Understand the basics of the diminished scale and develop a more fluid legato technique with Justin Derrico''s latest lesson.

Chops: Advanced
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basics of the diminished scale.
• Develop a more fluid legato technique.
• Learn how to play over altered and dominant 7#9 chords.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation and accompanying MP3s.

This month, I’ve decided to throw some demented diminished licks your way. I really like these types of licks because they tend to twist your ear around a bit. But first, let’s look at what a diminished scale is and see how it lies on the fretboard.

There are basically two different flavors of diminished: half-whole and whole-half. The name of each scale dictates the “formula,” so to create a half-whole scale you start on the root note and alternate half- and whole-steps. As you might have guessed, the whole-half scale consists of alternating whole- and half-steps.

Since the entire diminished concept is based on the minor third interval (each note in a fully diminished chord is a minor third apart), any diminished idea you have can be moved up and down the fretboard by a minor third and still fit the chord.

In Fig. 1, we can see how a C half-whole diminished scale (C–Db–Eb–E–F#–G–A–Bb–C) lays out on the fretboard. Notice how the scale moves diagonally across the neck with each group of two strings. Since the interval between the 3rd and 2nd strings is a major third, we need to shift up an extra fret when we move to the 2nd string.

If you find it easier to view scales in the CAGED shapes, check out Fig. 2. Even though some of the fingerings might be a little awkward, I always stress to do what feels natural because everyone finds different ways that are more comfortable.


The first lick in Fig. 3 is over an altered A7 chord and is based out of the A half-whole diminished scale (A–Bb–C–Db–Eb–E–F#–G–A). The trick to playing this smoothly is all in the fingering. It starts with some basic box shape pentatonic notes and when you hit the 3rd string, you’re in the land of diminished.

In order to keep the notes fluid, I use my 1st and 3rd finger on the 3rd string and I use my 2nd finger on the 7th fret for the A. When I get to the 2nd string I use my 1st and 2nd finger. I find this lick gets the most girls.


In Fig. 4, we add some neighboring tones to the half-whole scale. Usually those are a half-step above a chord tone. You can use this as a great string-skipping picking exercise, but I tend to play it more legato because I find it easier. (Let’s face it, we are guitar players who don’t want to work that hard.) I actually used a very similar lick on “Manic” from my Boldly Going Nowhere record.


I use the same idea in Fig. 5, but this time I add a note a half-step below rather than above. This gives you the major third and minor third—great for dominant 7#9 chords. This is an example I highly recommend you move up the neck in minor thirds. You can get a ton of mileage out of this one because it’s a little more visual then some of the others.


Finally, we have Fig. 6, which is one of my personal favorites. This phrase works great over an altered E7 chord. The nine-note shape that begins the phrase requires a bit of stretching. Again, it’s mostly legato, but when I get to the B on beat two I sweep up across the lower three strings. After that, the pattern just repeats its self. The twist with this line is when I reach the 1st string I move the entire scale up a half step to create more tension.

Take it easy when working these diminished licks up to speed. Remember, since any note of a diminished chord can function as a root, all of these licks can be used over multiple chords. Have fun and I hope you enjoy all these licks that only a mother could love.

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Three killer licks that combine left- and right-hand tapping, legato techniques, and some sweep picking.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basics of left- and right-hand tapping.
• Combine pentatonic scales to create more harmonically interesting phrases.
• Develop dexterity with multi-finger right-hand tapping.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

If you are into all things rock, it would be hard to dig into the history of this genre without understanding the “how” and “why” of tapping. From Eddie Van Halen—who really popularized the technique—and Ritchie Blackmore to more modern masters like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, tapping has earned a place that is near and dear to every shredder’s heart. In this lesson we will look at three killer licks that combine left- and right-hand tapping, legato techniques, and some sweep picking. Let’s get started!

