The 13th Fret

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One of the coolest things about the guitar is the infinite amount of expressive possibilities that can be coaxed from it! From full-on aggression to a gentle whisper, the guitar can handle practically anything you can throw at it. Let’s take a look at a few short yet fun runs that use ALTERNATE PICKING to achieve an aggressive attack.

Let’s make it interesting and add one other element; let’s make the contour (or form/shape) of the lines a little more interesting than your regular "straight up-straight down” lines which are so prevalent.

Fig. 1
The first example is based on a 3-note-per-string scale pattern, and could be viewed as either B minor or D major (as they share the same notes with a different tonal center). Notice that after completing the first three notes on the low “E” string (D,E,F#) we skip over to the 4th string for the next three (C#,D and C# again). Think of this as the MOTIF that we will base the rest of the line on. The motif then gets an almost mirrorimage treatment as we reverse the direction with three notes on the 4th string (E,D and C#), and wrap it up with three on the 5th string (B,A and B again).

This concept then gets carried through the next few string sets, until an intervallic cascade based on a two-string Bm9 arpeggio (B,D,F#,A) brings everything to a rest on B.

Fig. 2
Next up is a rather jagged line based on the C# minor pentatonic scale (C#,E,F#,G#,B) that, due to it’s interval dispersion, comes across as decidedly more “modern” that your typical Page/Clapton/Wylde-style usage of the scale. Another contributor to the jagged feel is the polyrhythmic nature of the passage; it’s a melodic grouping of five, spread over a rhythms grouping of 6. This means that the first note of each pass of the motif will land in a different place within the beat, giving it an off-kilter feel.

It ascends two notes on the low “E” string, followed by three notes on the 4th string. It’s THESE notes that give the line its twisted feel as they work from the "outside in”; not straight up or down, but low to high to middle (B,E,C#). As with the previous example, this motif gets carried along the next few string sets, ending with a lick that resolves on an A#. This note is not from the C# pentatonic scale, but can either be found in C# Dorian or as a chord tone if you were to land on an F# (or F#7) chord.

Click here to download the sheet music for Kelly's tutorial!

"...the guitar can handle practically anything you can throw at it."

Fig. 3
The last run we’ll look at is longer, but has a smoother ascent. It almost reminds me of a hummingbird, in that it alternately hovers in one spot before darting up to the next plateau. This is a classic way to build tension.

This lick is also based in Bm/D major and like the others, can be transposed to any key you desire. Using palm muting on the lower pitched strings will help with clarity, as well as building the aforementioned tension.

These kind of runs are great practice for developing your alternate picking technique. Even more importantly, they can help you form a secondary layer of interest when playing faster lines! After a certain speed, the notes themselves aren’t as important as the shape or contour (“formation", as the title suggests) that they take on. Thinking in this manner can save your lines from sounding too “scalar” and/or random, and help you use them for what truly can be a purposeful and ear-catching means of connecting melodies!

Next month we’ll look at a few more examples that’ll ramp up your picking technique while adding to your catalogue of ideas. See you then! \m/

Kelly Kereliuk, HMS

If you have any questions about this piece, drop Kelly a line at his Facebook page.

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