Arpeggios from Space

Hi there to all you Insane Guitar Players. In this, my first column, I want to share with you some Arpeggio patterns that are a little unusuals to see around, but I might that as good as how far you want to take your guitar. Surely some of you already know some arpeggios that are very common, but if you don’t, look at this classic “crossroads” Am arpeggio:


O.k., Sounds cool, and what if we do some changes there and:


Pfuu!!!, Magic!!! Here I try to avoid to repeat the root note. And if you want more, take this, after ascending your arpeggio you can go down in other way, and you could get something like this strange stuff:


This will require to warm up if you don’t want to hurt yourself, O.k.? Then try to find more possibilities to give lots of colors to your arpeggios. Try the most comfortable fingering you can, remember, there’s no rules in music. That’s all by now, ya have a lot work to do, I hope you enjoy it, take care and keep workin’, Bye.


Something About Me: I started to play guitar since 13, while listening Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. At 16 I was playing in a Top 40 band named “Riddle”, 2 years later I was playing Helloween, Stratovarius, Edguy, etc.. Now I’m playing and composing with my prog band “Famelica Carcoma” (we don’t have nothing recorded yet, but soon you’ll be the first to know).

Heavy Metal Rhythm Guitar: James Hetfield

In the first of what I intend to make a short series on rhythm playing I’m going to start by taking a look at one of heavy metal’s finest:- James Hetfield.

Before you begin, I think there are several techniques you need to become comfortable absolute, unconditional must for any metal guitarist. I’ll explain palm muting shortly. The second technique, a little more specific to James, you should at least be aware of is his use of endless down strokes. Playing at breakneck speeds using nothing but down strokes is an extremely daunting prospect and for most of us mortals, unthinkable. All I’ll say is give it a go, but if you’re happy with alternate picking, do it.

Even some of the most accomplished rhythm plays don’t play Metallica riffs the way James plays them so there’s no shame in it!

Before I begin and, for those of you who don’t know, palm muting is when you deaden the string using you picking hand (for most the right) placed against the strings at the bridge of you guitar. This technique produces a percussive “thunk!” when you hit the string and stops it from ringing out. If you’re not sure, there are plenty of excellent tutorials lurking around, simply search for them or ask at your favorite forum.

Now, on with the carnage!!!!!

Let’s start with something easy. Remember to take things slow and build from there. Also, keep in mind that rhythm playing is all about timing, you need to, in most of these cases, keep it tight. I suggest you get yourself a metronome or a drum machine and practice to them.

Figure 1. is the verse riff taken from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. This is a very simple riff to get under your fingers as it’s simply 16th notes. This is actually a very good introducing the all down strokes. I’d advise you practice effective.


Staying in the relatively easy territory or Hetfield’s playing, figure 2 is one of Metallica’s newer songs, a cover originally done by a group of Irish fellows by the name of The Dubliners; however you’re more likely to know of the version by Thin Lizzy. It is, of course, “Whiskey In The Jar”.


Got those under your fingers? Yes? No? Either way I’ve got to move on. Let’s take a brief step of the really easy riffs into something that you can get your fingers really into. Figure 3 is “Creeping Death” from “Ride The Lightning”. Once you’ve mastered this riff, you realize just how easy it is; although mastering it may take you a while. It took me about two or three weeks (being new to rhythm playing at the time), to get this spot on. Take your time with it and don’t rush this one. Get the notes right before playing it at recording speed.


Next, let’s take a look at James’ (dare I say?) softer side. Figure 4 is another offering from “Ride The Lightning”, this time the acoustic intro from “Fade To Black”. The interesting thing to note here is, apparently, James played finger style (without a pick) so put down that piece of plastic and use those nails! Alternatively, you can use a pick if you really want to, but throwing it away from time to time opens up brand news doors and unleashes ideas you never knew you had. Learning simple riffs such as this is the first step in what is likely to be a complete change for you. Look into it is all I’ll say.


Next, we’ll have a go at an apocalyptic number. You’ve guessed it, Figure 5 is “The Four Horsemen” from Metallica’s first release, “Kill ‘Em All”. I believe this was largely co-written by Dave Mustaine before he was kicked out and sounds very similar to a Megadeth song, although I couldn’t tell you which. This is one song I’d advise using alternate picking in order to get that “galloping” groove.


