Whether you’re composing a solo or improvising one, you’re connecting a series of musical ideas to express yourself. Developing a vocabulary of licks is the first step. Learning how to connect them is the next and that’s the primary focus of Alex Skolnick’s Heavy Rock edition of Solo Factory.
"I’ll perform 5 full-length solos across a variety of heavy rock feels, tempos, and keys. I’ll then extract what I consider to be 5 key licks from each of the solos and break them down for you. I’ll show you how to play them, explain their harmonic make-up and you’ll get a sense for they help connect the preceding and subsequent sections of the solo. Everything is tabbed and notated, so feel free to pick out any of the other licks or in the solo.”
Alex will perform a solo over each of the backing tracks and then break down 5 licks from each performance emphasizing the techniques required to perform them and explaining how they connect to each other within the solo.
Track 1: First Listen ”Here's a rundown of our first rhythm track and how I approach the solo. The track itself is a "jam rock" riff designed for open improvisation. This includes basic "meat & potatoes" approaches (i.e. blues-based pentatonic licks), as well as more expanded views, such as modal, jazzy chromatic lines and more.”
Track 1: Soloing Performance Study ”In this performance study we'll perform a full improvised solo over this "jam rock" riff-based track. Notice how I make use of both blues-based pentatonic licks, as well as more expanded approaches to playing over this track. There are sliding licks, ascending and descending licks, Jimmy Page inspired "over-bends", and two-handed tapping licks for us to practice.”
Track 1: Lick 1 ”This lick involves the "sliding scale" concept which is covered in detail in my previous TrueFire course, Unbound Guitar. Using only the notes of the pentatonic in only two octaves, it's still effective, mainly because it fits with the backing track, doesn't rely on repetition and is helped by a "Gibbons-esque" pinched harmonic.”
Track 1: Lick 2 ”We begin with a simple ascent & descent of the first four scale notes, then ascend higher, with slight variations throughout. Most notable is blending of shapes which outline A minor – which is the tonic (or foundational note/key center) – and E minor, which is a relative shape. Each "shape" can also be thought of with its more technical term "minor seven arpeggio.”
Track 1: Lick 3 ”Inspired by Jimmy Page, this "overbend" involves a note that is normally bent up one whole step but in this case is pushed higher (Note: listen to the classic work of Eddie Van Halen and David Gilmour for more great examples of overbending). The bend morphs into a triplet-based blues lick. Notice that the second finger is used for the bend in the context of this improvised solo, while the third finger – which is more common (and recommended to start) – is used in the explanation. Learn to play it both ways.”
Track 1: Lick 4 ”A brief primer on two-handed tapping. While not a "main technique" of mine, it does find its way into some of my solos, with special care to avoid the classic, triadic hammer-ons popularized by Eddie Van Halen (although EVH is a tremendous influence in this area, along with Allan Holdsworth). One way to do this is to view a scale on one string, pentatonic or modal, and find patterns that work their way through the scale.”
Track 1: Lick 5 ”Another lick that incorporates the shapes described in Track 1/Lick 2, which are based on arpeggios of Am and Em. This time, we begin in the middle of the octave – on the "E" – blending an initial ascent with slight descents and ascents throughout. The trickiest part is the rhythmic placement: the lick begins on a random spot in between the beats while resolving on a solid downbeat.”
Track 2: First Listen ”There are many great tunes that incorporate this type of groove, among them "Freeway Jam" (Jeff Beck), "Strange Kind of Woman" (Deep Purple), "Black Friday" (Steely Dan) and many more, which were borrowing from the blues genre. Each beat has a triplet feel, and can be thought of "triple time" (Just FYI: a more straight groove – based on standard eighth notes – would be considered to be in "duple time", sometimes referred to as straight eighths.”
Track 2: Soloing Performance Study ”As with many blues and blues/rock tunes, it's possible to simply play minor pentatonic over the whole rhythm track. However, while this is a safe choice and good practice for players in more formative stages of learning, it's not as interesting to the listener. Similarly – as with many blues and blues/rock tunes – it's possible to blend major and minor licks, both pentatonic and modal. Advancing players are encouraged to adopt these more in-depth approaches, which are explored in the next series of licks.”
