You’ve probably heard the phrase “stumbling
block” before. In my experience, a
block is just one of many things that can be
stumbled on. Guitar cables, bedposts, my
own shoes, uneven sidewalks, and maybe
worst of all …
The major third tuning between the 3rd
and 2nd strings.
Just when you find yourself in a nice
comfortable scale sequence, the transition
between those two strings can leave your
fingers in an unexpected tangle. Let’s take a
look at one of these potentially tangled-up
phrases and find some solutions.
A common pattern that many musicians
use is the descending “four.” You
play four consecutive notes in a descending
scale. Then you start on the next
lower step and do the same thing, and
keep that pattern going until you reach
some sort of bottom.
Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael
Schenker are both masters of this pattern,
and they tend to play it on a single string
(usually the high E string). The good part
about staying on a single string is that you
don’t have to deal with any kind of jumping
to the next string. So the intervals between
the strings become a non-issue. The only
drawback is that the length and range of
the phrase is limited. The “bottom” doesn’t
take long to reach. Yngwie and Michael
usually solve this by making the transition
to a different pattern that easily allows
them to travel to the next string. And that
is a solution that absolutely works. Check
out Michael’s solo in “Mother Mary” for a
perfect example of this.
But what if you really want to keep this
four pattern going?
Let’s begin by playing a short version of
it that uses two strings in Fig. 1.
My goal is to eventually play this at
blinding speeds, but without having to
“muscle through” it. So please take a close
look at my suggested combination of
picked notes and pull-offs. The pull-offs
give your right hand some quick breaks,
and it makes the overall sound of the lick
a bit friendlier as well. It may take some
time to program your picking hand not
to pick everything, but just slow the lick
down and take it in small sections until
you can put the whole thing together and
play it comfortably.
Now that you can play this first phrase,
let’s take another look at what it actually is.
I like to think of it as a nice self-contained
set—three groups of four on two strings.
That’s it. Now we’re ready to build it into
something bigger in Fig. 2.
This lick starts exactly the same way
as the last one. But then it keeps going
and going! The fingerings occasionally
change from the original version to keep
things within the Dorian-blues sound.
And in the interest of keeping a consistent
picking and pull-off pattern, I took
some liberties with the starting notes of
the pattern. But when you play through
it, I think you’ll see the method to my
madness. The resulting sound is a satisfying
and very long set of descending
fours, with the potential to be very fast.
And without the usual 2nd-to-3rd-string
Finally, let’s look at reversing this pattern
and doing a version with ascending fours in
This pattern is based on 16th-note triplets,
instead of straight 16ths. Why? It just
naturally started to sound like that when I
played it, so I decided to keep it that way.
And I like the four-played-against-three feel
that happens in this case.
Again, please pay close attention to
which notes you pick and which you
hammer-on. Having those small breaks for
your picking hand will make a huge difference
in how quickly you can play the
lick, and how relaxed you can be with your
technique. If you want to play Queen’s
“Sheer Heart Attack” with all downstrokes,
you’ll need some muscle. But these facemelting
fours require very little punk
power. It’s just a matter of practicing to get
the strokes right.
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com