“You having fun?” as Hetfield once said during a live performance of that song. I hope so, because now I’m going to have to take you to another level with what Joel, Insane Guitar Webmaster) has called “the pinnacle of Hetfield’s riffage”. Taken from possibly their most technically demanding album, “…And Justice For All”, we’re going to turn our hands to figure 6, “Dyers Eve”. Here’s one of the easier, but still rather cool sounding, riffs, taken from the intro. Take special care with the time change from 4/4 to 3/4 back to 4/4.


So there you go. That’s me done for the quick look into Metallica’s front man’s style. Obviously, these aren’t all his great riffs, just a handful to give you a taste. I hope you’ve learnt a little. Feel free to email me with comments, suggests, hate mail…If I get enough feedback I’ll look at taking another look at James’ playing. ‘Til the next time!

String Dampening

One of the least explained and most overlooked (or avoided) techniques in all of guitar kingdom, is string damping. String damping is the use of the left and right hands to completely deaden any strings that you are not using.

Why would we want to do this? The guitar is a very resonant instrument, and when you strike a single string, it will cause the other strings to vibrate sympathetically. This is great if you want shimmering ringing arpeggios (a good example of this is cascades which are commonly employed in country music).

If you’re attempting to achieve pure single note lines, however, an open ringing guitar is the worst thing possible. When playing single note lines, ringing strings interfere with the notes you are trying to play. This problem is increased when you use distortion, overdrive, or fuzz to add sustain and body to the sound.

So how do we control the instrument and stop the strings from ringing in an objectionable way? The answer is surprisingly simple. Let’s assume a situation where I am fretting a note on the “G” string with my index finger. In this scenario, we want to hear the “G” string and nothing else. This means we have 5 strings to deaden with both hands.

Let’s start with the right hand. For most players it is natural to use the palm side of the right hand to deaden strings (not the underside of the thumb). If you use another part of the right hand for damping, I wouldn’t recommend it, as other methods sound very clunky in comparison. In this case the “D” “A” and “lowE” strings will be deadened by the palm of the right hand.

Now for the left hand. If you use proper classical posture (thumb on the back of the neck and wrist arched) left hand muting, as well as playing difficult passages will be much easier. Using proper posture, it is easy to lay the index finger across the strings to provide string damping. In our scenario, the index is fretting the “G” string, the right hand palm is now deadening the “lowE” “A” and “D” strings, and the left hand must now damp the “B” and “highE”.

If your posture is on target, the underside of the index finger can deaden the “B” and “high E” strings, while the very tip of the index presses down to fret the “G” string. Okay, but what if I’m fretting with a different finger? No problem.

Let’s assume you’re now fretting with your middle finger. Your index finger can still lay flat behind your middle finger (which is now fretting the “G” string) to mute the “B” and “high E” strings. While it’s laying there damping, the index also sits in position to play a note on the “G” string, so we kill two birds with one stone.

I would wager that 90% or more of left hand string damping is done with the index. There are a few situations where a particular pattern will require using the underside of the ring or pinkie (for a split second) to damp unused strings.

The system I’ve just explained is the most efficient to use. Having said this, there are a number of amazing guitarists that use completely different, slightly bizarre string damping systems. A perfect example of this is Steve Morse. Morse uses his right hand palm and pinkie to damp around the string he’s playing. If you’ve ever tried this, you’ll discover how weird this feels, and how inconsistent it can be. Morse, however, must have beaten this method to death and forced it to work for him.

There are plenty of examples of players that have forced inefficient methods to work, however, I wouldn’t recommend their methods.

So let’s sum things up. We’re using our left and right hands to deaden the unused strings. The right hand damps any string below the string you’re fretting (in our example the “low E” “A” and “D”). The left hand damps any string higher than the fretted string (in our example the “B” and “high E”). The system simply moves to encircle the fretted string.

