Last night, I saw Yngwie Malmsteen perform in Atlanta. It was an amazing show. If you aren’t familiar with his music, Yngwie is a master of shred guitar and so fun to watch. Old school metal meets Bach style classical with TONS of ridiculously fast guitar playing. As I was watching the show, I had a thought and I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I could play like that?”
Now, there are many different kind of goals. There are the bucket list, I just have to do that before I die” kinds of goals that are really powerful. There are the “it would be pretty cool if I did this” New Year’s resolution kinds of goals that aren’t powerful at all. But in between, you have the “wouldn’t it be hilarious” kinds of goals that aren’t as serious, but still pretty dang powerful, and a whole lot of fun. I think they’re good goals too because they point us towards achieving something we wouldn’t do otherwise, and even failure is OK because you learn so much in the process. So I’m going to do it.
Remember, goals have to be specific and timely and actionable and probably something else that I forgot. So here’s my goal:
In 6 months I will be able to play a rock guitar lick involving 16th notes at 180 beats per minute.
Why 16th notes at 180 bpm? The way I figure it, metal songs are around 90-100 bpm, and the “shred” solos are 32nd notes. So 16th notes at 180bpm puts me in that range.
My starting point:
I was originally going to call this the “zero to shred” challenge. As fun as that would be, I am way past zero. I’ve been playing guitar for 33 years. I am a professional guitar player. So I’m not a zero.
Because I've been playing a long time, I know my way around the guitar. I know a lot of music theory. I didn't major in music, and I've never played jazz or classical. So it's kind of a street knowledge of music theory. But it's a fair amount of knowledge.
And it’s not really that I can’t play fast. I just can’t play fast LIKE THAT. I approach the guitar from a straight ahead rock standpoint. Pentatonic scales. Hammer ons and pull offs. Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Angus Young, you get the picture. No furious 32nd notes. No insane sweeping arpeggios. Think of me like a basketball player that can’t dunk or a baseball player that can’t hit a homerun. This goal is the musical of me hitting the gym and batting cages and figuring out how to hit for power.
So I'd say I'm an above average guitar player with decent but not great speed.
As I do this, I’ll share some tips with you that you can apply to your own playing. Techniques, exercises, books, websites, great players, etc. Feel free to let me know if you have any ideas!
Ahh, the guitar riff. So simple and yet so, so hard to come up with memorable ones. When done well, it can be the biggest hook of the song. When done poorly, you wind up in the 99¢ bin at the Bargain Barn.
What are some of my favorite Third Day guitar riffs? This same question has come up in conversation several times recently, so I thought it warranted a whole blog post. Looking back at Third Day's career in the studio, I'm proud to say that we wrote some pretty dang good guitar parts.
Here is a list of my current favorite top 10 Third Day guitar riffs, along with a little backstory for each. Some were written early on as the idea of a song was first taking shape. Some were devised in the studio in the hopes of adding some inspiration to a track. And at least one was an attempt at reviving a song that was on life support. So without further ado, here's my list. OK, maybe a little bit of ado - this list is just off the top of my head, today. No particular order. Could change without notice. Here goes nothing:
1) Til the Day I Die - We were in the studio, working on a tune called "Blind" that would go on the Wire album. We all liked the song, but kind of felt like putting it down might be the best option. Putting it down in the Old Yeller sense of the word, mind you. Knowing that we wanted some more rock tunes on the record, we tried to make up a riff to build the song around. I came up with what became the main riff of "Til the Day I Die." We were like, OK this is cool, but maybe not for this tune. Let's do another song around that. "Blind" ended up being a good song too, not for the guitar but for David's drum work and a fiddle part. So we ended up with not one, but two cool songs out of it. (NOTE: there is video footage of us doing this. I'll poke around and see if I can find it.)
2) You Make Me Mad - Preproduction for Conspiracy no. 5 consisted of us setting up at one church youth group room or another, playing through song ideas Mac had. One unique thing about that era was that we really wanted to up the rock factor, but most of the ideas were acoustic strummers. This song was in D, and as any guitarist knows, you can always make a D song sound cooler by tuning the low E string down to D. I tried that and played the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be this.
3) These Thousand Hills - We were all huge Jacob's Trouble fans and wanted to record "These Thousand Hills" for Offerings. Problem was, JT's version was one of those last song on the record/fadeout kind of songs. We tried several different arrangement ideas to no avail. Then Brad and I started jamming around on this guitar part and the song fell right into place. One of my favorite "twin guitar" moments of Third Day's career.
4) Otherside - We were backstage at a youth event in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, waiting for our set to begin. The event was behind schedule so we were all kind of bored and restless. Tai grabbed a guitar and said something to the effect of "let me show you this guitar thing I've been working on." He then played what would become the signature riff of "Otherside." Sometimes you hear one part and you know it's going to be a great song. That was definitely the case here.
5) Get On - There are a few songs like this in the Third Day catalog, where there's a chord and then the guitar chucks and then another chord. This was one of those. We played it first every night on the Come Together Tour and it rocked.
6) Took My Place - This was a case where Mac had the idea for this guitar riff in his head and wrote the song around it. He sang it for me and I played it. Then Brad added the harmony part. This was another fun double guitar song. Many years later we busted it out while on tour with Skillet and Seth Morrison came out and played it with us. Good times.
7) Peace - Another song from the Conspiracy no. 5 preproduction sessions, at some youth room or another. We had this acoustic strummer that we were trying to give the rock treatment and Brad started playing this. Ended up being the first tune on the record.
8) Come on Back to Me - This was another one that was really hard to wrestle down in the studio. Brad and Wire producer Paul Ebersold were experimenting with some different chord voicings and stumbled across this. It's super quirky and way up on the neck. And it's a rock song with a capo. But it works. Also, it doesn't exactly qualify as a guitar riff, but my guitar parts on the verses are some of my favorite things I've done in the studio.
9) This is Who I Am - This one goes in that same chord and guitar chuck category as "Get On" and "Sky Falls Down." We liked it so much we made it the first thing you hear on Revelation. A little trivia for you: this song was used in a NASCAR-themed video game.
10) Lift Up Your Face - Honestly, coming up with this one was a blur. We did a lot of preproduction in dressing rooms during the WinterJam 2010 so I suppose it happened then. Between all the traveling and rehearsing and sound checking and performing and breaking down and more traveling, I do not specifically remember coming up with that cool intro part. I do know that the Needtobreathe guys came up with the middle section while we were jamming on it at their studio and that made it super cool. I also know that this is a fun one to play live.
BONUS: Surrender - I couldn't figure out where to work this one into the list. Also, it's not exactly the signature riff - rather, it comes in unexpectedly about halfway through the song. But man, it really rocks. I was reminded of this one when a student of mine played it for me during a recent lesson. Good times. (NOTE: in this video, the riff starts at 2:08)