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Blues Guitar Lessons: Tremolo Picking

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Now we're going to go from the broad,
general, sort of abstract
conceptual idea of
building solos over time and
contours and arcs and
all that stuff, to some real hardcore,
guitar playing.
And this is a lesson on tremolo picking.
Tremolo is a term that
refers to basically this.
Alright, classical guitar players learn to
do tremolo picking by manipulating
separate fingers, and
that's why classical players have
to keep their fingernails just
perfect because it's
such a subtle technique.
It takes a long time to develop and get
the dynamics and the absolute precision.
On the guitar, of course,
we have our old pal, the flat pick here,
which we can use as
a substitute fingernail.
Tremolo simply means playing a note
with rapid up and down picking.
I don't know how else
to describe it [LAUGH].
You're creating the illusion
of a sustained note.
In other words a note that you hit
like a trumpet would just blow a note and
just hold onto it.
Right, on the guitar you hit that note and
immediately starts to die unless
you've got a lot of sustain.
Now, electric guitar
does a pretty good job.
I mean that note,
[SOUND] takes a long time to die out.
On the acoustic guitar, generally,
the notes die much quicker.
And so, this technique was developed for
acoustic guitar.
Classical guitars is a way of simulating
sustained violin or horn type notes.
But we use it on the guitar for
different kinds of effects, and
in blues it's basically a way of
creating a real intense sound.
We know that the notes sustain
because it's electric,
but when you pick it like that,
it just makes the energy just pop.
So the idea is [COUGH]
that you develop very
even attack, and
I'll show you the technique of it.
And then I'll show you some applications,
because that's really where the payoff
is in how you put it together.
For the purpose of this exercise
here I want to use a metronome.
And I'll set the metronome to 60
beats a minute, very relaxed tempo.
And as we did with vibrato,
where you gradually increase the number of
rotations per beat, we're gonna gradually
increase the number of cycles of the pick.
Per beat and develop a feeling for
what tremolo sounds like when it
sort of reaches the right level.
The note itself doesn't matter.
I'm gonna just grab why not E on
the third string at the ninth Fret.
And I'll do it and then we'll talk
a little bit about what happens physically
when you execute tremolo technique.
Here's the metronome beat and one and
two and three, start with eighth notes.
Down, up, down, up, down, up.
Find your groove.
Make the metronome disappear.
Now, triplets.
Still strict alternate picking.
Good, now 16ths.
That's four
notes per beat.
Now I'm gonna jump up
to 16th note triplets.
I went to
Woo. Okay.
Now I'm varying the dynamics a little bit.
The natural tendency is
jaaa daa daa daa you
know you put a little bit more
of oomph on the downbeat.
But that's not a technical thing.
That's more of a style thing.
And it's not required.
It's just how you do.
For technical purposes better
You want to get it to a point where if
you take the beat away you just hear
this constant, steady, even flow, okay?
Now, if you're doing that along with me or
if you do that separately and
you haven't done this much before,
what will happen is you'll
start to get faster and faster.
And then this is just a human reaction,
you'll start to tense up.
In other words, you grip that
pick a little bit tighter and
suddenly the muscles in the wrist will
start to get tighter and you'll start
working your whole arm like this and you
know, your whole body starting to vibrate.
And the room will vibrate and that's bad,
because what that means is that
you're really not in control anymore.
You're trying to shove that pick up and
You want the pick to be nice and
relaxed and sort of fall down and
then you bring it back up.
That's sort of the ideal image
So relaxation.
And you have to consciously relax.
This is kind of like doing
yoga when you're picking.
When you feel that tension start to
build in your wrist Say to yourself
wait a minute, relax, relax, relax.
Getting louder and softer but
I'm still maintaining that feeling
like I could do that all day long.
I'm not gonna tire myself out because in
reality It doesn't take much strength.
The muscles that
are involved are very small.
And so I'm really just trying
to nudge that pick back and
forth in the smallest degree possible,
Now why am I going to all this trouble?
Well, [COUGH] I was inspired to get into
tremolo picking because I heard a couple
of guys use it in a way that I
thought was really cool, and
I wanted to figure out how they did it,
and here's an example right here.
Remember that.
We did that ages ago.
That is playing the boogie shuffle but
separating the notes, and
that particular pattern was
one that I referenced to one
of the most famous blues instrumentals
of all time called Honky Tonk.