This system may seem difficult at first, but if you practice it along with your picking and scale exercises, it will become second nature and completely logical over time. It will allow you to play cleanly and control the instrument. After all, what good is playing fast if it sounds like a sloppy mess? Have fun becoming the cleanest guitarist on the block!

Untitled from June 2001 (Tapping Licks)

On your feet recruit! Get ready for a lesson on three-finger tapping. What’s that? You say you already know about tapping? Well, well, well. MY GRANDMA CAN TAP BETTER THAN YOU!! Now grab that sorry excuse for an EG and let’s get to work. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!!


Before We Begin

  • Remove any excess fingernail growth from your frettin’ hand and tappin’ finger.
  • Make sure your EG is in proper working order. Take it to your local music installation and have someone set it up. Watch and learn.
  • Assume the proper position. Practice like you perform (or plan to perform) ie. standing or sitting with good posture.
  • RELAX!! You want people to say “they make it look so easy” when they’re talking about you! The only muscles you need are the ones used to sound notes and hold your sorry carcass upright. Make sure you release any tension in your neck, shoulders, jaw, unused fingers, etc. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!


Begin Example

Take a look at this example and we’ll talk about how to decode it.

Tapping – 3 Finger

1 2 4







Jargon: Notice that the first note is sounded with a pull (P). This pull will occur when you remove your tapping finger from it’s indicated fret. In other words you might have to HAMMER the first note when you FIRST BEGIN this exercise, but you’ll be sounding it with a PULL WHEN YOU LOOP IT. Confused yet?



  • The first thing you see is the title of the example.
  • The first row of numbers across the top of the tab indicate which finger to use. 1=index, 2=middle, etc.
  • Below that, we have six horizontal lines that represent the six strings on your EG.
  • The number/letter combinations on those lines indicate which fret to push and how to “sound” the note.
  • Finally, there will be a brief description on how to tackle the exercise along with a link to an audio file.



  • H = Hammer [Slam the indicated finger (on your fretting hand) onto the fretboard to sound the note.]
  • P = Pull [The fret that has been depressed with the indicated finger is sounded by removing one of your other fingers.]
  • T = Tap [Sound the indicated note with the middle finger (2) of your picking hand. We do it this way so that you can still keep a hold of your pick with your index finger and thumb, allowing for fast transitions between picked and tapped riffs. Just make sure you don’t GIVE THE AUDIENCE THE FINGER!!


Now Let’s Get Going!!

Tapping – 3 Finger, Add 1 Note

1 2 4
1 2 4







Jargon: Try to keep the notes as even as possible. Don’t let the audience hear what your hands are doing by grouping notes together.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Add 2 Notes

1 2 4
1 2 4 1 2 4
1 2 4







Jargon: This is not rocket science people! A career in aerospace engineering, that’s rocket science.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down

1 2 4
4 2







Jargon: I like to use this one a lot. It’s like the old Power Rangers theme song only one better.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down, Add 1 Note

1 2 4
4 2 1 2 4 4







Jargon: We’re starting to get a little busy here, and we’re not out of the woods yet!


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down, Add 2 Notes

1 2 4
4 2 1 2 4 4
2 1 2 4 4 2
1 2 4 4 2







Jargon: Woo doggy that’s a long one!


Tapping – 3 Finger, Triple Pull

1 2
1 1 4 1







Jargon: Get this one going fast and people will think you’re a rock star! “That guy must be a rock star”, they’ll say.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Triple Pull, Add 1 Note

1 2
1 1 4 1







Jargon: I guess you’re probably getting the idea of the whole “add a note” thing. I’m going to keep writing them out for those of you who are just joining us.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Triple Pull, Add 2 Notes

1 2
1 1 4 1
1 2 1 1 4 1







Jargon: Again the thing with the notes and the adding with the fingers and the hey hey hey.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down, Pull

1 2
2 4 4 2
2 1







Jargon: Try not to think too hard about this one. Sometimes your ears can trip you up if they focus in on certain notes (in this case, the notes preceding each tap).


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down, Pull, Add 1 Note

1 2
2 4 4 2
2 1







Jargon: Stick with me here. I haven’t heard this technique very much, use it wisely.


