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There's a Freight Train Comin', p.8

Phrase 6: Sweeping Beauty

Phrase 6 concludes the solo to Nitro’s Freight Train with a lick that is in every way as preposterous as the band itself. It’s one of the fastest examples of arpeggiated sweeping you’ll likely ever hear in a rock song — or any song, for that matter. The lick requires a full 24-fret neck to execute, but since my trusty Washburn N2 only has 22 frets, in the video to this lesson I’m fretting the highest notes on strings and air. This produces an approximate pitch which is acceptable under the cover of the backing tracks, but for the sake of clarity I’ll play it here two frets lower than written:

Phrase 6 (played 2 frets lower than written)   –   listen (232.26KB MP3)


m.30                                  m.31
|----------------17-22p17-------------|----------------18-
|-------------18----------18----------|-------------19----
|:---------19----------------19-------|----------20-------
|-------19----------------------19----|-------20----------
|-17h20----------------------------20-|-18h21-------------
|-------------------------------------|-------------------
  d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|    d - - - - - - -|


m.32
-23p18-------------|----------------19-24p19-------------|
-------19----------|-------------20----------20----------|
----------20-------|----------21----------------21-------|
-------------20----|-------21----------------------21----|
----------------21-|-19p22----------------------------22-|
-------------------|-------------------------------------|
 u - - - - - - -|    d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|


m.33
|----------------18-23p18--------------|------------------
|-------------19----------19-----------|--repeat-measures-
|----------20----------------20-------:|---30-through-33--
|-------20----------------------20-----|----three-more----
|-18h21----------------------------21--|-------times------
|--------------------------------------|------------------
  d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|


m.34                                  m.35
|----------------17-22p17-------------|----------------17-
|-------------18----------18----------|-------------18----
|----------19----------------19-------|----------19-------
|-------19----------------------19----|-------19----------
|-17h20----------------------------20-|-17h20-------------
|-------------------------------------|-------------------
  d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|    d - - - - - - -|

m.36
-22p17-------------|--------------------------------------
-------18----------|--------------------------------------
----------19-------|--------------------------------------
-------------19----|-17--/\/\/\---------------------------
----------------20-|--------------------------------------
-------------------|--------------------------------------
 u - - - - - - -|    d

This lick was actually profiled in the January 2005 issue of GuitarOne Magazine in their Return of the Shred column. GuitarOne is a decent magazine, not just for its generally pragmatic orientation (I believe their tag line is “The Magazine You Can Play”), but also for the copious tabs and slickly-produced multimedia CD they supply with each issue. All the more surprising, then, that they got the tab for Freight Train‘s climactic lick wrong:

Yngwie-Style Arps (played 2 frets lower than written)   –   listen (117.44KB MP3)

-----17-22p17----|-----18-23p18----|-----19-24p19----|----
---18---------18-|---19---------19-|---20---------20-|----
-19--------------|-20--------------|-21--------------|----
-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|----
-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|----
-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|----
 d - -| u     u    d - -| u     u    d - -| u     u

-----18-23p18---|-----------------------------------------
---19--------19-|-----------------------------------------
-20-------------|--etc.-----------------------------------
----------------|-----------------------------------------
----------------|-----------------------------------------
----------------|-----------------------------------------
 d - -| u    u

GuitarOne gave the lick a difficulty rating of 9.8 out of 10 — which the actual lick certainly is, but which the entry-level Yngwie pattern above is not. In the article, Mike describes the pattern as the “open A” shape, by which he actually meant the full open-string fingering of the A minor chord we all know and love:

A Minor Chord   –   listen (82.23KB MP3)


-0--------------------------------------------------------
-1--------------------------------------------------------
-2--------------------------------------------------------
-2--------------------------------------------------------
-0--------------------------------------------------------
-x--------------------------------------------------------

Translating this shape to a sweep pattern an octave up produces one of the most fundamental five-string arpeggio shapes in shred:

A Minor Arpeggio   –   listen (121.52KB MP3)


----------------12-17p12-------------|--------------------
-------------13----------13----------|--------------------
----------14----------------14-------|--etc.--------------
-------14----------------------14----|--------------------
-12h15----------------------------15-|--------------------
-------------------------------------|--------------------
 d - - - - - - - | u - - - - - - - |

 

The difference between the five-string shape and the three-string shape from the magazine transcription is significant. Although it’s only two strings bigger, it’s twice as many notes (12 vs. 6) and easily more than twice as difficult to play at the indicated tempo. Specifically, Freight Train chugs along at approximately 200 beats per minute, and the arpeggio pattern repeats approximately twice per measure. This makes it sixteenth-note triplets, which are 50% faster than sixteenth notes. In other words, this lick in sixteenth notes would be — drum roll please — 300 beats per minute.

