OK, before I even start this article, I feel it would be polite to stress that there are no easy tricks or simple paths to take to mastering the guitar. It takes lots of hard work and dedication, the sacrifice of your social life, and sometimes you get so deep into practicing that you forget to even go to the bathroom all day. You emerge emaciated and dehydrated, and maybe you need a shave and a shower, but at the end of the day/weekend/week, you’ve nailed a killer new lick and you’re a slightly better guitarist than before you started work on it. That’s what it takes. There is simply no magical way to master any guitar style without a lot of effort.
Having said that, here’s how to master neoclassical rock guitar magically without a lot of effort.
No, sorry, that’s very mean and it’s not quite accurate. There are a few basic patterns you need to know if you want to get onto the path to neoclassical rock guitar enlightenment, and while they won’t instantly turn you into Yngwie Malmsteen or Joe Stump, they can certainly point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you.
The first is this little progression (in the neoclassical-approved key of A minor), which has a definite Bach feel. Bach is extremely popular in neoclassical rock circles because his melodies translate very well to the guitar, both sonically and ergonomically. And they can be laid out in such a way that they cover a lot of the fretboard, which is great for generally increasing your abilities as a guitarist no matter what genre you play.
When you tackle this lick, ask your bass player friend very nicely to play a steady quarter note rhythm with one note per bar (A-D-G-C-F-E-A-A), or create a backing track using software or good old-fashioned recording. There are a lot of ways to play this pattern, but the one presented is the easiest to learn. Once you’ve got that under your fingers you can start spreading it across more octaves with sweeping and tapping, and you can easily shift it to other keys, since there are no open strings to throw you off.
This lick can be pretty tricky at high speeds, so it might help to anchor your picking hand by using your pinky finger to rest against the pickup or pickup ring, especially if you play over the neck pickup for added pick attack clarity.
The next lick you’ll need to know to attain true neoclassical nirvana is this neat Am diminished arpeggio (Figure 2). There’s a relatively easy-to-visualize pattern going on here, as long as you mentally adjust for the effect of the different tuning interval between the G and B strings. When you get to the end, really dig into that F# note on the low E string, then shake the heck out of the higher F# in the final bar. Maybe even slide up to it for dramatic effect. Remember, we’re playing neoclassical rock here, so it’s okay to be bombastic.
The final thing we’re going to look at is the pedal tone. In a very simplified nutshell, this essentially means “coming back to a specific note a whole bunch of times.” First, we’ll look at the A Harmonic Minor scale (Figure 3), then we’ll use it as the basis for a pedal tone lick (Figure 4).
Depending on the context you use it in, the Harmonic Minor scale can sound very threatening and demonic, or majestic, or if you flip to the neck pickup and play with a nice open tone it can give you a rather Santana-esque feel.
In this instance, let’s pick every note and really focus on clean articulation. The lick pedals back and forth between descending Harmonic Minor notes and the B note at the 19th fret of the high E string, then the D# on the B string. This lick will give you something of a Ritchie Blackmore vibe, and aside from being a great-sounding lick to throw into a solo; it’s the perfect exercise to train a weak pinky finger, since that’s the most logical finger to use for the pedalled notes. And it also helps with picking back and forth between two strings at a high tempo.
Of course there’s no better way of learning to play neoclassical guitar than actually getting your hands on some classical transcriptions and playing the real thing. Pioneers of the neoclassical rock genre like Yngwie Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore got where they ended up because they started with a love of pure classical, then combined it with the energy of rock. I suggest you do the same: find some Bach sheet music or try to transcribe by ear, then take what you’ve learned and rock it up.