Rapidly gaining praise in the world of instrumental rock and beyond, Gretchen Menn isn’t your average guitar hero on the rise. She once flew regional jets to support her six-string habit. She has studied, in equal parts, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Morse, Frank Zappa, and Jimmy Page. She holds a BA in music from Smith College where she studied classical guitar under the tutelage of Philip de Fremery.
Gretchen’s second solo album, Abandon All Hope, is a ... (more)
Gretchen currently offers 30 guitar lessons at JamPlay, with 30 intermediate lessons.
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It can be common for guitar players to take an exaggerated stance on technique. Some seem allergic to anything perceived as overly technical, and shun learning extended techniques. Others make virtuosity the core aspect of their playing, but overlook writing and forming a musical voice. Both extremes are creatively limiting. This series shows that the two worlds need not be in opposition. Suited for guitarists at all skill levels, it aims to show how techniques can unlock creative freedom and inspire new ideas.
It can be common for guitar players to take an exaggerated stance on technique. Some seem allergic to anything perceived as overly technical, shun learning extended techniques. Others make virtuosic displays the central aspect of their playing, but overlook important aspects of writing and forming their own musical voice. But both extremes are creatively limiting. Join Gretchen Menn as she introduces us to her JamPlay series - Technique in the Service of Creativity - showing that the two worlds need not be in opposition.
Alternate picking is simple in concept, though its levels of difficulty run deep. To begin this journey, we will focus on alternate picking technique with Gretchen showing us a series of exercises to get the best and clearest tone possible from a simple, one string sequence.
Armed with the foundation of the basic alternate picking technique, we now start to explore variations and extensions of it. Here we dive into alternate picking across strings and with string skips. You’ll notice it becomes increasingly difficult to be consistent as the leaps become larger, so we will take it slowly, focusing on accuracy.
This section will demonstrate how to take a concept from a musical model or influence and use its elements to inspire and inform your own ideas. We will talk technique, go over other elements, and show an example of how an inspiration informed one of Gretchen's tunes, “Shadows.”
Incorporating odd meter, unusual accents or subdivisions of the beat can add a lot of interest. An idea that seems trivial or predictable in common time can come to life when you reimagine the rhythmic aspect of it. In this lesson we’ll look at a line in 10/8.
Here we will look at creating multiple voices though string skips, large leaps, and muted notes juxtaposed against accented notes. Building upon our alternate picking foundation, this challenging exercise will require attention to detail. If you take it slowly at first, in no time you will be playing this up to tempo!
How do you approach a technical concept within a musical model and create your own music with it? In this lesson we will go through various steps you can use as methods for writing and creating. Of course, when pure inspiration strikes, always go with that. But rather than leaving your creative output entirely to the whim of the muses, this kind of approach can be a useful, practical way to invoke inspiration and grow your musical vocabulary along the way.
Unlike wind or bowed instruments, the guitar by itself has extremely limited inherent dynamic control once a note is plucked. That is a huge limitation. We can’t get our notes to sing as effortlessly as instruments that do have that dynamic control. But amplified guitars can use volume swells to get a similar effect.
When you combine a volume swell with a bend or pre-bend, you can get a result that is almost vocally expressive. It means some careful coordination of right and left hands, as the fretting hand will be modulating pitch at the same time that the picking hand modulates volume. In this lesson, Gretchen uses her song "Deja Vu" to illustrate the expressiveness of volume swells.
Partial volume swells are another tool in the expressive toolkit. Building on lesson 9, we will work out a musical example that combines partial swells, bent notes with chords and full volume swells. The very slow tempo of the example will also be a good exercise for the timing of the volume swells.
In this lesson, Gretchen will look at strategies for incorporating volume swells into one’s own playing/creative voice. Using quick swells with delays, emulating a human voice, and providing subtle support for a vocalist or other instruments, are just a few of the ways to effectively use volume swells.
Artificial harmonics are a way to extend your guitar’s range into the stratosphere. By understanding a bit about the physics of sound and the overtone series, you will discover layers upon layers of available notes. And their chime-y, brilliant, and even harp-like character adds a distinctive timbre.
