• Use enclosures to target chord tones.
• Create compelling lines by adding chromatic notes to symmetrical fingerings.
• Improve your hybrid-picking and legato techniques.
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It can be incredibly easy to become trapped within a set of comfortable fingerings. When that happens, your lines begin to feel stale and predictable. In this column, I’d like to introduce you to some jazz-influenced phrasing ideas that fit quite nicely in a three-note-per-string framework. The centerpiece of this concept is what’s called an enclosure. Simply speaking, it’s when you target a note by surrounding it with other—possibly non-diatonic—notes to create more tension and interest. Think of short phrases that highlight certain diatonic notes on strong beats while adding chromatic notes on either side of the diatonic ones. Even with only a few chromatic enclosure fingerings under your belt, you can start to add a slightly jazzier sound to your rock licks.
Each phrase in this lesson demonstrates just a small amount of what you can do with chromatic ideas. Be sure to take what you like from the licks and try to apply them to some of your favorite rock licks. For example, I had a lot of fun mixing these enclosure ideas with some classic Paul Gilbert-style runs. Though the phrases I play here mostly use legato and hybrid picking, I encourage you to try this concept with whatever techniques you find comfortable.
Before we start, it’s very important to be aware of how playing chromatic passages, especially faster ones, can affect the rhythmic and harmonic movement of your line. The enclosures I’m using in the first few examples are structured to let diatonic notes fall on strong beats of the measure or in strong segments of the subdivision. Some of the lines later in the lesson really demonstrate how we can simply use chromatic legato rolls to add an extra sense of speed and style to our classic shred licks and phrases.
Ex. 1 demonstrates a three-note-per-string scale fragment in the key of Em that uses two different fingering combinations on each string. In the first measure we outline the basic fingering using a legato feel. In the last measure we add in some chromatic notes.
For Ex. 2 we’ll use a symmetrical scale pattern (shown in the first measure). Notice how we make sure to land on a chord tone on beat 3 of each measure. Both this example and Ex. 1 will be the basis for most of the lines we’ll cover in the lesson. Look for these chromatic enclosures in all diatonic fingerings and other scales.
In this lick (Ex. 3), I wanted to show how we can directly apply the enclosures we looked at in Ex. 1. You will notice the use of slides and legato throughout this line. I also added in a few double notes on the start of beat 3 of the second measure to create a cool syncopated effect.
Ex. 4 uses the enclosures we looked at in the first two examples, but this time we are in the key of C major. We’re using a strict 16th-note feel all the way up until the last few beats of the third measure. You’ll notice I’ve included some full chromatic legato rolls throughout the example. Don’t get caught up in the rhythmic subdivisions in the third measure—they’re simply a guide.
Ex. 5 features a really funky C Dorian (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–Bb) phrase that was inspired by Greg Howe. We are using a wider chromatic enclosure pattern to open the lick up. This enclosure pattern can be used for any diatonic fingering that features two whole tones next to each other. The lick uses some hybrid picking to pedal back and forth between the 4th and 3rd strings in the first measure.
We’ll go full shred in Ex. 6, which shows how to combine diatonic legato lines and chromatic legato rolls for a really crazy-sounding shred lick. Rather than being all chromatic and sounding like a video “game over” screen, the diatonic notes bring a harmonic and rhythmic framework into the mostly chromatic line.
Last but not least, this terrifying rhythmic 16th-note triplet phrase (Ex. 7) uses a pattern of descending groups of three in C# minor and was heavily inspired by Nick Johnston. Be sure to keep very relaxed during this line, especially when it gets chromatic on the 3rd string. I visualize this part as just a three-finger phrase on the 9th, 10th, and 11th frets moving down towards the 8th, 9th, and 10th, respectively. This makes the lick much easier to execute.
This next audio-only example illustrates how to practice applying new sequences in your improvisation. In Ex. 8 you’ll notice I’m navigating the neck with only eighth-notes, trying to find new places to go and ways to apply some of the smaller fragments of the licks we’ve explored in this lesson. Doing this slow enough allows me to fully think about where I’m headed next and helps my brain process the smaller fragments into a more spontaneous area of my reflexes. Try this with any backing track and have fun developing your own chromatic enclosures.