Having guitar heroes is a very natural part of learning to play the guitar. Our guitar heroes represent the ideal to which we aspire — someone who has taken the instrument further than we have yet, someone from whom we can learn, to improve our own abilities and become a better guitarist.
It’s partly about inspiration — i.e., once we have the tools they have, maybe we can express ourselves as well as they express themselves. But it’s also partly about literally replicating some of the things they do, to learn from them, and to add these tricks to our own arsenals.
Remember, in this modern age, there’s a wealth of resources and online guitar lessons available to you to help you on this quest.
Here are some things to consider when replicating a guitarist’s style:
1 – Chords
Does the guitarist typically play chord progressions in a major or a minor key? And do they play a lot of open chords, or barre chords, or both? Are they someone who uses a capo regularly?
These may sound like very simple questions, but they combine to create quite a strong effect. If you play a major barre chord, with the thumb over the back of the neck, then play a hammer-on-pull-off embellishment, it conjures up Jimi Hendrix rhythm part vibes. If you put a capo on fret 2, and play an Em7, ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis might spring to mind.
These are not trivial points. Guitarists become distinctive because of the way that they play. And with chords, this means chord type, chord position and shape, chord fretting, articulation, and so on. So take a look — how does your guitar hero do it?
2 – Strumming, Rhythm, and Tempo
Now, how do they play those chords? The difference between a slow, laid-back acoustic strumming pattern, and a fast-and-furious funky 16th-note part might seem obvious, but now it’s time to look at it in detail. Maybe the funky part’s percussive muted notes are what gives your favorite guitarist’s rhythm parts their bouncy life? Or maybe the ghost strums in the slow acoustic part are what give it its solid rhythm and timing?
Some guitarists are famous for playing almost exclusively in down strums. Others embellish every chord they ever play. Look at what your favorite guitarist does and learn from it. And don’t just stop at learning their guitar parts, try to go one stage further:
Play, or find a simple loop of a bass line or some chords. Now try to create a guitar part using your guitar hero’s typical chord type/shape/fretting/articulation/embellishment, etc.
To diversify and check you’re sticking to task, set yourself the same challenge; over the same underlying chords/bass part, but in the style of another guitarist you like — ideally very different in style to the first one.
You — or a musically-minded friend — should be able to identify which exercise reflects which guitarist.
3 – Lead Guitar Playing
This can sometimes be the area where the greatest differences occur, given how much more room for creative expression there can be in lead playing. Even with those guitarists who typically play reserved, minimal lead guitar lines — as they usually do so consciously and are famed for doing so.
It’s also possible for guitarists to change their approach over time. RHCP’s John Frusciante represents a great example of this. On ‘Californication’ his solos were minimal, single-note melodic lines. On ‘By The Way’ they were almost non-existent, and on ‘Stadium Arcadium’ they were semi-improvised throwback blues-rock fuzz solos. Still, the point remains, each approach is distinctive and deliberate and could be replicated.
Take some of the key elements of lead playing: Bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, double stops, vibrato, and so on, and take a few of your guitar hero’s best-known solos. How often does each appear? Are there some licks they regularly play that exemplify their approach? The answer — from experience — is probably yes.
The other side to this is scale and note choice. Do they use the pentatonic? The blues scale? Modes? Now would be a great time to revise these scale types and their component parts such that you can understand what exactly the guitarist you’re studying is doing and why.
Once you can understand their choices, you’re beginning to understand how a top-level guitarist thinks. Once you do this with several guitarists, you then have a serious palette of insight from which you can begin to paint your own creative picture.
By Dan Butler for Guitar Tricks