Doh!

At this kind of truly insane tempo, economy picking really earns its name. The open-A shape is a highly optimized Formula 1 vehicle that only a shred guitarist could have devised. Ingeniously, the right hand plays 13 notes with only two pickstrokes: one up, and one down. Two legato notes are included in the passage as well, but the pick moves right through them:

A Minor Arpeggio (slow)   –   listen> (155.71KB MP3)


----------------12-17p12-------------|--------------------
-------------13----------13----------|--------------------
----------14----------------14-------|--etc.--------------
-------14----------------------14----|--------------------
-12h15----------------------------15-|--------------------
-------------------------------------|--------------------
 d - - - - - - - | u - - - - - - - |
 

Ascending, the left hand pinky hammers the 15th fret of the A string. On the return trip, the left hand pinky pulls off from the 17th to the 12th fret of the E string. In both cases, the pick pauses briefly to let the legato action happen, but never actually rises above the strings. It accomplishes this by resting against the next string it is about to play without actually plucking it. When the legato passage finishes, the pick charges ahead again through the strings. This action of resting against a particular string is called, appropriately enough, a rest stroke, and is used heavily in many styles of picked acoustic guitar music.

There are a number of obstacles that make it tough to play this lick with clarity. One is your ring finger, which barres two strings in the middle of the arpeggio. Like sweep picking, a barre is a form of mechanical optimization that can promote speed. The down side is that both the middle and index fingers will also try to flatten out like barres when fretting the B and E strings. This creates both mechanical and aural slop. To avoid this, be sure to fret all notes precisely with your finger tips. This is not easy, particularly for the middle finger, which directly follows the barre. Starting slowly is the best way to build the dexterity.

Another enemy of clarity is harmonic noise. When you crank up the amp, any strings left open will produce stray harmonics that can totally ruin the sound of the arpeggio. This is particularly problematic when you play high up on the neck, where harmonic nodes are spaced closely together. There’s an unusually nasty node at the 19th fret which is almost impossible to avoid in the Freight Train lick. Even on my el-cheapo Washburn N2, which is a bolt-on neck, this particular note sustains forever:

19th-Fret Harmonic   –   listen (240.91KB MP3)

----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
-19harm---------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
 d

Not only that, but it rings across three whole frets — 18, 19, and 20:

19th-Fret Harmonic   –   listen (136.83KB MP3)

----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
-18harm-19harm-20harm-19harm-18harm--etc.-----------------
----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------
 d      d      d      d      d

The solution to the problem is muting. Take a look again at the sweep section of the video clip, and you’ll notice that I’m using a different pick motion than I do for the scalar parts of the solo. This is an exact emulation of the sweep technique that Mike himself uses, and it is achieved by sliding the pick across the strings with the shoulder and forearm. This allows the heel of the palm to become a string dampener that closely trails the pick as it sweeps across the strings. During the ascending phase of the lick, the palm heel automatically deadens the low strings just after they’re played. During the descending phase of the lick, something else happens: the underside of the left hand’s fingers naturally damp the high strings just after they’ve been played. By combining these two muting techniques, only one or two strings are able to ring at any given moment.

