How to Do a Trem Bar Scoop on the Guitar
When guitarists depress the bar before striking a note, and then release the pressure on the bar so that the pitch quickly rises to the target note, it’s called a scoop. Scoops create the impression that you’re bending or sliding into a note, but with a unique sound quality that comes only from a trem bar.
Like dips, scoops are used to embellish notes in your lead lines, like Steve Vai does in his rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here” beginning at 0:51. You can also scoop into chords, like Vernon Reid does using an open‐position D chord at the 0:17 mark of Living Colour’s “Broken Hearts.”
In the example below, you play an E5 power chord in the seventh position, scooping into each note. Different notation programs use different markings to represent this technique. Above the tab in this example, you first see a number, indicating how far to depress the bar, followed by a dotted line that instructs you to depress the bar before striking the string, finishing with an upward‐pointing line representing the rise in pitch to the target note.
You need to cut off each note before starting a new scoop; otherwise, you’ll produce a dive.
The degree to which you depress the bar to scoop into a note can vary. For a subtle effect, use a shallow scoop. For a dramatic effect, use a deep scoop. You can also vary the quickness, by slowly releasing the bar pressure for a long, dragged‐out scoop.
In the last example, you use the trem bar to dive, release, and pull to specific pitches. The figure is set in the key of F. It may be good to play a reference F‐major chord in order to get your ear oriented to this key. The melody is fretted and played normally in the first two measures so that you can hear what pitches to target with the trem bar in the measures that follow.
After you get the melody in your head, start at measure three, which begins with a natural harmonic at the 12th fret of the third string. This note is the second of the F‐major scale, G. From this G note, you move backward and forward in the F scale, reproducing the same melody from the previous measures and changing pitches by using the trem bar only as the string sustains. Because you get to one note in the line, A, by pulling up on the trem bar, this example requires a floating system with that kind of range.
Looking at measures three and four above, you see one harmonic at the 12th fret of the third string that sustains through to the end of the example. Above the tab, you see lines representing the movement of your trem bar and numbers indicating how far away to go from the original pitch in steps.
The first time you try to play the example above, you’ll likely miss the proper pitches. Instead of shooting for the whole thing right out of the gate, first focus on the first pitch change from G to F, which is a whole step down. Fret and play the two notes in a normal manner, as you do in measure one; then match those same pitches with the harmonic and trem‐bar dive.
In time, you get a feel for how much pressure to apply to the trem bar in order to go down a perfect whole step to F from G. Rehearse this move until you do it well with consistency. Then work on adding the next note following the same process.
In all, this is how the whole phrase is played:
Strike a G harmonic at the 12th fret of the third string and sustain it throughout the entire melodic phrase.
Push the bar down enough to sound an F, which is a whole step below G.
From F, push the bar down just a little more to sound the note a half step lower, E.
From E, release enough pressure to bring the string tension back to F.
From F, release the bar pressure completely, returning to the original pitch, G.
From G, pull up on the bar to increase the string tension by a whole step and
produce the pitch, A.
From A, release the pull and begin to push until you pass G and hit the tonic, F.
Using an electronic tuner with automatic note detection is a good way to double‐check that these dives are in tune.
Playing melodies like this isn’t easy. It requires a good ear, a lot of control, and a lot of practice, but the end result is very cool. For a great example of this technique, listen to Jeff Beck’s beautiful rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Many live versions are available on YouTube with great close‐ups of Jeff’s right hand and trem‐bar usage.
Notice how he forgoes the pick and plucks the strings with his thumb while his fingers rest on the trem bar. Look even closer and you’ll see that he performs volume swells with his little finger on the volume knob. Pretty slick!