me to the finer points and sub-genres of the scene (Viking metal??).
**picture via truthinshredding.com