Tapping – 3 Finger, Up and Down, Pull, Add 2 Notes

1 2
2 4 4 2
2 1







Jargon: Less expensive or tough meats are tenderized through the long cooking process. Practice daily.


LOCK YOUR BODY RECRUIT! I’m not done with you yet!! Alright, you look like you’ve had enough. At ease. What did you learn today? Something new I hope. I guess your time with me is up. Remember this, no matter how
good you think you are, there’s some 15 year-old kid somewhere better than you!! Now show me your WAR FACE!!


Untitled from July 2001 (Scale/Chord Theory)

Hello there kid-os! Time for another column by your old buddy Chris,(no drill sergeant persona this time). This month I’m going to be talking a little bit about harmonic progression. We’ll be looking at the basics starting with a brief overview of scales and keys and all that juicy stuff. So put down your axes, print out this page, and plop down in front of the family piano (or keyboard, or organ, or whatever). It’s go time.


Scales and Keys and All That Juicy Stuff

Let’s bring you up to speed on the basic basics. Look at your piano keyboard. Notice the black keys are in groups of two’s and three’s. Find a group of two. The white key to the left of the first black key in any group of two is a C. Good. Now, notice that if you start with C and count up 12 keys, you’ll be at C again. There are really only 12 unique notes in Western musical notation. Easy right?

Right. Now, most every piece of music you hear will be in a “key”. This means that the composer decided that one of the 12 notes would be more important than the rest. (Note that not all music is in a certain key, like Schoenberg and Primus. hehe. We’ll talk about this in another column.) For the purposes of this column, we’re going to be in the key of C Major. If you start with a C and play (up the keyboard) all the white keys until you get to the next C, you will hear what C Major sounds like. It should sound very familiar to you.

Now, let’s talk about ways to identify the notes in the C Major scale (and other major scales).

C is the first note in the scale also called Scale Degree One, and also called Tonic. Next we have D, scale degree 2, Supertonic. E, scale degree 3, Mediant. F, scale degree 4, Subdominant. G, scale degree 5, Dominant. A, scale degree 6, Submediant. B, scale degree 7, Leading Tone. And then we’re back to the C that’s one octave above our original tonic. Your first step in becoming a theory wiz, is to memorize the names of the notes in the major scale. (Note: These names apply to any major scale. Not just C Major.) Here they are again:

C – Scale Degree 1 – Tonic
D – Scale Degree 2 – Supertonic
E – Scale Degree 3 – Mediant
F – Scale Degree 4 – Subdominant
G – Scale Degree 5 – Dominant
A – Scale Degree 6 – Submediant
B – Scale Degree 7 – Leading Tone

Please realize that I’m trying to make this whole thing as simple as possible, and in doing so, am leaving some stuff out. Look to the forum if you have questions.


The Chords of C Major

Time to put notes together and make chords. A “Chord” is 3 or more unique notes played at once. Two notes played at once are called a Harmonic Interval. When we make a chord with 3 notes, we call it a Triad. Using your fingers, press the following keys of the piano keyboard simultaneously: C – E – G.

This is the most important chord in the key of C Major. It is the C Major chord also known as I (Roman Numeral 1). There is a triad for each of the scale degrees in the C major scale and each one is identified with a roman numeral. Here’s the list of basic chords (triads) for the Key of C Major, with their roman numerals in parentheses. Notice how the roman numerals for minor triads are lower case. Look to the next paragraph for more info on the 4 basic types of chords (Major, minor…etc):

/ C – E – G / C Major Chord (I)
/ D – F – A / D minor Chord (ii)
/ E – G – B / E minor Chord (iii)
/ F – A – C / F Major Chord (IV)
/ G – B – D / G Major Chord (V)
/ A – C – E / A minor Chord (vi)
/ B – D – F / B diminished Chord (viiº)

There are 4 types of triads we need to talk about here even though only three are found on the Major scale itself. Here are examples of each:

/ C – E – G /

This is our beloved Major triad. By itself, it sounds happy.

/ A – C – E /

This is one of the minor triads in the key of C Major. By itself, it sounds sad.

/ B – D – F /

This is the diminished chord found in C Major. By itself, it sounds evil. We use a degree symbol (º) to identify this.