The sliding mute technique is an effective way to combat string noise, but when you’re just starting out with arpeggios, you’ll make life easiest for yourself by practicing on parts of the neck where harmonic nodes don’t interfere. For the Freight Train lick, try the following variation:

16th-14th-Fret Arpeggio Pattern   –   listen (216.93KB MP3)

m.30                                  m.31
|----------------16-21p16-------------|----------------15-
|-------------17----------17----------|-------------16----
|:---------18----------------18-------|----------17-------
|-------18----------------------18----|-------17----------
|-16h19----------------------------19-|-15h18-------------
|-------------------------------------|-------------------
  d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|    d - - - - - - -|





                    m.32
-20p15-------------|----------------14-29p14-------------|
-------16----------|-------------15----------25----------|
----------17-------|----------16----------------16-------|
-------------17----|-------16----------------------16----|
----------------20-|-14p17----------------------------17-|
-------------------|-------------------------------------|
 u - - - - - - -|    d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|

 m.33
|----------------15-20p15--------------|------------------
|-------------16----------16-----------|------------------
|----------17----------------17-------:|--etc.------------
|-------17----------------------17-----|------------------
|-15h18----------------------------18--|------------------
|--------------------------------------|------------------
  d - - - - - - -|  u - - - - - - -|

Whereas the original lick moves the pattern chromatically from the 17th to the 19th frets and back again, this variation goes from 16 through 14. There’s much less nodal interference on this part of the neck, and playing the lick here will also allow you to do so on Stratocaster-style guitars with only 21 frets.

Once you’ve got the basic open-A arpeggio shape under your fingers, you can begin to experiment. For example, combining Mike-style five-string sweeping with Yngwie-style three-string sweeping produces the following cool multi-octave arpeggio lick:

Yngwie+Mike Arpeggios   –   listen (83.26KB MP3)


-----15-20p15------15-|-20p15--------------------15-|-----
---16--------16--16---|------16----------------16---|-----
-17------------17-----|--------17------------17-----|-----
----------------------|----------17--------17-------|-----
----------------------|------------18-15h18---------|-----
----------------------|-----------------------------|-----
 d - -| u - -| d - -|   u - - - - -|  d - - - - -|



20p15--------------------15|20p15------15-20p15--------|--
-----16----------------16--|-----16--16--------16------|--
-------17------------17----|-------17------------17----|--
---------17--------17------|-----------------------17--|--
-----------18-15h18--------|-------------------------18|15
---------------------------|---------------------------|--
u - - - - -|  d - - - - -|  u - -| d - -| u - - - - -|  d

You can also take certain liberties with muting to create special effects. For example, you can take the lick to warp speed by ditching the sliding mute technique and using a speedier wrist-based pick action:

Bb Minor Arpeggio   –   listen (92.95KB MP3)

----------------13-18p13-------------|--------------------
-------------14----------14----------|--------------------
----------15----------------15-------|--etc.--------------
-------15----------------------15----|--------------------
-13h16----------------------------16-|--------------------
-------------------------------------|--------------------
 d - - - - - - - | u - - - - - - - |

 

Here, I’m playing the shape at the 13th fret, which produces a Bb minor arpeggio. The 13th fret is a particularly nice place to practice the open A shape because almost none of the notes coincide with strong harmonic nodes. As a result, I can still achieve reasonable clarity with only “standard” palm muting and a more traditional wrist-based pick motion. This combination is lighter and faster than plowing vertically through the strings with the entire forearm. The left hand touch is equally light, which results in the slurring of certain notes. Depending on the effect you’re going for, this degree of slop may or may not be appropriate. In this case I find the sonic result pleasingly Atari-like.

It’s shocking to think that a song like Freight Train, which was created at the peak of the shred era, is now over 15 years old. Though Nitro’s AquaNet and Pleather fashion statement may place them firmly in the days of the Iran-Contra Affair and handbag-sized cell phones, Michael Angelo’s playing on the track is still state of the art. And therein lies the challenge for 21st-century guitar. Even if the clarity and precision of Mike’s technique cannot meaningfully be surpassed, it’s up to the current generation of players to understand why. Thanks to desktop multimedia and the vast reach of the internet, there are better tools for this quest in the hands of more players than ever before. With any luck, the next Michael Angelo will be a fifth-grader.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these insights as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together. Thanks again to Joel Wanasek for having me. If your metronome and your wrists haven’t mounted a mutiny yet, feel free to head on over to my site for a monthly dose of similarly detailed lessons, audio, and video. Also check out my documentary movie project, Cracking the Code: The Secrets of Shred Guitar, which will attempt push humanity that much closer to a true understanding of “insane” guitar.

Thanks!

Troy
http://www.troygrady.com

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