The guitar is the most versatile instrument there is. Over the years, many tricks and techniques have been developed for electric guitar and as a beginner guitarist, learning just a few will transform your playing.
I’ve put together nine of the coolest techniques to learn.
The pick scrape / pick slide is an excellent tool to string sections of your playing together. You will commonly hear pick scraping in metal/rock songs typically to introduce another section of a song, for instance a bridge.
In the below video I’ve done some basic pick scraping and have also shown how the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme tune (by Nerf Herder) utilises this technique to bridge the intro progression to the main riff.
A very easy technique to throw into your playing!
As a beginner, tremolo picking presents a very simple of way making your playing sound more advanced. Simply pick one note at least twice (with one down stroke and one up stroke), before moving to the next note in your solo and you will get that cool “Pulp Fiction” sound.
The pinch harmonic is a staple of the metal genre but it is also commonly used by Steve Vai, Satriani and another virtuoso guitarists, typically in conjunction with some clever usage of the whammy bar to emphasis the high pitched sound.
Depending on the type of guitar and amp you have, pinch harmonics can vary in effectiveness. To perform this technique, the thumb on your picking hand should catch string immediately after being picked.
Like the pinch harmonic, natural harmonics make it possible to play a note at a much higher pitch than the frets of a guitar will allow for. Rest your finger on the G string (without pressing) in between the 7th and 8th fret and pluck the string – you have just played a natural harmonic.
Galloping is a rhythm technique commonly used by bands like Iron Maiden to get that ”horses running” type of sound.
Popularised by Eddie Van Halen, tapping is the number 1 technique that beginner guitarists like to learn. Not only does it sound great, it physically looks impressive.
John Petrucci (Dream Theater) tends to use this technique in his solos. By picking the same a note an octave higher in rapid succession, you get this cool effect that can be used in both your lead and rhythm playing.
The volume swell uses the guitar’s volume knob to increase the volume of a note from zero, giving a violin type of sound.
The scream involves plucking natural harmonics on one or more notes and using the whammy bar to increase / decrease the pitch.
One of the reasons I enjoy guitar is that it’s such a versatile instrument. Simply by using a different technique, or changing the tuning you use, it’s possible to create different tones that can completely change the feel of a song/guitar solo.
I’ve had a think about which guitarists over the years have really exploited tone to deliver breathtaking solos and came up with a list of 10 pieces I think you will enjoy hearing. Some of these choices may come as a shock, but I think if you turn up the volume and really listen carefully you will see why each of these solos are so amazing.
10. Arch Enemy – Ravenous Solo
You may not have expected me to begin with a metal song, but I think if you listen to the solo of this one you will be impressed. The solo begins fairly mellow, but once the harmony shred section comes in I think you will understand why this has made the list!
9. In Flames – Zombie Inc Solo Section
This is arguably the most beautiful metal solo of all time. It frustrates me that In Flames doesn’t really make stuff like this anymore. I believe the guys got their tone by using really heavy gauge strings and tuning to drop C. The blend of acoustic and heavy lead once the drums come in really makes this a solo to be admired.
8. Sinergy – Midnight madness Solo
Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho is well known as being one of the great metal players of our time. What many people haven’t heard is his work with his other band, Sinergy. I believe both Alexi and Roope Latvala both play in this awesome solo:
7. Trivium – Entrance of the Conflagration Riff
I am not a huge fan of Trivium in general, but the riff the guys used as the prelude to the guitar solo into Entrance of the Conflagration is great…I only wish they repeated it a few more times before getting into the solo!
6. Racer X’s Version of Heart of a Lion by Judas Priest
I’m not sure if this solo is one that will make your hair stand on end, or simply an awesome solo. Paul Gilbert recorded this with Racer X back in the day and it really took Judas Priest’s Heart of a Lion to the next level. I feel that the recording quality of the song is a bit poor overall due to when it was recorded, however, a few years ago I discovered a random guitarist online who covered the solo. His name is Peter Lidstrom (I think) and the below audio clip is his version of the solo!
5. Angra – Wings of Reality Solo
Kiko Loureiro from Angra is one of my favourite players, I love the way he mixes in latin sounding phrases with technical shred. This solo from Wings of Reality really epitomises Angra’s epic style.
4. Cacophony – Concerto
This whole song from Cacophony (Jason Becker & Marty Friedman) is awesome, but I particularly like the ending (clipped below). Some trademark Friedman vibrato in there:
3. Andy Timmons – Cry for You
Andy Timmons is one of my favourite guitarists as he mixes a lot of jazzy influence into his technical playing, with brilliant tone. This live version of “Cry for you” is a very emotional performance that I always listen to for inspiration. 1.7 million views on YouTube!
