4 guitar tricks you can learn from Steve Howe

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Learn the licks of the Yes prog master

Regular readers will know we’ve been investigating where blues style playing has been applied to other genres – sometimes with surprisingly little alteration to traditional vocabulary. At other times, a few essential licks are cross-fertilized with other genres – this is where Steve Howe comes in. 

His early influences included players like Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Les Paul and Mary Ford, plus Wes Montgomery and Chet Atkins. Listening to the work of any of these, plus Steve’s own playing on tracks like Close To The Edge, Starship Trooper and Clap will give you an alternative take on how to phrase lines and arrange chords. Some of the ideas will feel familiar under the fingers, but some won’t – and I guess that’s what I’m aiming for with this article.

Steve’s playing is expressive in a completely different way to someone like Albert King, though his sharp tone and attack sometimes evoke similar dynamics. Like jazz players, slides (called ‘slurs’ in the more old school jazz circles) are more common than string bends. Steve uses a fairly heavy gauge string set, which precludes too many wide bends and wobbles, so I’ve tried to reflect that here.

It’s certainly interesting to take (often) subconsciously applied techniques like these out of the mix and see where it pushes you – the same applies to changing/reducing the gain. Changing any fundamental detail of how you usually set up your tone can open doors for new ideas. The second twist: we’re in 7/4 time – very popular in ‘prog’ rock styles like this. I recommend jumping in without giving it too much thought – you’ll be surprised how intuitive it can be soloing over odd time signatures after just a few minutes. Most importantly, I hope enjoy trying out these ideas and see you next time!

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