Track 2: Lick 1 ”A classic "chestnut" lick which brings to my mind the influence of Billy Gibbons and Angus Young. It involves two overlapping notes and descending slide. There are many variations possible and this one incorporates wah and "hybrid picking", which utilizes both the pick and fingers. It's fairly simple and is made effective by developing a good feel.”
Track 2: Lick 2 ”A clear "modal" lick outlines the chord progression heard in the rhythm track. The description focuses on the back half of the lick first, which involves a major pentatonic bend. Prior to that, there's an arpeggio which outlines the A Major chord as its playing in the background. The very end incorporates the track's main mode (B Mixolydian), with a minor third thrown in for added “bluesiness".
Track 2: Lick 3 ”This lick demonstrates how you can play a pattern that is boldly pentatonic but not stuck in one of those typical "box" shapes. Instead, it works its way down the neck entirely on one string, utilizing classic, Jeff Beck-influenced hammer-ons that resolve on the lower part of the neck.”
Track 2: Lick 4 ”Here, we move from a bend on the first string straight into a bend on the second. This is an important skill that applies to many more licks than just this exact one. The blues feel is especially given weight by the use of the third, which is not really minor and not really major, but somewhere in between – a concept sometimes referred to as a "blue note" and is discussed in the breakdown.”
Track 2: Lick 5 ”This lick involves the two-handed tapping concepts discussed in Track 1/Lick 4. In this case, we are using a minor pentatonic shape that includes the lowered 5th (a pattern sometimes referred to as the "blues scale"). We also take the tapping to a slightly more advanced level by spreading the pattern across two strings.”
Track 3: First Listen ”A full-on metal track, a bit influenced by the work of Sepultura (the great Brazilian band that combines heavy sounds with an indigenous, tribal feel). This rhythm incorporates the harmonic minor scale, which is explored in depth.”
Track 3: Soloing Performance Study ”As with all metal work, I try to let the melodies take precedence. There are plenty of fast licks included to add to the excitement, but they tend to play more of a supporting role, connecting the dots of the melodic content. This groove presents a lot of opportunity for long, singing notes, but also fast, technical licks such as sweeps and two-handed tapping, which is incorporated throughout.”
Track 3: Lick 1 ”This lick begins on a single string (high E/1st), stays there for a whole measure, before segueing into a multi-string pattern. During that same first measure, there is a sliding motion that moves up and down the string, while the content of the second measure is played in position at the 7th fret, with a final passage that jumps out of position and back in. It all relates to the 5th mode of the E harmonic minor, sometimes called Phrygian Dominant or Mixolydian b2/b6.”
Track 3: Lick 2 ”Consisting of "sweep" arpeggios in multiple octaves, Lick 2 provides many notes in a short time. The breakdown includes an in-depth look at the process of sweeping and using triads as building blocks to create bigger arpeggios. In this case, the main arpeggio is based on the B major triad, which fits with our mode, as described above.”
Track 3: Lick 3 ”While it would be possible to create these types of licks with certain other strings (A and E are both scale tones, so it would be possible to use the open A and E strings), it is simplest to use the open string that matches to the tonic of the song.”
Track 3: Lick 4 ”After the arpeggios, the solo moves into a single-string lick that kicks into a bend. This is one of the peak moments of the solo, almost at the very top of the scale. It begins with a slide to the tonic (the highest possible), before outlining the first few notes of the scale and bending from the C (or flat second) to the D# (major 3rd). This is an over-bend, similar to the type described in Track 1/Lick 3.”
Track 3: Lick 5 ”This is a lick that descends down the neck, using hammer-ons and picking. It starts in an unpredictable place, winding up on the downbeat for a sense of resolution. It largely utilizes miniature three-note positions. These work great for harmonic minor modes and are easily transferable to different parts of the neck.”
Track 4: First Listen ”This track is bit on the quiet side compared to the previous one. It has a wide-open feel alternating between Lydian – which is considered the brightest mode – and Aeolian mode (also known as a natural minor).”
Track 4: Soloing Performance Study ”Lydian is very interesting in the sense that you can get away with melodic content that feels unresolved, yet that's not a problem since the lack of resolution is such a part of its character. That is certainly the case with the solo here, which incorporates a lot of slight dissonances that feels colorful, not uncomfortable. However, there is a sense of resolution in the alternating Aeolian sections, in which busier, minor rock and blues-flavored licks fit the part.”
