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Creative Melodic Development

By Dan Sorber


In this lesson I am going to show you some scale patterns and some different concepts to help you create some interesting lead lines. The types of ideas I will be showing you make good melodic sense whether you play them fast OR slow. Far too often players will get caught up in building speed for the sake of speed. What happens is they forget one of the most important aspects of music: MELODY! Without it, they end up building their solos on a lot of nothing. What you get is the musical equivalent of someone taking their finger to their lips while imitating a boat engine! More often than not these types of players have the tendency to repeat themselves… a lot. In the same solo. Think about it: if you don’t have too many fresh ideas to draw from and you are playing at warp speed you will inevitably run out of things to play before your solo section is even over!

The other pitfall that a lot of players fall into is that a lot of their lead ideas tend to be segragated by the type of technique they are playing. This makes perfect sense: most of us practice each technique as a separate entity from the others. This is so we can focus on the specific aspects of that technique and master the mechanics necessary to play it. HOWEVER, few players take the next step of properly integrating that technique into their existing playing.

These players fail to ‘weld’ the new licks or techniques to their existing playing properly. When they solo they still separate the licks into categories based on the technique… or even scale pattern used to play it. Not there is anything inherently wrong with this approach… it is common to find even the most advanced of players dividing their phrasing up this way… but you are missing a whole world of VERY cool possibilities if you took the time to see how the new stuff can not only exist along side your current vocabulary, but how you can MIX it together with your existing playing.

This lesson is designed for the intermediate and beyond player

The A Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale is undoubtly one of the most used scales in rock and metal. The scale is more “theatrical” sounding than the the major scale, and when played with distortion can take on a very dark and dramatic sound. In comparison the major scale is the aural equivalent of mashed potatoes… with no gravy (don’t get me wrong, it has it’s uses)… and the minor pentatonic can sound too “bluesy” at times. You will find this scale at the heart of almost every rock and metal song.

The shape is displayed below. Memorize completely. You can’t really expect to have melodic freedom if you can’t remember what notes are in key.

Play the following run to a metronome on a regular basis (use alternate picking). Start around 60bpm and aim for clarity, accuracy and tone. Don’t worry about speed at this point. In fact, the previous statement applies for every lick you learn in this lesson. Or ever. Resist the urge to play the idea faster until you have it memorized and have your fingers trained to play it properly. Don’t sacrifice clarity for speed or you might as well make farting noises into the microphone instead.

A good way to find out if your playing sounds like farting noises is to record yourself and listen for any errant noises. Make sure you use proper muting techniques to keep unwanted strings from making any noise.

All kidding aside, it is very easy for the mind to wander at slower tempos like this. However, this is an extremely important step in your technical development. Train the fingers to play sloppy and that is how they will always respond. You end up developing what I call “fake” shredding. Where you play quickly but not with a high degree of accuracy. Remember… the only opponent is within.

After you have spent some time with this try running different sequences to further develop your precision. Not to mention scale sequences are great for building longer lead lines. More on this later.

Shape Shifting

I have heard of this concept called by a number of names. Shape Shifting is my favorite. The concept is fairly simple and will help you get some serious mileage out of your existing scale patterns.

First, we must be able to locate octaves of the scale’s root note. The scale above was demonstrated in “A minor” … meaning the scale is the “minor” scale and red dots are “A” notes. You can move this around the fretboard to match whatever key you need it to be in. And it is also recommended that you practice this and all ideas in every key. For every one thing know 10,000 things… Anyway, these root notes are going to serve as “anchor points”.

To find an octave of any note go two frets higher and two strings higher. In this case the next “A” we need is on the 7th fret of the fourth string. The starting point was on the 5th fret of the 6th string. By higher I am referring to pitch, not the actual direction. However… it’s not exactly THAT simple. The guitar has a tuning discrepancy between the “G” and “B” strings. To go from our higher “A” to the NEXT higher “A” requires us to cross from the “G” string to the “B” string. If you stick to the formula above you will find that what you thought was the “A” on the “B” string sounds like someone just backed over an accordian. Before you curse my existance simply add one more fret. Magic. SO. Let’s revise my last statement: in order to find the next octave higher go two frets higher and two strings higher EXCEPT when crossing from the “G” string to the “B” string… you need to add one more fret.

Looks like this for the visually oriented among us:

Be comfortable locating these notes. They will serve as “anchor points” for our next trick.

Notice that the first six notes of the A Minor Scale are symmetrical. Same shape, same frets, same fingerings. Shapes like this are easier for our hands to play quickly. The symmetry means less memorizing and less difficulty for the fretting hand as it ascends or descends through the scale. Continue playing through the scale and you notice by the time you get to the “G” string things get a little hairy. It gets difficult to play the upper end of this shape with speed and fluidity. Doable… but difficult.

Shape Shifting allows as to take symmetrical fingers and apply them up and down the fretboard, using the octaves as “anchor points” for the whole idea.

So here we go:

Play the following run both alternate picked and with the legato technique.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the logistics of this particular run. First, from a technical standpoint: by using the same symmterical fingering all the way throughout we really simplify this run for ourselves. We make it easier for the fingers to get the run “under our fingers” so to speak. Having to change fingering every string really puts a kink in the execution as well as the thought process; the brain itself as an easier time processing patterns like this as well.