This lesson extends the basics we addressed in lesson 12 by using a musical example, “Valentino’s Victory Lap.” This tune has a line that requires a single artificial harmonic at the end of a line to be played above the fretboard (near the pickups).
Now that you can get one artificial harmonic reliably, we move on to playing entire melodies this way. It means being able to trust your left hand’s whereabouts (and be where you think you are consistently), so you can keep your right hand in view to get the harmonics.
Combining artificial harmonics with normal notes can result in gorgeous cascades that sound almost harp-like. The picking hand is the key to this technique, and requires some finesse.
Gretchen slowly goes through the small details of using harp harmonics in her song "Scrap Metal".
This will be the most advanced of the lessons, incorporating a more complex picking hand pattern. The idea is to show how harp-style harmonics can be the cornerstone of a piece of music in addition to a beautiful detail or flourish.
Here we will look more closely at ways to incorporate artificial harmonics into one’s own playing/creative voice. In addition to exploring how to compose exercises and lines, we will go deeper into a look at the creative process and how a technique can provide an inspiring new sound.
Sweep picking is picking a technique that is the complement of alternate picking—yin and yang. Whereas in alternate picking we alternated up and down strokes, sweep picking keeps the pick moving in the same direction until a larger change of direction must be made. It can be a very efficient and economical way to play arpeggios or lines on adjacent strings.
Armed with the basic technique introduced in the previous lesson, here we will look at a short, 6-string sweep in a musical context: “Shadows,” This sweep includes some slides and change of notes between ascending and descending directions, which adds elements of complexity.
Rather than being a technique reserved for shred and metal (though it most decidedly is at home there), we’ll see that sweep picking is also useful with a clean guitar sound. Here the effect is not to be the climax of a ripping solo, but rather to incrementally add support to other instruments, increasing the musical energy and anticipation of the return of the main theme.
Sweep lines with chord changes underneath illustrate the effectiveness embedded in the chaos of the technique. In this lesson, Gretchen demonstrates a sweep line from her song "Tombs".
Having studied the technique and examined various ways to use sweep picking, the true test is to incorporate it into one’s own creative vocabulary. Here Gretchen talks about ideas and approaches as possible launchpads.
Picking hand finger tapping can open up an entirely new world on the guitar. Not only does it lend itself to easy, flowing quickness once you get the hang of it, but it also provides a characteristic, very legato texture. Additionally, it allows for the realization of lines that couldn’t be executed with another technique.
Now with the foundation place, we can see tapping in a musical context with Gretchen's song, “Oleo Strut.” This tapping line was definitely inspired by the line that made Gretchen first want to learn to tap - Paul Gilbert’s intro to the Mr. Big tune, “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”.
Tapping doesn't have to be exclusive to distorted, shred guitar. Here we’ll take a look at tapping for texture, with an entire piece written around a concept of clean, moderate tempo, three-finger tapping, with harmonies melting one to the next.
Now we will undertake a more technically challenging tapping line from Gretchen's piece, “Savages”. This one is significantly more difficult, as the patterns are more complex, and the tempo is fast.
Having now looked at a few different ways to apply the technique of tapping—whether as a quick, playful moment while retaining your pick, a clean accompaniment texture to a lyrical melody, or something more frenetic and virtuosic—you should start trying out different options within your own creative idiom.
Putting down the pick can shift how we think creatively, and can automatically engage us more in thinking about chord voicings, countermelodies, counterpoint, polyphony, etc. Picklessness is obviously not a prerequisite, as a lot of the same possibilities are there with hybrid picking, but there is something very powerful about fingers on strings (not to mention having another finger freed up by dropping the pick). And anything that gets you out of your comfort zone will open up new creative possibilities.
Sometimes the smallest or most general ideas can inspire new creative directions. Look for opportunities to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. In this lesson, Gretchen takes a look at her piece - “Bures-sur-Yvette,” and talks about how she created it.