Track 4: Lick 1 ”The first lick is over the minor section and incorporates an overbend and a descending slide that relates to the sliding scale discussed earlier. Although Hendrix is a primary influence for this lick, right-hand fingers are brought in, which helps bring out the influence Gilmour/Knopfler and other influential Strat players.”
Track 4: Lick 2 ”Most notable here is the use of volume knob swells, a technique that was made popular by Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen and others for select licks with a quiet dynamic. This is a sequence that adjusts rhythmically as it descends the Lydian mode in the high register. The notes are effective either way and should be practiced with and without the volume knob swells.”
Track 4: Lick 3 ”To do a sweep lick, one doesn't have to always do the multi-octave technique covered in the previous solo. Sometimes, just one octave is effective which is the case here. The lick is a simple D major arpeggio which moves up to the position of its relative, E major, by using a slide that follows the sweep.”
Track 4: Lick 4 ”Playing a passage in "octaves" on two strings, rather than just a single line on one string, is an effective way to call attention to a melody and conceptually simple. I first heard it used by Jimi Hendrix, but later found out that it was the signature technique of jazz great Wes Montgomery. I've used it in many types of solos, from jazz to metal. Here, the technique is explained.”
Track 4: Lick 5 ”There's nothing quite like a good "wailing" pentatonic lick. Repetition is an important ingredient, yet in order to be exciting and musically interesting, the repetition shouldn't be too obvious to the listener. This lick demonstrates this idea by repeating but not on the same beat and alternating strings throughout.”
Track 5: First Listen ”This is an uptempo hard rock/metal track. While I consider the mother of this type of groove to be "Highway Star" by Deep Purple, there are numerous classic tunes that followed it. The main tonic is F#, although it modulates to A and also E.”
Track 5: Soloing Performance Study ”This type of track offers a good chance to take high-speed technique and put it to use. Most of the techniques we've looked at – from slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, two-handed tapping, sweeps, etc. – show up in at least some form here, as well as modes, pentatonic patterns, "blues scales" and more. The following lick studies break down a few of them.”
Track 5: Lick 1 ”This lick is primarily based on the "blues scale" (minor pentatonic including a flat 5th). One section consists of triplets while the other is made up of sixteenth notes. The triplets flow into the sixteenth notes, which is a bit tricky at first but greatly helps create variety and avoid too much repetition.”
Track 5: Lick 2 ”Here we are looking almost exclusively at legato technique, which – once you have it mastered – is far easier to play than it sounds. The lick ascends a minor arpeggio in a small sweep, then descends the mode via legato. This type of combination is similar to some of the exercises looked at in Unbound Guitar.”
Track 5: Lick 3 ”This lick begins with a type of pattern I've used often over the years, and can't remember exactly what or who the influence was for it. It is a half-step bend that pulls off and repeats. Then it leads to another "blues scale" idea with a similar shape moving from string two to three. Finally, there is a repeating pentatonic pattern with no bend that's a bit more jazz/rock influenced.”
Track 5: Lick 4 ”This is one of my favorite ways to get around the neck: taking a lick pattern and moving it through a scale on the same set of strings (which can be expanded into another set of strings as well, something to be explored later). Each fragment begins with a slide into its first note, which helps add character.”
Track 5: Lick 5 ”Another "traveling lick" on one set of strings. This one is ascending, beginning near the nut of the guitar and quickly traveling to the upper register. While Lick 4 is paced slightly slower, with each part lasting for three eighth-notes (thus allowing a bit more breathing room), Lick 5 is one part per beat and climbs up the neck very quickly. As always, these ideas can and should be applied to other songs/keys, tempos etc.”
Alex will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You’ll get standard notation and tabs for each of the performances. Plus, you’ll be able to use TrueFire’s learning tool to sync the tab to the video.
Alex includes all of the backing tracks for you to work with on your own. In addition, you’ll be able to loop or slow down any of the videos so that you can work with the lessons at your own pace.
Grab your guitar and let’s get heavy with Alex Skolnick!