Mark Robinson

Sounding A Little Different

Hey all, this is my first column here, hope you manage to get something out of it. We all seem to start off by getting into pentatonic style playing, and then we get in a pentatonic rut and eventually break out into modal and arpeggiated style playing. However, people have been doing this for decades now, and you can often find yourself stuck wandering aimlessly up and down the scales. The aim of this lesson is to get into different areas of playing by some common sense stuff but also some lateral thinking. This is not a "copy the licks, get them to warp speed and then shove them inappropriately in any old solo" lesson, try to take these merely as ideas for you to develop.

Example 1 came to me while I was trying to come up with some buckethead style sounds. What's actually going on in this lick is actually incredibly simple, there's no need for complex jazz theory to create these weird and wonderful sounds. All I've done is taken a Bb Mixolydian shape, and added a tap on the 16th fret to each one. The way it works is most of the notes are within the key, but the odd one that's not throws the ear and leaves a way out robot style sound. Try a range of frets for the tapped note and a range of left hand shapes to see what other cool stuff you come up with. I've included string skipping and played it speedily to make it more "buckethead".

Example 2 uses one of my favorite weird sounding scales, the wholetone scale, which consists of 6 notes each a whole-step apart, it's tricky to make it work over any triad apart from an augmented one, but there are so many bass lines you can use this with. Next time you're at a pub jam session and are playing some cheesy standard like "You really got me", throw some wholetone madness into the solo, that'll make 'em sit up and take notice! It's also really easy to whiz around because the patterns repeat themselves, so both E strings and the D string share the same pattern, and the A, G and B have the other one.

At the end of this lick is a cool little trick I nicked from Ron Thal. On the top string I keep it muted at the 5th fret, for a more percussive tapping sound. I've played it using a clean sound here but feel free to use as much distortion as you like! I'm sure you all will. The tabs been quantized, but on the audio I just went for it, gives it a less clinical feel.

Example 3 uses slapping. This technique is usually used by bassists, but there's nothing to stop geetar players incorporating it into their playing too. The idea is to smack the lower strings with the side of your thumb and pull the upper strings with one or two fingers to get that snapping sound. I usually keep my right hand near the end of the neck for a more percussive sound; all muted notes should come from the left hand. The example will sound a 4th lower than written, that's one of the joys of having 7 strings!

Example 4 involves that lateral thinking stuff I was on about earlier. I've just taken a 3 note per string pattern from the minor harmonic mode and played it across the neck. This not only sounds weird in a good way but is very easy to play, try coming up with your own patterns. Once again string skipping is used to make the intervals a little bit more interesting, but do whatever. Oh, and you're going to have to play this sort of thing pretty fast to get away with it, and make sure you finish up on the root note!

Example 5 shows you a way of making a blues lick slightly more interesting, it's also a way of incorporating that fabulous alternate picking technique you've working on into a solo without being accused of self indulgence, (hmmmm maybe!). If you take the blues scale and fill in all the gaps in between on each string, you end up with an almost but not quite chromatic scale which works surprisingly well as long as you land it on a nice note.

Example 6 is an attempt to make arpeggios more interesting. It's all too easy to fly up and down 6 note per string patterns, but you can make them sound a lot more musical by mixing up the notes a bit. Here you've got all the notes of a dominant 7th arpeggio, phrased and everything. Try it with some other patterns, inversions and stuff.

Example 7 is another way of taking your sweep picking into different areas. All I've done hear is take the Lydian 3 note per string shape from starting on the 6th string and picked a line through it, emphasizing the sharpened 4th so that it sounds Lydian. You can do this with any mode in any position all over the neck. It also works with pentatonic and blues patterns, so give it a go.

Well that concludes my first column here; hope you're now seeing the neck in a few different ways and start developing your own stuff along these lines. Feel free to contact me if you've got any questions or problems.

I'm 17 years old based in Southern England. If I can ever be bothered not to be lazy or busy, I might finish recording the material that I start, when I do I'll let you know! You can contact me if you want lessons or for me to play geetar for your band or whatever at, or if ya just want a chat. It's all good!