Old school picking drills from Rusty Cooley

This month we’re going to take a look at what I consider to be some old-school picking drills. I developed these exercises when I was studying how Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Shawn Lane approached the guitar.

All of the examples in this column are in the key of C# natural minor (C#–D#–E–F#– G#–A–B) and played with strict alternate picking. I have narrowed each example to only two strings because most guitar players start running into problems when more strings are involved. We are breaking everything down to its smallest component and mastering it from the inside out, so to speak. In other words, once you master these examples, adding other strings will be much easier.

Here are a few pointers:
  • Make sure you grip the pick close to the tip
  • Don’t move any of the joints in your thumb or fingers
  • All of the motion should be with your wrist. However, this will vary a little bit from player to player. For instance, I use a little elbow at times. I have watched all of the fastest pickers and they each do it differently, so don’t get hung up on this.
  • The pick should only dig in the actual depth of each string
  • Only move enough to cross from one side of the string to the other. Speed comes through economy of motion.
I use a kitchen timer and practice each example for five minutes a day. The idea is to have a set amount of non-stop repetition. The key factor in increasing speed is to find the top speed that you can play each example cleanly, and then push it until it starts to fall apart. When it starts to fall apart, back off to a more comfortable tempo and then push it again. It’s the constant pushing and pulling that will help you break through to new top speeds, while maintaining overall control of your picking. It’s better to have an overabundance of technique than to be lacking it, because a well-developed technique will always be there when you need it.

Each example is pretty simple to learn, as they’re all composed of sixteenth-note triplets. A few of them have odd groupings, especially the last two. The last one is groups of 6 and 7 and because of this, each time you start over the picking flips, so watch out for that.

Okay, until next time, keep shredding. If you have any questions, email them to rusty@rustycooley.com. Also, you can check out my new band at www.myspace.com/dayofreckoningmetal, and join my official forum at http://forum.rustycooley.com/.

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Three examples using legato and string-skipping trad sequences.

OK, shred heads, let’s get down with some arpeggio madness! This month I have three examples for you, all using legato (a term which, for guitarists, can be thought of as hammer-ons and pull-offs in some situations) and string-skipping triad sequences. We will be using both minor and major triads.

Example 1 is something I wrote for a song for my new band, Day of Reckoning. This example is in the key of Bm. The first arpeggio is Bm (B–D–F#). The second arpeggio is F#m (F#–A–C). On this one, I pivot between the F# and G at the 14th and 15th frets, adding in the %9 sound. The third arpeggio is Em (E–G–B). The fourth arpeggio is D major (D–F#–A). The last is Bm again. The rhythm is sixteenth-note triplets; every arpeggio gets two full beats except the last two, D and Bm, receiving one beat each.

Example 2
is a cool Em arpeggio sequence. This one starts off similar to Example 1, however when it gets to the third beat of measure two, we shift into a pattern that normally would be a sweep-picking shape. I keep the legato rolling for the whole thing and as a result we get a lot of hammer-ons from nowhere (that’s where you hammer on without picking at all—check out my “Fierce Guitar” compadre Greg Howe’s column about this in the October 2009 issue). The 22nd and 24th frets are taps that use two fingers on your right hand to do a roll.

Example 3
is a three-octave Am (A–C–E) arpeggio sequence using hammer-ons and pull-offs. Some of you might recognize this sequence—I borrowed it from the traditional classic rock pentatonic sequence. However, when applied to arpeggios it becomes a little more troublesome.

The bottom line is these are all challenging licks. Take them slow, warm up properly and then have some fun. If you like this stuff I have two new instructional DVDs coming out in June on Rock House Method titled Arpeggio Madness.

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Add some flavor to harmonic minor scales with the flat 5

This month I’d like to share a cool little trick with the harmonic minor scale. Just like adding a b5 to a pentatonic scale to make it a blues scale, we are going to add a b5 to a harmonic minor scale for some additional flavor. We are still going to apply this scale the same way we would a normal harmonic minor scale. All the examples today are going to be in G harmonic minor. G harmonic minor is G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, resolving to G, and the formula for that is 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7, 8. When you add the b5 it becomes G, A, Bb, C, Db, D, Eb, F#, and resolves again to G. I can’t stress enough that you will still use this scale the same way you would a normal harmonic minor scale. The G harmonic minor chord scale is G minor, Adim, Bbaug, Cmin, Dmaj, Ebmaj, F#dim. If you are a metalhead, just use power chords. I’m using alternate picking for all of the examples this month, so rip it up, my friends!

Example 1 is a single-position, three-note-per-string form to help get you acquainted with the sound.

Example 2 is a fast, multi-position ascending run using sixteenth-note triplets. Now we’re having fun! Watch all the position shifts and take it slow at first.

Example 3 is a fast, descending run using multiple positions as well.

I’m not the first guy to do this. Be sure to check out guys like Uli Jon Roth, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, and Jeff Loomis for more examples of this idea in action.

Have fun!

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