2. John Petrucci – Glasgow Kiss
I still remember when Dream Theater’s John Petrucci released his solo album – I got hold of it as soon as I can. And it didn’t disappoint!
My favourite part of the whole album is this section from the song Glasgow Kiss. It’s so beautiful it makes me wonder if John Petrucci realises “Glasgow Kiss” is slang for a headbutt. The rest of the song is a bit too jolly for my liking – but this particular section is incredible!
1. Steve Vai – Lotus Feet
It’s always tough ranking performances when there are so many good ones to choose from, but Steve Vai really outdid himself with Lotus Feet. The whole song is great, but I particularly like the part from 4 minutes onwards on the album (which I recommend you checkout on spotify).
Could you introduce yourself and how long you’ve been playing?
I’m Nathaniel Myers, I’m twenty two years old and from the South West of England. I have been playing the guitar for ten years, but only started to take it seriously when I was around sixteen.
Who are your inspirations and why?
The first inspiration I had was when I went to see Tommy Emmanuel on Halloween in 2003. I had already been attempting to nail some fingerstyle pieces, but I didn’t really know what I was doing, nor where I wanted to be. Someone lent my mother the DVD of Tommy live at the Sheldon Concert Hall, as they knew I was learning to play the guitar. I watched it and only managed to yank my jaw off the ground after about a week. His version of Classical Gas (a tune I was already learning) was the highlight at the time. A couple of weeks after watching the DVD, I was off to see him live, and I am unable to accurately articulate what the evening did to me. In short, I knew what I wanted to do after that. However, this was Tommy Emmanuel, super mega ultra guitar player 2000. He was an inspiration, but unlike many others, I didn’t run home and pick up the guitar, never to put it down. He was almost too good. I didn’t feel like what he was doing was even remotely attainable, so I continued to plod along, getting better but very slowly.
Things all changed in 2006 when a local promoter that I was friends with emailed me a video of a guitar player that he had just booked. The guitarist was eighteen years old, he had been playing for four years and his name was Gareth Pearson. It was the promo video of him playing Blue Smoke, and holy moly… It was like I had a bolt of electricity up my backside. Here was someone my age, who had been playing for the same amount of time as I had, but happened to be one of the best guitar players I had ever seen. I went to see him live, met him, chatted to him, and needless to say, there was my inspiration. There was the key, how I knew it was possible for anyone (including myself) to become a good guitar player and that a really high level of skill was not just available for a few, but all.
Those two guys are my main inspirations, Tommy because of his incredible skill, beautiful song writing and incredible energy/emotion. Gareth because he gave me a real target, something attainable that motivated me to get better and do what’s necessary.
However, there are many others and it might be because of incredible technique (e.g. Guthrie Govan), great song writing (e.g. Andy McKee, James Taylor, Chris Cornell) or something else. I think it was Steve Vai that said great musicians aren’t great because of how they play, but because of how they make you feel. Any musician that makes me feel inspired motivates me to get better. A few more examples are Jerry Reed, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Dave McKenna, Dave Brubeck, Amy Winehouse and Supergrass, to name a few.
What is your practice routine, how long do you play each day?
I am not sure that I have a routine, as such. But I do practice the guitar, rather than just play the guitar each day. My practice consists of technique, theory and writing. Everything I do, in effect, is to create music, and everything I practice is considered with that end in mind. I love writing and performing music, and my practice is there to enable me to do so to an ever higher standard.
A routine one day might consist of an hour reading through theory books (Mark Levine’s one is a must), this is something that you don’t necessarily need your instrument for, though having it does help a lot. Don’t be afraid of learning theory and understanding it, like anything it’s intimidating before you start, but once you have, it gets a lot easier and your playing will benefit a lot. I would be learning new scales (not just fingering, but owning the harmony and understanding why any scale sounds the way it does), chords, arpeggios and all in different positions and inversions. After that, I would probably do some technique practice. That might be going over things I already know, but can’t play to standard yet, or going through the exercises in a book such as Guthrie’s Creative Guitar Techniques. However, the best way to learn knew techniques is to do so by learning a new song, guitar solo, etc. Any new thing that you learn will get your fingers to move in a different way, and make you a better guitar player. And that’s the best thing you can do to practice and get better, learn tunes, songs, progressions, riffs, beats, rhythms, anything. And learn them by ear, that’s the single most important thing you need to develop if you want to make good music, develop a good ear for it. These things don’t happen overnight, you need to sit down and go through a lot of agony to be able to learn a Tommy Emmanuel tune by ear, but putting in the effort will pay dividends.
