- Use shapes and patterns to think outside of scale-based note selection.
- Learn a handful of “outside” licks with a shape-based approach.
- Break out of playing ruts by adding a new approach to your playing.
Shapes can be unique and interesting, but the most common one that we run into as guitar players is that of a plateau. While growth and learning are exponential in the early days of discovering guitar, the true struggle for most players seems to be when they reach the middle to upper intermediate phase. Certain habits, muscle memory, go-to licks, and even practice routines become second nature. This is what I refer to as “the big rut.” Every player has been at this point, where they’ve been spinning their wheels in the same tracks for so long that now they are simply stuck. Nowhere to go and nowhere to grow, seemingly. This is also the point where guitarists tend to start rapidly accumulating gear in hopes that something new will spark inspiration. (Not that you or I would ever do such a thing, right?)
Maybe a change in approach is just the thing that can break not only the rut, but other creative lulls in our collective journey to improve and feel more connected with six strings and 20-something frets. I’ve found that switching my focus from that of note choice and scales to simple shapes and patterns can unlock my playing when I feel stuck and uninspired. Not only do these licks help you change your visualization of the fretboard, they work fantastically as outside-sounding tension builders.
While I would use the rut buster in Ex. 1 in the key of A, I’m hardly worried about the note selection. The focus is that I’m taking an ascending three-note pattern beginning on the 6th string and simply moving it across the fretboard until I land on a resolution point–in this case on the 1st string. This lick doesn’t require a ton of dexterity. The first finger frets the lowest of the three-note shape, the second finger frets the middle note, and the third finger frets the top note of the shape. With this shape having a one-fret stagger between each note, it’s easy to quickly get comfortable with the rolling motion of the lick.
Ex. 2 is the exact mirror image of Ex. 1, and we’re still in the key of A. Rather than starting on the 6th string and working our way to the 1st with ascending notes, we work backwards. Still, the shape is a three-note stagger. Again, we work one grouping of strings at a time until we hit a resolution point on the root.
In Ex. 3 we’re using a different three-note staggered shape. This time there is a two-fret span between the notes staggered across three strings with exception of the last grouping, which moves the first note to the 8th fret to accommodate the third between the G and B strings. The fingering is led by the fourth finger with the second finger fretting the second note and the first finger fretting the third note of each grouping.
For simplicity, we’re still in the key of A. I’ve included a pickup note so you can get a feel for how this pattern lays in relation to its root.
If we take Ex. 3 and put it in reverse, we switch to having the first finger lead the descending grouping starting from the first string. Ex. 4 shows again how we changed what is now the first grouping to accommodate for the guitar not being tuned in fourths.
To tie it all together in Ex. 5, we combine part of an A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) with the lick from Ex. 4 to create a fun sounding fusion lick. The whole idea is to show how you can use one of these rut busters to create something unexpected and likely outside of your typical bag of tricks.
Using shapes and patterns to break out of playing ruts has been a tried-and-true method for me, and I’m sure it can work wonders for you as well. Every single one of these licks and ideas works in any key and location on the fretboard, so they can be extremely useful even in a mid-solo scenario when you want to add some outside flavor and tingle some ears. Be warned, however, not to let your rut busters become your next plateau–experiment with different groupings, shapes, and rhythms to fire up your creativity and bust out of that rut!
- Twang 101: Cascading Scales - Premier Guitar ›
- How to Rethink the Blues Scale - Premier Guitar ›
- How to Play Those “Impossible” Intervals - Premier Guitar ›
- How to Become a Better Guitar Player - Premier Guitar ›
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.