Neoclassical guitar involves coordination, fast hands, thorough knowledge of scales and riffs and some amazing guitar technique. It’s both a complex and powerful form of guitar music which despite the demands on the player incredibly rewarding to play and compose.
Although Uli Jon Roth can be credited with founding the neoclassical guitar movement it was really brought to the mainstream through Rhandy Rhoads playing in Ozzy Osborne’s first two albums (Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz). His classically influenced guitar playing fused his solos with a power and excitement that few guitarists of his generation had achieved.
If you are looking to be inspired or put in awe by a true neoclassical guitarist then take a look at some of Yngwie J Malmsteen’s songs. It was very much Yngwie that popularised neoclassical rock guitar and he has been building an impressive repertoire of music for decades off the back of this niche.
Neoclassical music became known in the early 80′s. Before that point, metal and shred guitar weren’t as mainstream as genres such as rock. Then, some guitarists such as Malmsteen took a leap of faith and started combining classical sounds into their hard metal songs. They took the best of two genres and combined them to create neoclassical shred guitar.
You need to understand that neoclassical isn’t just classical music. “Neoclassic” typically refers (as a definition by most guitarists) to “neoclassic rock / metal”, not “current classical music”. We’re talking about metal, influenced by classical music melodies. So don’t worry, you’re going to be rocking…hard and fast.
Check out episode 5 of our guitar lick of the week above which features a Yngwie J Malmsteen inspired guitar lick.
Now here’s the fun part, regardless of your taste in music, learning neoclassical shred guitar can assist you in becoming the best lead guitarist in your town. The reason for this is found in the various techniques utilized while playing shred guitar. Once you get a few of these techniques down, you’ll have no trouble impressing your neighbors.
If you haven’t picked this up yet, shred guitar is fast… Ok, that’s an understatement. This is why it’s so important to use a metronome. A metronome is a little box that ticks and yes, they are usually over priced. Why would you want to get one of these over priced tickers? Well, for starters, your health and mental well being.
For most people, the sound of a click every few seconds would slowly drive them insane. For a musician, it’s their key to success. It allows you to keep time. Start a riff slow and build it up until it’s lightning fast. Not only will this make you sound good and make learning the riff easier, it will protect your hands from damage. If you start playing something extremely fast right away, you risk burning out your hands. By starting slow and working your way up, your hands will do a much better job playing the correct notes.
Another reason to use a metronome is phrasing. Phrasing is how you play the riff while speed simply deals with tempo. If you can play each note for the correct amount of time, then switch seamlessly to another string or part of the neck, you will play the music correctly and sound good. However, if you play the notes sloppy, you will come across as not being prepared. Which would you prefer? The only way to get perfect phrasing when you’re starting out on guitar is by using a metronome.
Neoclassical Guitar Scales
The scales used in neoclassical shred revolve around the minor scales and modes. In particular, melodic and harmonic minor scales are utilized to give a more regal, classical feel to the music. Let’s start by running through E Natural Minor to warm-up.
E Natural Minor
Note: Bold numbers above tab are for fingerings.
Now we’ll take the above E natural minor and make some adjustments to create the melodic and harmonic minor scales. Remember, all of these scales are 100% movable. Use the first note of each scale and move the scale up and down your low E string. This allows you to play in different keys.
E Melodic Minor
E Harmonic Minor
…See how the harmonic minor scale is similar to the natural minor scale? There is only one note that is different. This makes switching between natural minor and harmonic minor a breeze while playing.
Run through each scale slowly. Pay attention to all of the details and memorize the pattern. Try moving everything up or down a few frets. You want to experiment as much as possible and get used to playing in a minor key.
Neoclassical Guitar Technique
Alternate picking is a technique where you alternate your pick strokes. All too often, guitarists who are just starting out will use nothing but down strokes to pick their notes. To gain speed, and to sound better, try alternating between down strokes and up strokes. After you play a down stroke to sound a note, use an up stroke to play the next note. Then alternate between the two.
This may seem like a simple concept, but it can get pretty tricky when you start dealing with string skipping and moving around the fretboard. Try using this simple C Major scale to alternate your picking:
…The reason why it’s so important for you to master the art of alternate picking is due to speed. It is almost impossible to gain lightning fast speed in shred guitar without the use of alternate picking. The only other option is to tap out the notes, but we won’t be covering that technique in this lesson.
Try focusing your attention on one note, let’s say 12th fret E on your high E string. Start to alternate your picking on this note. Start slow and gradually build up speed.
… If you’re having problems getting that speed, keep practicing. Another tip is to use a hard pick and hold it at a slight angle to the strings. In other words, don’t hold it flat like you usually would for strumming. This slight 20 or 30 degree angle will help you “attack” the note and enable you to play it faster.
Neoclassical shred guitar has a very distinct sound that comes from various distortion and overdrive pedals. Some of the most popular pedals used in this genre of music include the following:
- DOD overdrive pedal
- Ibanez Tube Screamer
- Boss Compression/Sustainer
- Boss MT-2
- Boss DD-5 Digital Delay
- Dunlop Original CryBaby Wah Pedal
- Vox Flanger
…As far as the guitar is concerned, you can find success with any electric but the Fender Stratocaster seems to reign supreme amongst the world’s hottest shredders. However, Ibanez, Jackson, and B.C Rich have all seen their fair share of action in neoclassical as well. It comes down to personal taste and style. Les Pauls and similar style guitars are rarely used in this style because they don’t have a tremolo bar, which is a popular item to have for shredders.
The choice of amps is just as diverse as the guitar. Marshall is a favourite with shredders such as Yingwie Malmsteen. Whatever the case, the amps are big and they’re loud!
Neoclassical Guitar Riffs (with Tab)
To get the feel of shred, you need to get a good handle on your technique. Hammer on’s, pull off’s and coordination between your left and right hand are a necessity.
As far as the sound is concerned, neoclassical works around patterns. Let’s take these four riffs for example: