Combine picking techniques with the E-minor scale for big monster licks of doom.

Chops: Advanced
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Embrace the inherent doom that resides in the key of E minor.
• Develop better plectrum control by combining double upstrokes and economy picking.
• Create long legato phrases that incorporate tapping.

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

Hello and welcome to another installment of Diary of a So-Called Shredder.

One of my favorite things to do on guitar is to have someone else change the G string when I know it’s about to break. Then I sit and laugh when they scream in terror and howl in pain and lick the blood off their fingers. Am I wrong?

Another thing I like to do is combine techniques, sounds, and devices (such as scales and arpeggios), and throw them all into big monster licks of doom.

This month, I submit for your collective approval, just such a lick.

I call it “Doom in E Minor”—mainly because of what I mentioned previously. And also because it just makes everything sound a little cooler when you attach the word “doom” to it.

Let’s break down all this doom into more manageable steps.

We start out in Fig. 1 with a three-note-per-string E minor scale (surprise). Notice the picking—that’s what makes this part interesting. We have a double upstroke at the 15th fret on the 5th and 6th strings, then at the 14th and 15th frets on the 4th and 5th strings. We also have plenty of hammers to fill in the spaces between. This pattern continues up the neck in two-string groups until we reach the 24th fret on the 1st string. (Incidentally, I find this is a cool way to break up playing scales and avoid the typical consecutive-note problem.)

At this point, we immediately break into an old-school alternate picking lick. It’s the same pattern, moving down the top two strings. Good times.

Moving on, we zip right into a descending E minor economy-picking lick. Again, watch the double upstrokes. That’s where the magic happens.

Doom! Doom, I say!

But I digress...

Landing on the 6th string, we prepare for the last part of the ride. No time to rest, oh no. Immediately, we spring into an ascending E melodic minor scale-arpeggio-like thingy. I learned these theoretical terms at Berklee, by the way. The techniques are really important here, as we have a combination of economy picking, alternate picking, and legato. Finally, we tap our hearts out on the 1st string for some added wackiness, then finally slide to the 23rd fret and into glory.

And there you have it.

Practice slowly. Take it section by section. Start with working on each technique separately, if you’re not familiar with them. Feel the doom. Be the doom. Take the doom across your knee and spank it firmly until it giggles puckishly like a little baby chipmunk pleading to go back to the Happy Scrappy Chipmunk Forest of Things Not-So-Doom Oriented.

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Grab your elf ears, Dungeon Master''s guide, and 20-sided die, throw your pick to your Hobbit roadie and dig into some prog-rock shred.

Chops: Advanced
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to “hammer-on from nowhere.”
• Create long, legato phrases.
• Develop a deep appreciation for prog-rock keyboard solos.

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

This month, we'll delve into all things progressive. least one thing.

Now, it's no secret that I loves me some prog-rock. Particularly of the old school variety–Yes, Jethro Tull, ELP, Rush, and Genesis have had a predominant position on my listening list and a profound influence on me as a musician. I mean, I can't get enough of dudes in costume with high voices singing 30-minute songs about elves, the plight of humanity, black holes, and the purple flying wolfhounds they saw while tripping. Some call it nerdy. I call it awesome.

But the metal-head-guitar maniac in me also longs for a little taste of a little weedily-weedily guitar stuff, too.

It wasn't too long before I noticed a lot of the keyboard parts in some of my favorite prog tunes were kinda crazy! So, I started figuring them out and playing them on the guitar for a challenge, both in technique and in ascertaining how to get them to sound right (i.e. position, technique, fingerings, etc…).

This month, I bring you an excerpt I transcribed from the keyboard solo to the Genesis tune "In the Cage,” off their landmark Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album as played by Tony Banks. If you don't own this disc, go immediately and buy it. This is from a time when men were men, my friends. Even if they did dress up in red dresses and fox heads.

Anyway, a few notes on this keyboard-turned-guitar solo. Two techniques we'll be using profusely throughout will be traditional tapping and the "hammer on from nowhere" with the left hand. There’s no right-hand picking to be found. A “hammer-on from nowhere” is simply done by striking the note with your fretting hand, thus sounding the note. All string crossings will be with this technique or with a tap, as notated.

