Elf Licks of Doom
• Unlock the secrets of the symmetrical diminished scale.
• Battle wizards and demons with the power of tap-slides.
• Claim victory over your enemies with two-handing tapping.
I already know this column will appeal to my fellow Tolkien-loving friends simply because of the title. Believe me, I’d love to break in to a stunning rendition of “Frodo of the Nine Fingers” from the beloved Lord of the Rings cartoon for you all. But alas, they want me to show you some LICKS OF DOOM instead! Can you believe it?
At any rate, the title is in reference to my upcoming CD, Machine Elves. I thought we’d explore a giant monster lick from “Emberfall,” a song from the album. Keep in mind that the solo is based on a B Dorian tonality, but I do tend to stretch outside of that on occasion. BECAUSE IT’S FUN! (Sorry about the vulgar display of the caps lock). And this, my friends, is one of those times since there are all kinds of “wrong” notes in this lick.
First, take a listen to the excerpt of the solo.
Since it’s so monstrous, we will think of this lick in three different sections and slow down the tempo. Actually, let’s not think of this lick and let’s go get some ice cream, instead.
As you can tell by listening to the track, the groove is in 7/4 and—like any shredder worth his salt—I do my best to melt faces. In order to get these ideas and licks under our fingers, our break-it-down phrases below are in 4/4 time just to make things a little easier to read.
Even though there are lots of “wrong” notes in this lick, there’s logic to my madness. Starting off in Fig. 1, I’m using a symmetrical diminished scale, also known as the whole/half-diminished scale.
Wait—what’s that? A whole/half-diminished scale is built on a series of alternating whole- and half-steps. For example, starting on C, this scale would be C–D–Eb–F–Gb–Ab–A–B–C. Check it out: Pick a C anywhere on your guitar and then move up a whole-step. From there, go up a half-step. Then repeat that pattern until your head explodes with rainbows and unicorns. You are officially playing a whole/half-diminished scale. Pat yourself on the back. Gently. Once. Okay, stop.
The opposite works as a scale too: Take a half-step, follow it with a whole-step, and then repeat the process. (Again in C, this would yield C–Db–Eb–E–F#–G–A–Bb–C.)
So you see, both scales contain a series of alternating half- and whole-steps, and you can begin with either move.
In our lick, we start on a G, which implies a B whole/half scale (B–C#–D–E–F–G–Ab–Bb–B), since that is our basic key center. This section is played with plain-old one-finger tapping as notated and using some tap-sliding. On the 3rd string, during the first part of the lick, you’ll be tapping on the 15th fret, then using that same finger to slide quickly to the 16th fret and back.
Towards the end of the first section, as we ascend from the 4th string, we start to deviate slightly from our super-awesome symmetrical diminished scale and move into more of a simple pattern across the strings. Why? Because it sounds cool and frankly, chicks dig it.
In Fig. 2, we keep with the tapping theme, but I’m using it as more of a rhythmic device here. You’ll hear how it grooves along with the rhythm of the song, as opposed to the freer feel of the other sections. We also have a bit of non-adjacent string action happening. You’ll notice that we’re jumping between the 1st, 3rd, and 5th strings.
Keep an eye on the strings you’re not using because they’re going to want to ring out and make everything noisy and sound like complete poop, in general. Work on using your right-hand palm to mute, and make sure to lift off the left-hand fingers cleanly and without dragging to minimize extraneous noise. Also, hammering, tapping, and pulling off as loudly as possible will help. Once again, I’m basing most of this off your new pal, the symmetrical diminished scale.
Finally, in Fig. 3, we have our most difficult passage.
Be forewarned that this section involves two-finger tapping with the right hand. You’ll see that it’s notated with T1 for the index finger on your right hand and T3 for your ring finger. If you’re not used to a technique that wreaks such vile mayhem upon your enemies, I suggest you practice a simple hammer/pull pattern between various fingers on the right hand.
Right. So, most of this section is really just based off our symmetrical diminished scale, again.
Ask me if I like this scale. Go ahead.
This time we interpret it in a wider manner with two-finger tapping. Essentially, what I’m doing here is simply moving it down the neck, chromatically. Which is to say I’m playing the pattern and then varying it slightly and moving it a half-step down each time. Why? Because it sounds cool and frankly... you know.
This lick is actually really hard to play slowly because of the need for sustain on the tapping, and keeping the other strings quiet. The faster you can get it moving, the less you have to work for those two elements. But you have to work at it slowly first to get it fast. And you’ll definitely want to practice this through your amp set to a super-terror-distorted-devastator-destructo sound. And if you don’t have that setting on your amp, use your high-gain channel.
All notes are to be played legato, meaning “smooth and flowing,” using hammer-ons, pull-offs, and taps. No picking. And if you encounter a note that starts on a new string, you’ll be using a hammer-on from nowhere. This means, you’ll hammer down with a finger of your left hand onto the new string. No picking involved.
Best of luck with this giant elfish monster lick of doom! I highly recommend you master it and use it on your blues jam and club date gigs.
Terry Syrek has been teaching guitar for over 25 years and is a senior faculty member of the National Guitar Workshop. He is the author of Shred Is Not Dead and continues to punish all comers with a combination of blistering speed, over-the-top distortion, and boyish charm. For more information, visit terrysyrek.com.