• Incorporate more “outside”
sounds into your playing.
• Learn to use half-diminished
and diminished arpeggios
over dominant chords.
• Create lines that combine chromaticism
and rock appeal.
Click here to download the audio examples for this lesson.
As a guitarist, I’ve always been drawn to
outside sounds. As a music enthusiast,
I have always questioned their placement in
the big picture. At times, inside-sounding
lines can be boring just as much as outside-sounding
lines can sound uncalled for. Since
I’ve never really considered myself a straight ahead
rock or jazz player, I try my best to let
the music dictate which path to choose. One
thing is for sure: Life is short and sounding
typical should not be on anyone’s agenda.
One of my recurring thoughts usually
involves the desire to develop a unique
sound without losing what I like to refer
to as “rock appeal.” With timing and the
listener in mind, we can build the right tension
that eventually resolves into a bigger
musical statement. Is it possible to satisfy
listeners and our inner guitarist simultaneously?
One can only hope. In this column,
I would like to shed some light on how
to approach playing mildly outside of the
diatonic key while still having a solid foundation
for the listener to grasp onto.
Moderation towards outside playing
can help things sound more composed
and flowing during writing or improvising.
The goal is to play our part, but not
stand out to the point of being tasteless. In
Fig. 1 I’m playing an E7b9 arpeggio (the
V chord in the key of A), then resolving
a whole-step bend up to the 9th. For a
less intervallic sound, I’m walking down
chromatically and ending the line with a
whole-step bend to the root.
The half-diminished arpeggio that begins
Fig. 2 is a very underestimated sound,
especially in rock and metal. You can hear
this approach used frequently on just about
every recording I’ve ever been a part of.
Starting a major 6th above the root emphasizes
the F# without sounding too Dorian.
I think the half-diminished arpeggio is
less predictable than a fully diminished
arpeggio, which is what attracts me to it.
In the second measure I slide down into an
Em7 arpeggio before ending the line with a
half-step bend in to the 9th.
Using vertical movement, you can access
an altered dominant chord while staying
within the same fret radius. For Fig. 3,
we’re ascending and descending through a
dominant 7#5 arpeggio moving toward the
downbeat of the second measure. To resolve
it smoothly, I’m using a Dm(add9) arpeggio
that is arranged horizontally. These sounds
are very Gypsy-jazz inspired.
Every practicing musician should make it
a goal to get more use out of smaller ideas.
Manipulating an idea that sounds more cliché
is a great starting point. One advantage
of this approach is that we are basing our
idea off of something more familiar to the
listener—the blues. The motion of these
often-used ideas can display just the right
amount of weirdness to be entertaining, but
not to scratch a record. This lick in Fig. 4
can easily be repeated or looped. Most ideas
that can be looped are a great starting point
for this approach. Now that we have established
a motion, we can alter the notes to
build even more tension.
Once we have gained the listener’s attention
through repetition, we are going to move
the root around to put an interesting spin
on something we consider home. Notice the
9–b9–root movement in Fig. 5. You can let
this motif rip and have the band building
behind you to create more drama before
releasing the tension through the blues scale.
Dominant chords are great for building
tension. From a traditional V7-I cadence all
the way to a 12-bar blues, having an existing
tritone inside of a chord allows creative
freedom. In Fig. 6 we use this idea over
a G7 chord. This sound has become one
of my favorites, especially when used in a
traditional format. Playing a diminished
arpeggio off of the major 3rd is a very interesting
sound. It contains the primary and
secondary chord tones along with the b9.
A very obvious quality of the diminished
arpeggio is its minor third movement. This
can sound quite predictable if overused, so
let’s find a creative way to dress it up.
Fig. 7 offers a slightly different
approach, where I’m actually filling in the
blanks of the same diminished arpeggio
with chromaticism to create a sequenced
sound. The even number of notes makes it
very easy to play at faster tempos. Passing
tones can really assist your picking hand
while breaking you out of the “box.” A
good rule of thumb: The more notes per
string, the easier it is to alternate pick.
Once you have experimented with these
ideas, be sure to pick and choose what works
for your ears. When your ears have acclimated
to these notes against a chord, you will
begin to hear a whole new realm of possibilities.
Sometimes getting the listener’s attention
is just as important as a great composition.
Sometimes adding to or altering what
you already know is a lot more effective for
building style than completely diving headfirst
into something that may take a long
time to incorporate. The goal is to be able
to play both sides of the field while opening
doors to new ideas and understanding.
is the lead guitarist for metal
bands Dååth and Chimaira. His Gypsy jazzinfused
lines can be heard on Levi/Werstler’s
Avalanche of Worms and records by Austrian
Death Machine and Xerath. Werstler is active
as a clinician and endorsee for Paul Reed
Smith Guitars and Xotic Effects, and he
teaches lessons in the Atlanta area. For more
information, visit emilwerstler.com