The style of tapping in my version of this solo is one that I attempt to employ in my own playing and improvising, as well, which is to say, I really don't like to use tapping to sound tricky or as a "look at me" lick. In this adaptation of the Genesis keyboard solo, I think it's cool to use tapping in more of a melodic way and not to let the technique outshine the music it makes. The music always must come first. Our version of the "In the Cage" solo works wonders for adapting this mentality towards your own playing.

I used these particular techniques to execute the solo because I felt they sounded most like the original keyboard, an ARP Pro Soloist. Or about as much as a guitar can without being totally effected. Finding the right technique and positions and fingerings is probably the most difficult part of transcribing music from other instruments and translating them to guitar. I think it's a very valuable endeavor for everyone, and after you master this one, get out there and try a few prog-rock keyboard solos yourself!

So, grab your elf ears, Dungeon Master's guide, and 20-sided die, throw your pick to your Hobbit roadie and enjoy “In the Cage!”

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Test your skills with some blazing licks incorporating the symmetrical diminished scale.

Chops: Advanced
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview:
• Create melodies using a symmetrical diminished scale.
• Burn off your frets with licks of evil.
• Brush up on your sweeping and tapping chops.

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

In last month's turgid episode, I performed a little experiment and left you with an assignment. That assignment was to listen to the included sound clip of "Dance Party in the U.S.A.,” transcribe it (tab was fine) and then record a video of yourself performing it. After which I was to give you an opportunity to shine with some small measure of internet exposure and limited fame by posting your incredible performance on my own Facebook page (currently laden with over 1100 ready-viewers) and personal website.

The month previous to last, a few of you dropped by here with some valuable criticism that you'd like some more challenging things to do and that perhaps I should (gasp!) write less and just regurgitate and feed you the licks of doom like the mother bird of metal that I am. You inspired me, in turn, to take up the challenge and create a challenge for you! I was excited. I was enticed that I could bring you all something that may be slightly too difficult for your little sisters to play! I was ecstatic that we could finally just skip the useless talking and get right to the heart of it so we could play the licks of doom together!

Sadly, no one took up the challenge. I assume that some of you were probably too busy doing super awesome things and didn't have the time or energy. And for some others, I suppose ease of spouting anonymous criticism far outweighs the difficulties of actually facing one's own limitations.

So, perhaps we all have learned something here already.

The good news is for the objective majority of us that are working constructively on learning something here I thank you for putting up with my eccentricities and I happily bring you the transcription to last month's challenge!


So, just a brief aside about the tune, I used a lot of the symmetrical diminished scale throughout. The main rhythm is from the scale, the melody is, some supportive chords are, etc. I like this scale. It sounds like pure evil crystallized into a fine powder of musical debauchery and then ritualistically smeared on the freshly shorn naughty parts of an evil sharp-teethed midget clown.

If we take a note–let’s say D–and move away from it by a half step and then a whole step and continue this pattern up the neck we have one version of a symmetrical diminished scale, also known as a half/whole diminished scale.

This diabolical little gnome of a scale inspires the intro lick (Fig. 1). It’s “inspired” by the scale because it's not actually the scale. It has a lot of the notes of the scale, but what I did was take three notes of it and create a symmetrical pattern on two strings. Then we move up in tritones as we cross each two-string set. I thought it sounded kinda cool (shrug). This lick is played with strict alternate picking.

Next up, we have the little mini solo in Fig. 2. It can be divided into three licks. The first is a Bm7b5 arpeggio. This is pretty much played straight up and back with some sweep picking and hammers and pulls. Notice that we have a slide on the 3rd string and are using a one finger tap-slide on the 1st string. Good times.

A similar sweepy tappy arpeggio shape is next. It's basically a D7 arpeggio that starts on a b6 and ends with a natural 7. I know, it’s weird for a D7 to have those notes and if there's a natural 7th at some point, doesn't that indeed make it NOT a D7?! Hey, what can I say. That's what the voices told me to do, at the time.

We finish this little doom soirée off with chromatic scale tapping and sliding frenzy. Tap. Slide. Do it. Do it now. In jazz, for example, the chromatic scale can be applied in very creative, interesting, and harmonically deep ways. This lick has absolutely none if that. It is inspired by the death sound in Pac Man. It's dumb. But it makes me giggle like a schoolgirl (*not liable for paying for your therapy for that last statement). Any crossing of strings on this one is done with a “hammer on from nowhere,” meaning, you'll simply hammer with your first finger onto the adjacent string without any assistance from the pick.

