Tosin Abasi is at the forefront of a revolution in guitar playing – the development of technique and music for the eight string instrument. GI welcomes our new ‘extended guitar’ specialist and columnist Sam Bell for his first Tech Session. Tosin Abasi: If you’ve ever wondered how it’s done – here’s the answer!
Tosin Abasi is known as one of the world’s leading eight string guitarists, sharing magazine covers with the likes of Steve Vai and pushing instrumental progressive Metal into a whole new dimension with his band, Animals as Leaders. The band has released two albums (self-titled and Weightless) to date and is currently working on a third, with Periphery mastermind Misha Mansoor. Tosin is known for his diverse techniques, used to create unique sounding riffs like you have never heard before! He has a big Jazz influence and takes inspiration from earlier shred guitarists from the ‘80s which all contribute to his unique take on the eight string guitar. In this issue’s Tech Session I will be demonstrating various aspects of Tosin’s playing, taking in spiration from a few tunes of the first Animals as Leaders album.
The very start of our demonstration track starts with a clean guitar, Tosin is fond of using quite a dry clean sound in many of his compositions. Whilst I do not play this part on the video it’s well worth checking the tab to see how this part is played. We are following a progression of add9 chords, F#add9, Dadd9, and Badd9 using double picking (picking each note from the arpeggio twice). Add9 chords and double picking crop up in lots of Tosin’s ideas. He appears to have a fondness for angular sounding chords due to his Jazz/Fusion influences, these chords provide a large part of the soundscape and mood of the Animals as Leaders material.
Eight String sweep
This next section demonstrates our first sign of Tosin’s early influences, Frank Gambale. Tosin often uses long, medium paced arpeggio lines with sweeping in his music, frequently using a loop pedal in a live situation to capture the initial sequence before moving to the rhythm part underneath. We are utilising two arpeggios, F#m9 and Amaj9 using sweep picking. We are using all eight strings for this arpeggio: one of the great advantages of the extra range on this instrument is that we can play big arpeggios within the space of a couple of position shifts that would usually take up a lot more fretboard on a six or seven string guitar. We first ascend the F#m9 arpeggio through the sequence demonstrated from the low F# string up to the high E string, and slide up to the 19th fret ready to descend our Amaj9 arpeggio. When practicing this idea, be sure to start slowly and make sure the notes are evenly spaced using a metronome.
This next riff is in 5/4 using the low F# string mixed with percussive pick scratches.
A lot of the lower syncopated rhythms we hear in Animals as Leaders music bear a close resemblance to the crushing riffs we hear in Meshuggah, one of Tosin’s most prominent Metal influences. One way of breaking down this riff would be to concentrate on the low notes, which are played ignoring the percussive pick scratches at first, by getting the core rhythm down; we can then concentrate on adding the small details that bring this riff to life. When playing the pick scratches, make sure the pick is used lightly, but with conviction, scratch along the string ever so slightly to get a nice “chick” sound between the bolder notes.
Tapping in 5/4
Tosin loves his tapping and this riff demonstrates one of the many ways he uses tapping to create riffs rather than use it more traditionally in solos. The tapping features repeating arpeggios in patterns of five, once we have the first five notes under our fingers, it will be quite easy to alter notes to create different arpeggios and move through the progression.
The first two bars of this tapping section feature an F#m9 arpeggio, we are using fretting hand hammer ons to sound the first three notes of the arpeggio, and using our middle and ring finger to tap frets 18 on the D and 16 on the A respectively.
Bar three of the tapping section we change our tonality to be based around a Gmaj13 chord, using a similar tapping sequence that we came across with the F#m9 arpeggio. Finally in bar four we are moving into a Gmaj9 arpeggio by simply moving the tapping hands notes down a tone each to highlight the 9 th and the 5 th.
The Solo Part 1
We start our solo with a melody line based around F# Lydian, highlighting the #11 sound. Tosin uses Lydian a lot in his major tonality soloing, another reference to his Fusion influences.
We then move on to the first of our scary Frank Gambale influenced licks. The way I describe the solo when I break it down in the video differs slightly to the performance and transcription, so please check the transcription to see exactly how I play it in the style of Tosin. In the video I break down the initial sequence of notes, and the basic concept behind each lick. However, as with Tosin’s playing, when played up to speed there are lots of double notes and small groupings that make the sweeps sound more like contour lines that are very textural in the music.
A lot of Tosin’s arpeggios are played with sweeping/economy picking, using what I like to call 3-1-3 shapes, which means three notes on one string followed by one note on the next etc. This means our pick direction can flow through the shapes, for example Down, Up, Down, on the E string followed by Down on the A, and then Down, Up, Down on the D. As we can see by the tab and description we are sequencing the arpeggio in many different ways throughout the lick. My advice would be to follow my description in the video to learn the shapes and basic sequences, then look at the tab to see where the tiny details and inflections are.
The Solo Part 2
The next part of the solo moves into G Lydian using a repeating Gmaj9 arpeggio sequence of 11 notes before ascending and descending a Gmaj9#11 arpeggio using a similar approach to the last part of the solo with a 2 — 1 — 2 sequence. We then repeat the same 11 note Gmaj9 sequence and ascend the same Gmaj9#11 arpeggio like before, however we descend by splitting the 2 — 1 — 2 idea in half and applying a repeating sequence to both halves connecting them with some double picking before descending to the major 7th of the arpeggio. Just like with part one of the solo, learn the initial sequences, get the patterns of the arpeggios in the muscle memory before adding the details found in the tab and performance.
So that about wraps it up for our Tosin Abasi Tech Session, I hope you have enjoyed this insight into this unique, innovative guitarist. Tosin uses many other techniques such as hybrid picking, slapping, and two part tapping in his music that I could not squeeze into this demonstration, so do check out Animals as Leaders to hear ideas similar to the ones we covered here, and lots of other concepts in action.
I think Tosin will continue to make a huge impact on progressive metal music and the innovation of eight string guitar for a long time! Have fun with these riffs, licks and concepts; try implementing them in your own playing and writing.