This month John Wheatcroft examines one of the world’s most exciting and influential pickers, the explosive Al Di Meola.
John Wheatcroft explores the style of one of the world’s most exciting pickers: Al Di Meola
Al Di Meola is one of the most influential guitarists of the 70s fusion explosion. From his earliest electric recordings with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White, through his stunning acoustic trio with John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia. Then, on to his impressive body of Latin and jazz-inspired recordings as a bandleader, Al Di Meola has been at the cutting edge of contemporary guitar for four decades – and he’s not finished yet!
Meola’s alternate picking technique is the stuff of legend, with remarkable speed and punch. Equally at home on electric, steel and nylon-string acoustic guitar, Al’s style has earned him a devoted following with lovers of fusion, acoustic, jazz and, in particular, rock. Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci and Zakk Wylde have all waxed lyrical about the beauty of Meola’s super-energetic and articulate approach to playing. His recent CD, Elysium, finds Al in fine form on Les Paul, plus steel and nylon-string acoustics, flying about the fretboard with, to steal the name from one of his compositions, passion, grace and fire.
The following lesson consists of eight examples typical of how Al might approach an improvised solo, an arpeggiated rhythm part or even how he might drill a scale in the form of a technical exercise. Meola’s playing can reach speeds considerably higher than those presented here. Nonetheless, these are challenging ideas to perfect and you can gain a huge amount from learning these musical examples even at a reduced tempo.
You can try different methods to improve progressively when practising. A common approach is to slow things down then build tempo in increments as your accuracy and stamina improves. You could also attempt to leave the tempo on the brisk side and increase your success percentage by breaking each lick into small pieces and aiming to play more and more of each idea. Finally, at the end of each workout give the example a go, full speed ahead and allow yourself to mess up if necessary. It’s never a problem to make mistakes so long as you diagnose and address
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them. This final approach gives you a clear picture of exactly which areas require the most attention. Try a combination of these ideas plus any others you have picked up along the way. The trick is to mix things up, be kind to yourself and recognise your strong points as much as your weaknesses. Lastly, keep your ears open and, most of all, remember to have fun.
Al Di Meola: getting into the groove with his Gibson Les Paul