Finally, we have the first section of the main melody in Fig. 3. This is directly from the sym dim scale. It is performed with alternate picking. The phrasing is kinda weird and was inspired by some Shakti and traditional North and South Indian music I like to listen to when I'm getting’ my freak on–and by “freak” I mean guitar, of course.

So, hope you all have fun working this out. Really wish we could have had some participants in our challenge. But, perhaps, now that you have the notes, you'll finally give it a go, anyway. And In the immortal words of Ozzy Ozbourne, “I love you all.” Er, perhaps not individually. But collectively. And completely platonically. Clothed. With guitars on.

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Terry Syrek works out your transcription skills with an original tune. Are you up for the challenge?

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Develop critical listening and transcribing skills.
• Learn how to move past the era of horrible internet tabs.
• Understand how to internalize a piece of music by ear.

Welcome to the next installment of Diary Of A So-Called Shredder. I’d like to take a brief moment and thank everyone for taking the time to post feedback and comments thus far. I appreciate all of them, even those of a not-so-positive variety. Those simply reaffirm that I need desperately to keep doing what I do to save you all from the doom that lurks ever one step behind you. But even if you don't enjoy what we're doing here you still thought it important enough to use your time to comment. And for that, I humbly say thanks!

However, I did figure I’d approach this month in a somewhat more serious manner for those of us that may be slightly more challenged in the emotion of things humorous and not so serious. I’m attempting to screw my face up in my best version of Robert Fripp watching "Hot Problems" on YouTube for the first time right now.

Damn, I slipped there, didn't I? Ok, serious from now on in. I’m serious.

This month, I’m going to do something a little different for a guitar column. I’m going to make you work. But you'll be learning some valuable things in the process.

And so, I present you with a challenge. Seriously. I’ve written a little hummable ditty I’ve titled "Dance Party In The U.S.A." that I’d like whomever decides to pick up the gauntlet to learn and play. Here’s the catch.

I want you to video it and send me the link of your performance to post and I seriously will post it—on my very own Facebook page. I want the entire world to see your best attempt at facing the dreaded, the doom-laden, the extremely serious “Dance Party In The U.S.A.” Challenge!

Totally serious.

Oh, c'mon, now, it's not that bad. It's so easy even your little sister could play it!

But here's the other catch: I’m not going to show you what I’m playing. [Flashback to the Fripp face]


Part of the challenge is that you transcribe it yourself and use your ear. No improv, just play the parts. I do, however, think it’s completely fair to provide you with a sound clip of the portion of the song we're having our little challenge on. Seriously. I’m not totally without mercy, or tenuous grasp on reality, for that matter.

Let me just make a brief statement that I believe it is incredibly important to learn to use your ear as much as possible. We are in an age of internet, TAB, and YouTube spoon-feeding and many people, especially younger ones, grow up never struggling to figure something out by ear alone. If I can attribute one thing as being a primary force in making me into the player I am today, I’d have to say it was the countless hours of struggling to figure out my favorite songs by ear.

So let's get down to it.

Should you choose to accept the “Dance Party In The U.S.A.” challenge, below are two streams and download links for separate sound files. Now, keep in mind that it would be seriously wrong for me to challenge you to all seven minutes or whatnot of the entire song, so we'll just work on the first small bit. So, the two sound clips will be of just the section our challenge entails. Which incidentally is probably the easiest part. One clip is the actual track with me being very serious on the guitar. The other is a backing version. You, who accept the challenge, are to learn my lead parts, video yourself performing them with the backing track and then put it up somewhere online (such as YouTube), after which you will send me the link and I will post it upon my very own Facebook page and some of you might make it into next month’s column. Dig?

Download: Backing Track
Download: Guitar Track

You can submit in the comments section below. Once my personal website is back in order, I may post the best versions there, too. Friend me on Facebook and I may even drop a hint or two to help, if provoked.

You have a month. Are you in? It’ll be fun! I mean... in a serious way, but not too much fun. No, no, no.

In my next column, I will post the transcription and we shall see who came the closest in figuring it out. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

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