Neo-soul guitar is exploding and innovating at an incredible speed! If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you’ll miss some of these awesome performances!

In this article, we’ve picked five of our favorite neo-soul guitar performances and some of the details that make them such a fun and exciting spectacle. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you to create your own neo-soul guitar performance.

Nicklas Myhre - “Juniper”

If you’re not hip to Nicklas Myhre, prepare to have your mind blown! Nicklas has been one of the pioneering neo-soul guitarists and composers for the last five years.

His silky-smooth playing and immaculate production skills continue to be a huge hit with audiences across Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube.

What makes Juniper a special performance?

Nicklas’ playing and writing style showcases the perfect combination of jazz guitar harmony, R&B chord choices, and elements of prog rock.

Let’s take a deeper look at what makes Juniper so breathtaking to listen to:

1. Clearly defined melodies play a huge role in Nicklas’ playing style.

  • It’s no coincidence that Nicklas’ videos are such a hit and this performance underlines the importance of making the melody clear and singable.
  • In this performance, Nicklas helps us to remember that “memorable is masterful”.

2. Subtle shakes and shimmers make us shiver!

  • The little details really do make a big difference!
  • Take for example, the vibrato that Nicklas uses on the last chord and melody note of a phrase.
  • It helps to sustain the chord or melody note for a little longer, but it’s also the perfect articulation trick used to imitate the human voice!
  • Slips, slides, double shakes, and a sprinkling of whammy-bar action can help phrases go the extra mile.

3. Sitting in the pocket helps this performance go from sounding right, to feeling right.

  • Sitting ‘in the pocket’ is a term used by guitarists of all genres to describe the feeling of being in sync with a band’s groove.
  • Neo-soul guitar is heavily indebted to the rhythmic ideas first heard in 90s hip hop.
  • Although Nicklas isn’t playing with a band in this clip, he still makes sure that everything he plays catches the strong backbeat of the track.
  • Rhythm is often an overlooked element, but it’s the glue that holds great ideas together!

P.S. Here’s a gift just for you – a direct link to Nicklas’ neo-soul guitar Master Class available on Pickup Music!

Beau Diakowicz - “Hazel”

For the last eight years, Beau has been a key player but largely enigmatic figure in the extended guitar multiverse. One comment that consistently appears under Beau’s videos is that “he always makes it look easy”.

While digging back into the neo-soul guitar archives, we stumbled across this masterful performance from the buttery-smooth guitar phenomenon.

Although this is only a short clip of Beau’s magnificent playing, there’s a lot that we can take away from this extraordinary performance.

What makes Hazel a special performance?

Beau’s virtuosic playing style is easily recognizable through his mind blowingly smooth and inventive chordal passages paired with fluid legato single-line melodies. Hazel showcases all of Beau’s innovative techniques and lyrical songwriting.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes Hazel a neo-soul guitar masterclass:

1. A mixture of picking techniques

  • One of the key features of Beau’s playing style is how highly adaptable his picking technique is.
  • In this performance, he seamlessly blends hybrid picking (with the pick and fingers) when playing chordal passages, with regular alternate picking when playing single-line melodies.
  • But, the change between both techniques is so smooth that you’d only know this by watching the video.

2. Tapping + chords

  • Reggie Wooten, Lenny Breau, and Eddie Van Halen are players who have explored the chord tapping technique.
  • This is when you play a chord with the fretting hand and tap the melody notes with the picking hand.
  • Beau takes this technique in a slightly different direction by creating a brief flurry of notes that imitate the sound of a wind chime.
  • When used sparingly, this sound effect has a fluttering, pianistic quality to it that always catches the listener off guard!

3. Harmonized melodies in 3rds and 4ths

  • This scintillating melodic device is heard throughout the gospel and R&B guitar traditions.
  • Its primary use is to add a thicker texture to a single-line melody by pairing it with a harmonized melody below.
  • No one this quite like Beau!
  • As heard in Hazel, his fluency using 3rds and 4ths to harmonize melodic passages is crystal clear.
  • The addition of rapid slips and slides in and out of these passages goes a long way to making the phrases sound ultra smooth.

Tiana Ohara - “miss you / flow”

Tiana Ohara is another one of our favorite neo-soul guitarists here at pickup.

Her playing always prioritizes the importance of musicality, locking into the groove, and injecting creativity into every inch of the performance. You won’t want to miss this one.

This feel-good performance is full of originality, melodic development, and silky-smooth interplay between the instruments – all played by Tiana!

What makes miss you / flow a special performance?

As a multi-instrumentalist, Tiana has an amazing perspective on all 4 instruments in this performance and how they should interact with each other.

This medley incorporates both of her original songs and includes moments of pure joy as she floats over the top of the progressions on the acoustic guitar.

Step into Tiana’s world to learn how she does it:

1. Building dynamics

  • There are lots of ways to draw your listener in when taking a solo and building dynamics is a great example.
  • Tiana’s acoustic guitar solo starts towards the middle of the performance and exhibits some perfect examples of using volume dynamics and the range of the fretboard to build the intensity of a solo.