Our first example (Fig. 1) is a very Jason Becker-inspired lick. We stay pretty much in the key of E natural minor (E–F#–G–A–B–C#–D) and start with a series of descending diatonic triads. Don’t worry: There is some tapping involved, as well as some legato stuff at the end of the phrase, so you can shred in style. The progression goes Em–D–C–Bm before I move into a larger sweeping arpeggio for the Am. I’m sweeping all the way down to the 5th string and then after sweeping back up, I tap the root with my middle finger on the 1st string.

I use a similar technique for the G major arpeggio that follows before I move into some tapped sextuplets that descend down to a low B on the 6th string. When I start to ascend I use a trick I picked up from Greg Howe. I hammer-on “from nowhere” with my left hand to start each group of three notes on each string. I recommend you take your time with this one and play it slowly. It’s easy to start out trying to play fast, but you want to make sure you are hitting all the notes as cleanly as possible.

The lick in Fig. 2 is an exercise I use to build up strength in the middle and ring fingers on my right hand. Don’t let the word “exercise” fool you, because it does make for a great lick and also creates ways for you to move through more than one pattern. Essentially, I am playing a standard B minor pentatonic (B–D–E–F#–A) shape with my left hand—again with hammer-ons “from nowhere”—and tapping the notes of a Bm7 with my right hand. This lick really gets your string skipping together and makes a good “looping” lick. Just repeat the first two measures to build up your stamina. You can mess around with the same shapes in different positions, or you can also keep the right hand the same and move your left hand into the next pentatonic position. This will give you lots of mileage out of one lick.

I have to say monkey tricks are my favorite kind of licks, so I am going to stay on the path of the pentatonic tapping. Why? Because pentatonics are awesome and whether people know it or not, they love it. The lick in Fig. 3 uses a similar sequence to one of the previous examples but this time it’s a bit more involved with the note choices. I would use this over an A7 chord in any kind of bluesy-rock jam. Basically, I am playing A minor pentatonic (A–C–D–E–G) with my left hand and F#m pentatonic (F#–A–B–C#–E) with my right. This gives you the 9th and the 13th, which is a bit of added color as opposed to just playing a typical minor pentatonic scale.

I suggest you play it slow because you are playing two different patterns at once. After you master it in this key, move it to the next position in this key and see how it goes. Then transpose the phrase to another key of your choice. It is always good to know all your licks in every key—it just makes you that much better.

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Get schooled where country and rock meet with some ripping hybrid picking lines and touches of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Create flowing lines by using hybrid picking.
• Learn how to combine ringing open strings with the minor pentatonic scale.
• Develop licks in the style of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed.

Click here to download the audio files and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

This month I want to expand on Future Rock and get into some hybrid picking and twangy awesomeness. I know most people think of me as more of a rock dude, but growing up in Virginia exposed me to other genres of music, including bluegrass and country. A lot of my friends back home are smoking bluegrass pickers and that’s where my love for bluegrass and country comes from. I used to sit there all day and listen to those dudes tear it up!!

For me, the whole hybrid thing just happened out of necessity and trying to keep up with those cats. Hybrid picking is very easy to understand, but it will take some time to work it into your technique. Basically, the idea is that you hold your pick normally and then add your middle and ring fingers into the mix. All right, let’s get to some pickin’ and a-grinnin’!

The example shown in Fig. 1 is a bit of a barnburner—it sounds more impressive then it actually is, but the kids will love it. I would use a lick like this over a G7 vibe. The twist on this one, which is kind of cool, is that I am throwing in the b9 (Ab) just to give it a bit of flavor. The basic shape falls within the G minor pentatonic scale (G–Bb–C–D–F), but I add a few “blue” notes here and there. Underneath the tab I have added a suggested right-hand picking pattern. Remember, the m indicates the middle finger and the a is for the ring finger. Now the way to play this lick fluidly is to combine the hybrid picking approach with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It’s a bit of an illusion because we want everything to sound like it’s picked.