And the guitar player on Honky Tonk,
a guy named Billy Butler,
fabulous guitar player.
He could play just about anything,
had incredible skills, but
was just a great,
straight to the point blues player.
And on his solo on Honky Tonk,
which became kind of just a must
know standard in the world of blues.
He did this cool lick to
start off one of his solos.
He goes,
All right?
Now I heard that phrase and
it was just like, man, that's a cool idea.
It combines a couple of
different things that are in our
repertoire, double stops [SOUND] right?
And now, tremolo.
So we're putting techniques together and
textures, and coming up with a whole
different spin on the standard
single note blues solo approach.
So what's going on there?
Key of F
He's playing
in pattern number two in the key of F,
with the eighth position the top two notes
that the major third and the the fifth and
what he does is he tremolo pick.
In other words using exactly the same
technique we were just talking about.
Tremolo pick a double stop.
Now, some people who tremolo pick would
be very strict about
curling the fingers up.
This is true of picking in general.
Others would say just let it hang down.
I let it hang down.
Now you can see if you
watch the technique there
what I'm doing is
I'm picking from the wrist and the wrist
is believe it or not it's relaxed and
I'm thinking about the muscles up here.
Don't let these tense up and
just keep it nice and even.
Now the other challenge that comes along
with the tremolo picking and
keeping that even is moving around
the neck and your fretting hand.
So what he does is he goes
This is over the F chord, so
he's going from the third and
the fifth to the sixth and
the octave, two different colors.
But they're diatonic third intervals.
All right.
We studied those shapes.
Now when the chord change happens it goes
to B flat, the four chord.
He adjusts it just as we did when
we played third interval solos and
I said when he goes from the one
chord to the four chord you gotta
make that adjustment because
it's not a key center thing.
You have to watch out for each chord.
So here's F Now the B flat dominant
seventh chord [SOUND] has an A flat in it.
So the third of the one chord
[SOUND] goes down a half step to
the seventh of the four chord.
How many times have we seen that, right?
there's the sound of the four chord.
Hardly any trouble at all,
now that shape is shared by
the one chord and the four chord.
It's the sixth in the root of F ,and it's
also the third and the fifth of B flat,
so it does double duty there.
So, F
B flat
Right, a real stylistic finish there.
Double stop
and then he plays what appears to be
if you know your chords it looks like
it could be a D minor chord.
But it isn't, it's F sixth.
It's a different version of F
six that we haven't played.
[SOUND] There's A, the third,
F, the root and D, the six.
When you hear the F underneath,
you can hear the relationship.
It sounds kind of sweet.
It's the sound you would
here in country music.
Kind of like steel guitar harmonies.
So, a cool sound.
I love that chord.
There's the lick.
That's an application of tremolo.
Now [COUGH] developing
the technique might take a while.
And you say why should go I through
all the trouble for one lick.
Well once you learn it,
once you learn the skill
you'll hear different ways to use it and
players use it in different contexts.
We've got that sort of cool, spectacular,
powerful phrase in the key of F there.
Another variation
Looking for ways to build the first four
chords, the first four bars of a solo.
There's another one.
Using double stops in the same key,
just a different melody.
Now, play it out of context,
it sounds almost like I'm
playing Spanish guitar,
you know like a Spanish love song or
something and
it's exactly the same technique that
the Spanish guitar players would use.
Although they would use their fingers
probably to do the same thing.
It's not really limited to one style or
Now you can use it for single notes and
of course playing an F and
I wanna
I just use it as a way to build tension,
build energy, and
it becomes another texture,
another flavor that we can pull out and
Let me play a solo for
you over that 12-bar blues in F,
and I'll demonstrate these phrases for
you in context.
And it's just a little something
extra to add to your concept.
All right, here we go.
Woo that was a tremolo workout
right there if there ever was one.
Now it's tricky to come in right
out of the gate, you know and
nail those triplets evenly [SOUND].
But nonetheless the
that's the technique is just get that pick
going and keep it as even as possible
while moving around the neck.
A lot to think about in there.
And I use both of the phrases
that I showed you earlier and
then just sort of
just thought of a way to end the solo
using the same flavor.
So, there's kind of a quick overview
of a specialized technique.
That you hear from time to time applied
in the context of blues solos and
you might be wondering what the heck
is going on, well, there it is,
it's just sort of fluttering the hand,
keep it relaxed, keep it even, good to go.
See you the next time.