2. Trills create thrills

  • Trills are a commonly used neo-soul guitar technique that have their roots in gospel, blues, motown, and R&B guitar.
  • This subtle technique helps to decorate individual chords by adding moments of unexpected color and interest.
  • Check out Tiana’s chordal playing when she is using the electric guitar to hear how she embellishes each chord in the progression.  

3. Open strings galore!

  • Using open strings can be a great way to make chords sound fuller.
  • Tiana’s combination of open string notes in her chord voicings creates a sustained, overinging effect that helps to blend the chords in the progression together.  
  • This is also a fantastic example of Tiana’s squeaky-clean chordal technique.

Julian Maguire - “Return to Sender”

Many know Julian Maguire, AKA JULESTHEWULF, as the long-time guitarist for Justin Bieber. You may not know that Julian is one of the neo-soul guitar OGs from the early Instagram era:

This performance of his song Return to Sender is a stunning solo guitar exhibition.

  • Nowadays, we associate neo-soul guitar performances with their high-quality audio production and pristine videos.
  • In the mid-2010s, neo-soul guitar was still finding its feet through minute-long guitar clips.
  • Back in the early Instagram days, players such as Julian Maguire, Todd Pritchard, and Beau Diakowicz, would post short unpolished clips of their musical ideas.

What makes Return to Sender a special performance?

Julian’s playing has an unmistakable and individual quality to it. Mixing punchy, overdriven guitar tones with delicate articulation techniques often heard in gospel and R&B help - this really helped to dial-in unique sound.

Let’s dig into why this performance sounds so magical:

1. Thumb slaps

  • Thumb slaps are heard in lots of different playing styles ranging from acoustic fingerstyle, to blues, and neo-soul guitar.
  • It’s a useful technique for many solo guitar players who like to create a rhythmic support to accent the groove that they’re building.
  • Julian uses the thumb slap to imitate the snare on a drum kit by accenting the backbeat of the groove, creating the well-known neo soul backbeat.

2. Adding the pentatonic flair

  • There are lots of moments in this performance that can be attributed to Julian’s gospel roots heard in his chordal work, but also his interest in blues and jazz guitar.
  • In particular, the closing run molds together a sophisticated II-V progression that you might hear in jazz, with a ferociously fast descending E major pentatonic run to end the piece.  

3. Backdoor substitutions and secondary dominant chords

  • Understanding some of Julian’s chord choices gives us a deeper insight into his playing and thinking.
  • This piece is in the key of E major but frequently uses a D7 chord to return back to E.
  • This is known as the backdoor substitution or bVII7 chord and is often used in gospel music to add a moment of sweetness before returning to the I chord.
  • Secondary dominant chords are a big feature in Julian’s performance as they allow him to unlock new keys and create new chord progressions around the key of E.

If you’d like to know more about the chord progressions and music theory that Julian is using, we recommend checking out our Music Theory Learning Pathway or our Neo-soul Learning Pathway.

Kerry 2 Smooth Marshall and Melanie Faye - “Pretty Wings (Maxwell)”

If you’ve made it up to this point, then we’ve got a special treat for our last pick! This clip from the neo-soul guitar vault is a classic and includes Kerry Marshall and Melanie Faye, two pioneering players from different eras of the neo soul guitar tradition.

This clip taken back in 2018 is of the pair jamming Maxwell’s Pretty Wings. Featuring some tasty neo-soul guitar licks and tricks – feast your ears on this one!

What makes Pretty Wings jam a special performance?

Two guitar giants are better than one, and this clip proves it!

  • This performance is special for more reasons than we can list.
  • The video showcases the delicate balance between the rhythm player and the melody player.

Let’s point out some of the awesome features:

1. Sharing a common groove

  • An essential feature to a jam is the ability for all players involved to lock into the same groove.
  • Kerry and Melanie do a supreme job of trading roles and chords, but their shared sense of time feel and groove is what makes this performance feel infectiously good.

2. Using chords to complement the melody

  • Think of chords as the stable basis that melodies can be built on top of.
  • The quality and type of chords used can change the relationship to the melody and make it sound drastically different.
  • Both Melanie and Kerry change the chord voicings to help accommodate the others improvised melody.
  • Sometimes this can be as simple as choosing where on the neck they play a chord.
  • Other times, they might choose a different voicing of the same chord such as Gm11 instead of a Gm7.

3.Tone tweaking and pickup switching

  • Electric guitarists have an incredible amount of versatility to change the tone of their instruments on the fly.
  • Whether activating an overdrive pedal when it’s your turn to solo, or switching to the neck pickup when the rhythm guitar role calls you, knowing how to use your tone effectively can enhance your performance greatly.
  • There’s a lovely example of this at 3:00 where Kerry switches pickups as he moves towards playing a chord solo.

We know Kerry and Melanie very well here at Pickup Music and we have enjoyed their playing for years. Both Kerry and Melanie are Neo-Soul Learning Pathway instructors – so you can learn from the best!

Author: Jack Handyside