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• Overcome the “major third” tuning barrier.
• Create lines that use a threeover- four pattern.
• Combine the Dorian mode and blues scale to craft exotic phrases.
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 tangle-ups.
Finally, let’s look at reversing this pattern and doing a version with ascending fours in Fig. 3.
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.