In terms of time, there’s a pretty simple formula that you should learn (though I will have to write it out as text). As the amount of time you spend playing increases, your standard of playing increases. The more time you spend practicing, learning new tunes, perfecting techniques, etc. the better you will get at playing the guitar. After I met Gareth Pearson (who practiced for fourteen hours each day), I spent the following summer playing for a minimum of eight hours each day, often more. After that summer, I had gotten so much better at playing the guitar that I felt like an absolute boss when I went back to college. I’m not playing for that long each day any more, and I’m not improving at the same rate as a result. But if you want to get to anything approaching a high standard of playing, that’s what it takes. And if you put in the time and effort, you will see the results.
What resources did you use to learn how to play?
The best thing about being a guitar player today is YouTube. Use it. There is an unimaginable amount of great tuition available for free on YouTube, go and take advantage of it. Also, there is likely a video of someone playing a tune that you are trying to workout, which can be very helpful (especially with fingerstyle tunes). It was one of my greatest aids when learning to play.
You can get yourself off to a good teacher, to help you along the way. However, don’t expect to get anywhere by simply going to a guitar teacher, the hard work will always have to come from you.
Books are also great. Mark Levine’s book on jazz theory and Guthrie Govan’s Creative Guitar Techniques (as I have already mentioned) stand out.
Read, watch and listen to as much as you can, take it all in. Not all of it will be useful for you, and you can ignore that, but chances are there will be at least a nugget of good information in most resources. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage by not seeking them out.
What song would you recommend for someone new to your style of music to learn?
The tune recommended by Tommy Emmanuel is one called Freight Train. Chet Atkins’ version is the one to go for. It’s a great tune, and uses very simple chords. For me, although it’s a great tune, I think something like Nine Pound Hammer would be a better choice. It’s a bit simpler chord wise, and has a great groove. Either would be a terrific, though still tricky, place to start.
Finally, what advice would you offer to guitarists who would like to play like you?
If there is anyone out there that really did want to play like me, there are a couple of things that I would say. The first is that you have to want to be a good musician. You need to be motivated and know where you want to be, what kind of thing you want to be doing. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a naturally talented musician, and if there is such a thing, I sure as hell am not one of them. I got to the standard I am at (which is noway near anyone like Gareth) by hard work and practice, something that anyone can do if they are motivated. Having a goal is a way to make this much easier. So, don’t feel that only some people are destined to be good guitar players or something like that, I used to think that and it’s a load of tosh.
Second, listen to as much music as you can. Rock, blues, metal, jazz, folk, punk, techno, hip hop, etc. Learn as much music as you can, as many tunes as you can. If you hear something on the radio, pick up your guitar and start playing it.
Practice with a metronome. TAP YOUR FOOT!
One of the biggest things for me is performing music, so go out and get some gigs. If you want people to enjoy your music, you’re going to have to groove, hence practicing when a metronome and tapping your foot. You can learn a piece note perfectly, but if you’re not filling the room with energy and emotion, then no one is going to enjoy what you’re doing.
I hope that whoever has read this has at least found something useful, if you have any questions, find me on YouTube or ReverbNation. Thanks for reading and thanks to ShareMyRiffs.
I began posting videos on YouTube of my guitar playing back in 2005, before YouTube was popular! Little did I know that come 2013 there would be over 36 million video results for the word “guitar” on YouTube and I would have watched thousands of these videos myself.
I’ve always believed that online video was one of the greatest contributions in improving my guitar playing and I hear that sentiment echoed with many of the guitar players I talk to today.
The first video I put on YouTube back in December 2005, a cover of Children of Bodom’s Silent Night Bodom Night.
Something that has always fascinated me is how and what guitarists decide to play when they are jamming in a guitar shop, at home or when warming up. I’m sure you’ve all been in that situation when you are trying out a new guitar in a music store and have to think about what to play. Clearly you don’t want to play anything too obvious (i.e. Stairway to Heaven) and you also want to sound like you know what you’re doing.
I can improvise to some extent, but it’s certainly one of my weaker areas. I have a few stock riffs & licks that I can bash out but my repertoire is fairly limited.
I created ShareMyRiffs to solve this problem. There are millions of guitarists worldwide that discover new and great sounding riffs everyday and this website is hopefully the perfect place to share those riffs and learn from other players.
Whether it be your own composition, a cool riff from a song you heard, or a cover of a TV theme tune, I’d love for you to upload videos and tabs of what you’ve discovered so that others can learn from you – and hopefully build on the videos found on this website to come up with even more cool riffs.