This next lick (Fig. 2) is very fancy sounding but not really that hard to play. We will stick with a G7 vamp and the minor pentatonic scale. The awesome factor is that we are just going to throw in some open strings. Why the hell not? Right! It’s just a sequence and as we descend down the G minor pentatonic scale, we are adding all those open strings. One thing you can try—it’s a move I like—is replace the 4th degree (C) with the b5 (Db). This gives you a little more of a blues sound.

We are going to the key of E major for Fig. 3. This is a really fun key because you can use some jangly open strings. You just have to be careful and not hit an open G on the 3rd string, but all the rest work. This lick is a descending cascade that’s very useful for throwing in a solo or ending a song. It’s a little long, so if you use it to end a song you may have to shorten it a bit, but it resolves nicely. Again, it is a sequenced-based lick and the only open strings that keep appearing are the 2nd and 1st strings.

We will stick with E major for Fig. 4, which is a cascading lick in the style of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. Both of those guys are the kings of open-string lines, so if you are ever looking for more ideas, check out just about any of their records and I promise it will blow your mind. A lot of these descending lines require just pick and middle finger, but when playing an ascending lick I will use my pick, middle finger, and ring finger.

Fig. 5 is an example of an ascending D major scale where I use my pick, middle, and ring fingers. This one sounds beautiful on acoustic. I actually used this very same scale on my record to end a song called “Peach Pie.” When you play this lick, make sure to keep all the strings ringing as much as possible. The goal is to make it almost sound like a piano player running up a scale with the sustain pedal on.

I know these phrases are more on the country side of things, but throw on some distortion and see what happens. You may be surprised how cool these licks and tricks actually sound in a rock setting—or any setting for that matter. I hope these examples provide new inspiration and creativity to your playing. Try to mess around with the open strings in different keys as well. You might just come up with some wacky, out stuff or some beautiful things that become a cool and interesting part of your playing.

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Learn how to create three-note pentatonic chords all over the neck.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to create three-note pentatonic chords all over the neck.
• Combine chords and single-note lines to create flowing phrases.
• Develop intervallic lines that connect different pentatonic shapes.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

This month I feel like changing it up a bit. The past two lessons have focused on shred licks and pentatonic ideas, but for this lesson I want to dive into some chord voicings. The voicings I’m about to unleash on you are pretty cool because they are really simple, but very effective. I like to look at these chords using a pattern-based system, rather than identifying what the actual chords are. Although it’s good to take a second and learn how the notes function within each chord, my approach here is more of using them as passing chords or ear candy within a certain key center.

In the first example (Fig. 1) I want to show you all the voicings up the neck so you can come up with your own chordal licks and have a strong handle on the visualization of the chords. We are in the key of C minor, and the basic makeup of these chords come straight out of C minor pentatonic (C–Eb–F–G–Bb), using fifths or sometimes the occasional sixth to remain diatonic. Make sure to also experiment with single-note phrases along with these shapes to come up with some really cool ideas.

In Fig. 2, I have incorporated some single-note lines just to give you an idea of how to get the most out of these voicings. These are reminiscent of Eric Johnson’s chord work because of the open fifths and sixths, and the fact that the harmony all moves through the pentatonic scale. The thing I like most about these color chords is that you can use them to solo with and as a vehicle to move around the neck. The sound also reminds me a bit of Wes Montgomery, who in my opinion, was the king of chord solos, but that isn’t quite the sound we are looking for. This is more of a rock or pop—or maybe even country—sound than jazz. That said, you should keep an open mind and apply the ideas wherever you can.

Fig. 3 is simply a single-note line that uses these shapes to climb up the neck. At times, this technique can sound like some of the intervallic phrases Carl Verheyen plays. My strategy for this lick is to use the middle voice in the shape for position changes in the first half of the lick, and then the top voice for the second half. I recommend doing this to break up the phrase so it doesn’t sound like you’re playing a pattern.

The real goal of this lesson is to give you some new shapes and a few examples of how to use them to create your own ideas. I incorporate these concepts in my playing because, more than just learning a lick, they help you create your own vocabulary and allow you to connect more areas of the fretboard.

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