Do you ever find yourself accidentally stumbling upon a cool lick or concept intuitively, then figuring out later what the hell it is you’ve just done? It happens to me all the time. When you think about it, that’s gotta be how music theory started in the first place: “How can we describe this stuff so that we can communicate it to other musicians?”
One of the things that’s been happening pretty organically for me lately is breaking up chords for lead guitar parts, but not in the usual Yngwie-style arpeggios of doom.
Figure #1 is an example, and it came about because I was messing around with open chord shapes transposed up an octave. A lot of us are really in the habit of playing arpeggios as some combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but this method is more about alternate picking. All I’m doing here is playing simple ‘cowboy chords’ up an octave and breaking them up into four individual notes before changing chords. In fact, if you were to play these in an open position, and maybe put a bit of a triplet f eel on it, it would sound like a pretty standard acoustic fingerpicking rhythm part (as you’ll be able to note in Figure #2).
There’s a sort of a Dropkick Murphys feel to the second version, but if you play them both at the same time, it turns into something akin to Steve Morse’s HighTension
Wires album. Another thing I stumbled across and can’t seem to stop playing is the idea of taking simple triad shapes and moving around the neck, thinking of them as melodic rather than harmonic entities (a bunch of notes rather than just a single chord broken up).
Figure #3 is one I do so of ten that I’m kind of trying to stop doing it. If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s composed of some pretty standard major and minor triad shapes. I like to slip and slide around the fretboard a little more slinkily, though, so sometimes I’ll play it like you can see in Figure #4. What I like most about this approach is that it allows you to really quickly dream up all sorts of complex-sounding, speedy melodies without having to think too far ahead. If you know where you want to start and where you want to end, the middle kind of fills itself in.
I guess what this comes down to is, when I realised how easy it was to do the Kirk Hammett style of arpeggio, I figured I’d leave it to guys like Kirk (I love that guy’s playing, by the way – this isn’t a jab at his style) and try to find something that felt a little bit more... Me. At the same time, I think it’s important to study stuff that you may not necessarily want to do in your own playing, because you never know when you might stumble upon a variation that works for you, and says what you want to say about yourself through your music.