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Ideas Without Limits - Part 1
Getting The Most From A Single Sequence
by Tommaso Zillio
In learning how to play the guitar, or any other instrument for that
matter, there are two fundamental concepts that I like to call `the two
Great Divides'. The first one is called `Divide and Conquer', and it is
applied when learning exercises or new pieces of music. Basically, it
boils down to dividing the piece in small bits, learn every bit
separately and then putting it all together. It also means that you
have to isolate the parts that you find more difficult to play so that
you can practice them separately (as opposed to try to play through the
whole piece of music and stumbling always at the same point). Anyway,
this concept has already been beaten to death in many articles
available online, so I will not bore you any further on that.
I would like, instead, to
concentrate on the second divide, called `Divide and Multiply', that
has more to do with creativity than practice. It consists in taking a
music piece apart, much like you did for the first Divide, but then you
put the pieces back together in a new, creative way. You can apply this
either to whole songs (but this is a topic too big for a single
article) or to single licks and soloing ideas. The second Divide is a
procedure that has received far less online coverage than the first
Divide, but it is not less important - in fact it is vital if you want
to develop your own voice. One recent example of the second Divide in
action is an article from my friend Paul Tauterouff, showing a simple yet powerful concept in lick building.
I can go on and on describing the second Divide in abstract, I think
instead that it is more fruitful if I show you some examples. In the
following I will take a single 5-notes scale sequence and show you how
much mileage you can get out of a single simple idea. Of course, the
variations and licks that I tab here are not the only ones possible: in
fact I am pretty sure that after you finish reading this article you
will come up with some new variation I did not think of.
IMPORTANT: most of this article will not make any sense unless you try the licks on your guitar!
The Basic Sequence
Let us take this sequence of five notes as our basic building block:
We may have heard this in a solo, or just came up with this while
improvising. Either way, we have a basic idea and we want to make it
more interesting. The first thing that comes to mind is that you can
play this sequence with different time divisions, for instance in
or in quadruplets:
or even in quintuplets:
Each of these three options has the accents fall on different rhythmic
places, making the sequence feeling different. If you want to hear the
difference, I prepared a video on
my website where I play all the licks in this article and show some
tricks on how to nail the different rhythmic divisions.
Single String Idea
Just repeating the same notes again and again is not very exciting. The
next logical step is to move the sequence around the fretboard. The
easiest thing to do is to play the sequence while ascending/descending
a scale on a single string. Here I wanted a Neoclassical sound, so I am
using the A Harmonic Minor scale. (Blues players, fear not: there will
be more blues-sounding examples below and in Part 2). You can play this
pattern “straight” while ascending the scale:
Also, you may `reverse' the pattern, always while ascending the scale:
Here the licks are tabbed in quadruplets, but do not forget that you
can play it in triplets and quintuplets too! Of course, you can use
both the straight and reverse patterns while descending the scale
instead than ascending. Is that all? No! After a bit of experimenting
you may realize that you can alternate one straight pattern with one
Taking it on more than one string
So far so good, we have seen some application on a single string. Yet
the guitar has 6 strings (or more) to work with. This opens a lot of
possibilities: let us take an A natural minor scale with the following
fingering pattern (the root note positions are indicated with a red
This pattern has 3 notes per string, which is exactly what we need for
our little sequence! So let us apply the straight pattern on a
descending scale that way:
Notice how playing this lick in quadruplets causes both the accents and
the string changes to be `misaligned' with the beat, making the line
more interesting. We can use the reverse pattern too, and the resulting
lick is actually one of my favorites, great for flashy song endings. I
tend to play it in sextuplets, so here it is:
These licks lend naturally to be played in legato instead than picking
every note. The muting of unwanted strings is tricky, though. In the free video I prepared I give some tips on how to play the last example cleanly in legato.
We are not limited to a single position on the neck: inserting some
scale fragments along with our sequence, here is what can come out:
Ok, all is well and good with the minor scale, but I find that for some
solo the minor scale is not `open sounding' enough for my ears. And
what about blues? Sure, we can use the mixolydian mode, but would not
it be nice to be able to play a sequence like that with a pentatonic
scale? Oh yes, it would, but the usual pentatonic fingering is 2 notes
while we need 3 notes per string to make it work. Is there a way to
have a pentatonic scale pattern with 3 notes per string? Yes, there is!
In fact there are two ways, not only one:
If we want to stay `in position' like when we played the full minor
scale, we can combine two adjacent pentatonic patterns that way:
thus obtaining a 3-notes-per-string pattern. A descending scale with
the inverse sequence on an E minor pentatonic will become:
I find the sound of the repeating notes (like the D on both the first
and second string, the A on the second and the third, etc) to be kinda
cool. But if you don't like it, we have another option:
We can lay down the pentatonic with 3 notes per string with no repeated
notes. The licks become quite more difficult due to the position shift
on the neck, but with a bit of practice I am sure you will be able to
handle it. This is one possible pattern for the A minor pentatonic laid
out on the fretboard:
And here is an example of how to play it:
That's all for the first part, in the second part we are going to look
at the same 5-note sequence in less standard situations. In the
meantime, go forth and come up with some interesting licks on your own!
About the author: Tommaso Zillio is a professional guitarist and teacher in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Visit http://www.tommasozillio.com for more information on Tommaso and to check out his free guitar newsletter.
© 2009 Tommaso Zillio - All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
|Sweeping Blues: 101 Sweep Picking Licks for Blues Guitar
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- Hear all 101 Licks Played
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Learn how to modify "classical" arpeggios and make them sound Bluesy.
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Learn how to use Repeating Licks and Exit Strategies to add emotion to a solo.
Discover why the pentatonic scale does not work on Turnarounds (variations of the Blues chord progression) and what to use instead.
Harness the melodic power of the Diminished and Superlocrian arpeggios for a modern Blues sound.
About Tommaso Zillio
Tommaso is a prog rock/metal guitarist, composer and guitar teacher in Edmonton, AB, Canada. He has 19 years of playing experience, on and off stage, both solo and with a variety of bands.
His last show to date had been a series of performances of the Rocky Horror Show with the Vi! Va! Voom!! entertainment company; a new musical production with the same company ("Hair") is scheduled for August 2010.
In 2009 he released, together with other 13 artists, the compilation CD "Under the Same Sky", distributed worldwide in 10.000 copies.
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