As well as pursuing a solo career, Richie enjoyed stints with Mr Big and Poison, as well as critically acclaimed fusion collaborations with Greg Howe in the 90s; Tiltreleased in 1995, is considered a hidden gem of instrumental guitar music.
Richie clearly likes to keep busy as he is also a member of the hard rock trio Winery Dogs with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan. The Kotzen style stems from hard rock and blues attitude, fueled by fast organic legato and fast pentatonics with blending interval choices that add unique color to the Kotzen canvas.
In this lesson, we’ll explore some of the elements that Richie Kotzen is best known for, starting with a three-note-per-string pentatonic form. Combining two neighboring pentatonic positions into a larger three-note-per-string form is a great way to speed up your pentatonic playing and make it more legato friendly.
Example 2 focuses on selecting two notes per string for a big E minor pentatonic lick covering most of the fretboard. When using a pick, Richie tends to keep the tip of it angled upwards, so instead of picking each string “bottom up” it’s actually more of a in-out movement.
The up and out movement frees the pick from the strings, making the next string transition and downstroke cleaner and more accurate. For example 3, we dive into the fusion side of Richie with a D Dorian lick played in a swaying 16th note feel. This means that the second and fourth notes of each beat are twice as long as the first and second, creating a triplet feel. The notes themselves can be thought of as sets of two-string triad arpeggios, drawn from the larger scale form.
Richie’s style has lots of smooth slides, and Example 4 shows an interesting way to slide between ladder fragments. For the past few years, Richie has opted to ditch the pick altogether and play everything on his finger. It would be a good lick to experiment with such an approach.
Our final example is a high-speed, high-energy blues-rock lick based on the blues B scale. The lick begins with the three notes of the chromatic blues scale and incorporates string jumps to other position notes. Next, we use legato to extend to wider intervals on the treble strings, as well as blend note groupings for an organic approach to phrasing.
Play each example slowly and with precision and focus on producing a loud, clear sound while keeping unused strings muted. Once the lick sounds clean and tidy, gradually speed up and play along with the backing tracks provided.
Get the tone
Amp Settings: Gain 7, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 7, Reverb 3
Richie Kotzen is a Telecaster fan and owns a Fender signature model. The Tele’s bridge pickup can be bright and cutting, but crank up the gain and it fattens up superbly. If you have a T-type guitar that’s great, but if you don’t select your bridge pickup and turn the gain up to around 7, add a little delay or reverb and go for it. Add a low level drive for even more fat!
Hammer down the first three notes with your first, second, and third fingers, then roll your fourth finger over the fifth string as you pick the note; repeat this fingering on the fifth and fourth strings.
For the remaining strings, use the first, second, and fourth fingers. Finish with a unison bend using the first and third fingers.
Use your fourth and first fingers on the first string, followed by the third and first on the next two strings. Repeat this fingering with a sextuplet feel for the first three beats.
Now descend the fourth and fifth strings with a four-note phrase before finishing with a six-note phrase. Use strict alternate picking throughout.
For this lick based on D Dorian (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7), use your second finger to play the 10th frets on the sixth, fourth, and second strings, and use the first and fourth fingers to hammer the two. -Note the bands on the remaining strings.
Use your pick to gently and lightly pick each string in a sweeping motion. Then glide up with your fourth finger and down using the same fingering and pick each string with a gentle upward motion.
Hammer with the first, second, and fourth fingers, then roll your fourth finger over the first string to cut the second string. Then go back to the second string and go down to the 5th fret.
After completing this seven-note phrase, slide up a rung and repeat the fingering in the new position. Repeat this method going up one note at a time in Aeolian A mode (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7).
On the fifth string, hammer and pull with your first, second, and third fingers while using the first and third digits to input notes on the higher strings. In measure 2, the string jumps to the third and first strings and stretches to the 12th fret.
The legato phrasing here is six notes, seven notes, then eight notes per beat. Improve overall accuracy and timing here by targeting notes on downbeats, to stay with the pulse of the track.