From a more theortical standpoint the run is missing something. Primarily the “G” note. If you count the notes from one root to the next in the very first scale pattern you will notice that you have 7 total notes before you hit the root again an octave higher. Those notes are A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Then it repeats. In our run we left out the “G” note in order to simplify the run and make the pattern easier for the fretting hand. But that is not the only reason. Compare this run to a straight A Minor Scale. You will notice that the ear hears this missing note from octave to octave as a nice melodic “hop”. Melodically, this run is more interesting than simply running straight up the scale.

Further Development

This can be applied to ANY SHAPE that you know: whether it be other scale patterns or arpeggios. This will be the topic of future installments. For now, we want to take this one shape and master it. The first step will be breaking out of a common pitfall for a lick like our last run. I wrote it in triplets because that is the natural feeling way to play this lick since it has three notes on each string. If you want to challenge yourself play through this scale using different rhythmic subdivisions. The lick will sound way cooler this way.

Finding the downbeat is inherently more difficult than playing it in straight triplets. It might help if you print this out and use a pen to circle which notes fall on the downbeat. Line them up with the click on the metronome and try to space out the other notes as evenly as you can. Practice this with both alternate picking and legato. Use other rhythms as well.

But wait. There’s MORE!!!
Sequences – A Brief Introduction

So I briefly mentioned sequences before and how they can help lend to your melodic development. Boy, I sure use the word ‘development’ a lot in this one…

Basically, a sequence is applying a certain pattern to our scale.

This one plays up the scale in a pattern of threes to our positional A Minor Scale. A-B-C, B-C-D, C-D-E … and so forth up the scale. We can do this to the Shape Shifted version too:

Notice I wrote both these sequences out only in their ascending form. Guess who’s job it is to figure out how to play them descending? Also notice that in the Shape Shifted variation I don’t try to apply the pattern across the octaves. Two reasons. The first is that would be very hard. Seriously. The sequence would require you to double back between the octave forms and since there is a two fret position (three on the “B” string) shift that would be, at best, akward to pull off. The adventerous among us can have fun torturing themselves with that one. The second reason is that I like that break between octaves. Sounds melodically more interesting. A sequence like a pattern of threes can become very predictable if overused, so here is a good way to break things up a little bit.

Also, our pattern doesn’t have to make any sense… just go for it and meander (I like that word) about the scale pattern:

There’s LOTS of cool stuff happening in this run that makes it just a bit unpredictable. The first thing you will notice are the rhythm variations. The second beat of the first measure is played as a septuplet, which means 7 notes in a single beat. If you listen to this lick being played you will feel that beat being slightly rushed, giving it an off-kilter feel. Again, this is a variation to the rhythm variation concept I spoke about earlier, but it’s not as linear as the previous examples because it’s not used throughout the entire phrase. You will notice the phrase slowing up on the last beat, like a runner slowing down after a sprint. Again, the variation in rhythm gives the line a more organic feel and allows the ending bend to be targeted on a downbeat. While this run may seem to have a lot going on, it’s actually a very natural way to play. Most advanced players will vary the rhythm in this way while improvising as they try and ‘feel’ their way through a phrase and come out in the right place (such as the end of their solo).

Also contributing to the phrase’s off-kilter feel is there is no rhyme or reason to the number of notes played in the phrase. It just sort of doubles back on itself and then takes off, side stepping completely the problem of that first note on each string becoming the downbeat every time.

Do I think this way when I make up lines like this? No. I just sorta go with it, but I understand the concepts enough to see when they are being used and this ability allows me to pick apart not only my own playing but that of other players as well. I’ve used this phrase before but it is worth repeating: practice this enough to understand it and then forget EVERYTHING and just play! Leave the over-analyzing to us educators!


This lesson turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be. We are going to cap this installment by touching on another concept.

I mentioned in the introduction that a lot of players tend to segragate their phrases based off the dominant technique. Let’s look at combining techniques to get a multi-textural idea.

Multi-textural is simply combining two or more techniques to make up a phrase. Believe it or not Yngwie Malmsteen is an expert at this approach. Let’s take a basic legato idea:

… and let’s inject some multi-texturalism:

If you blinked, you missed it! I changed two things about the lick and both changes occured on the same beat. In the first beat of the second measure I changed from legato to alternate picking and ALSO changed the pattern slightly. Multi-texturalism can also encompass utilizing different patterns as well as different techniques. This phrase is more interesting than the first (they are both cool though!) and has a bit more ‘life’ in it.

That wasn’t exactly rocket science… but I bet your hand wants to keep playing it the first way! That’s why mixing different techniques can be difficult at first: your hand wants to ‘lock in’ to playing it a certain way that it can be tough to change gears mid-phrase. Really, all it takes is practice and developing some familiarity with different approaches. Mixing it up like this can make your phrases sound more musical and less like you are trying to spot weld exercises together and calling it a solo! Try coming up with your own multi-textural mixes… monkey see monkey do is only going to get you so far.

The Coda

So now you have several concepts to work from to help develop some melodic freedom: shape shifting, sequences, rhythmic variation and mixing and matching various techniques. Use these new ideas in conjunction with your old ones. It’s going to be up to you to figure out how this stuff is going to fit into your own playing. Make up as many variations to the above licks as possible. I kept the playing examples to a minimum because this lesson was about developing YOUR creative freedom! Not mine! Well, I hope you enjoyed! Feel free to contact me through my website with any questions you may have.

Message Dan on his website to get the Power Tab file of all the examples www.dansorber.com

Dan Sorber is a leading guitar instructor in the Northern New Jersey area. He also plays guitar for the progressive metal band, Ferox Canorus. More information can be found at the following sites:


Ferox Canorus Official Myspace

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