What you can learn from Van Halen

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What you can learn from Van Halen


Runnin’ With The Devil

It’s ironic that the first instrument you hear on one of the most important guitar albums of all time is a bass playing straight quarter notes on an open E string, but there you have it. This isn’t a tricky part but it involves a little creative muting to cut off the note duration at exactly the right time. If Mike played the exact same notes but just let each one ring until the next, it wouldn’t have sounded as iconic or attention-grabbing.


You’re No Good

For their second album, Van Halen chose to kick things off with… another unaccompanied bass moment! In this instance it was a heavily flanged, ambience-soaked sliding lick which was probably inspired by a live solo spot; it certainly fits within the style of what Anthony was doing during his live solos. The way that this little intro lick is faded instead of kicking off at full volume makes is another great attention- grabbing device; the combination of an unusual effect and the ‘wait, something’s happening’ vibe can really draw the listener in, and can be applied to all sorts of musical situations and instruments.



This song from 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is unique because Eddie plays a Danelectro 6-string bass tuned E to E, an octave below a regular guitar, while Mike plays a 5-string bass. For much of the song both guys are occupying the same range, so Mike plays more syncopated lines that are almost like something you’d hear in hip hop while Eddie plays a busier line. It’s a great lesson in what to do when you’re working within a reduced range like in a band with 7-string or 8-string guitarists who are stepping into the territory covered by your bass.


Without You

1998’s Van Halen III probably isn’t topping anybody’s list of favourite Van Halen albums, but it does feature a particularly cool unison guitar/bass section right before the guitar solo. It’s rare for Eddie and Mike to play the exact same part, so when they do sync up like this it’s especially attention-grabbing. By the way, Mike only played on three tracks on this album and Eddie played bass on the rest.


China Town

Damn. When he’s playing bass, Wolfgang usually plays like a true bass player. But on this track he pulls out some guitar licks with some insane two-handed tapping. He matches Eddie’s fast tapping in the intro (an octave down on fatter strings – ouch), keeps up during the fast verses, then doubles up on another of Eddie’s tapping licks at the end of the guitar solo. Then be sure to listen to whatever weird crazy tapping stuff Wolfgang is doing during Eddie’s closing guitar freak-out from 3:00 to 3:12. For this part Wolfgang is playing tapping licks that are more like super-fast trills rather than actual arpeggios, which is a cool approach for atonal sections like this because it essentially frees you from the tyranny of playing in key – which makes it all the more satisfying when you all come crashing in on the root note to finish the song.