/ C – E – G# /

This is an augmented triad. It does not occur naturally on the C Major scale but needs to be recognized at this point nonetheless. The (#) indicates a “sharp”. This just means that you find the G key and go up to the next black key. If it were Gb (G flat – a flat sign looks like a lower case B), we would go down to the next lower black key. Sharps and flats mean you go up or down to the very next key regardless of what color it is. The augmented triad by itself sounds mysterious. We won’t talk about this chord much. Just be aware that it exists.


Chord Progressions

So now we know about the C Major scale, and the basic triads that can be derived from the C Major scale. The chords, and C Major scale that talking about sort melt together to form the musical idea of “The Key of C Major”. We’re now ready to begin talking about common chord progressions in the key of C major. From now on I’ll be referring to the chords of C major by their roman numerals.

Play the following chords:

I – V – I
/C-E-G/ then /G-B-D/ then /C-E-G/

There you have it! That simple chord progression is the basis for most western (as in the western part of the world, not the United States) music. Don’t let its simplicity fool you. There’s some powerful medicine happening here.

Let’s try another one:

I – IV – V – I

Wow! (Look to the list of C Major chords above if you’ve forgotten which roman numeral goes with which triad). This little progression is the basis for most of the “radio hits” there ever were. No foolin’.

I – vi – IV – V – I

Remember the 50’s? I don’t, but I bet you recognize this progression from tons of 50’s music.

Notice something about these three examples? That’s right, they all end with V – I. This is called a cadence and it is the most common way to end a phrase, or song. Most of the songs you’ve heard end with the V – I cadence. Here’s a list of cadences:

  • V – I (referred to as an authentic cadence). We just talked about it. Most common.
  • IV – I (called a plagal cadence). Think church music.
  • V (half cadence). This is called a half cadence were you just end on V. It leaves you hangin’ on purpose.
  • V – vi (deceptive). This is called the deceptive cadence. It’s used when the composer wants you to think the phrase is ending, but it actually keeps going.


The Chart of Usual Root Movement

Ok. I think we’re ready for the grand poobah of this month’s column, The Chart of Usual Root Movement. This is basically a chart for the Major Keys that maps out all of the common chord progressions and can also be used to create progressions in any Major key.

Just follow the arrows. Roman numeral 1 (I) can go to any triad. Notice how IV and ii are grouped together (as are viiº and V). When the arrows point to these bracketed triads, you can choose either or. For example, you can start with [iii] and follow the long, arching arrow and go to either [ii] or [IV] then from their you can go to either to [viiº], [V], or [I]. Notice that you can’t go from [ii] to [IV], but you can go from [IV to [ii]. Is this confusing? I hope not.



Like learning to play guitar, learning music theory takes practice. Your homework for next month is to memorize the names of the Major scale notes (tonic…etc) and the chords (I. ii, viiº…etc) and write some chord progressions using The Chart.

You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them. If I’m in C Major, what is the name of D? What scale degree is it? What chord goes along with that scale degree and how do you spell it? Is it major or minor or diminished? Next time, we will look at “intervals” and how to recognize them by ear, inversions, and the basics of working in a minor key. After that, we’ll get into some really cool stuff like borrowed chords, Neapolitan chords, Augmented 6th chords, circle of fifths, and modulation. And we will learn how fun and easy it can be to break the rules of music theory on guitar.

Slap Happy

This is a good slapping exercise. Basically, I’m only using the D and G strings. You can start out slow by slapping the D string 2 times and with your thumb and popping the G string 1 time with your index finger. It is triplets the whole way though. Gradually increase your speed. it is all in the wrist. Remember, your only slapping the D string and popping the G string the whole time.

This is an exercise by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You are only using the E and D string. Slap the E and pop the D string. Once again, it is all in the wrist so start slow and increase your speed.

This is a good finger picking exercise. Use your index and middle fingers on your right hand to alternate pick every note in the phrase.


The Next Step: Playing in a Band

So, you’ve practiced endless hours at night and in the weekends, up and down the fretboard going through strenuous and often tiresome fingering exercises, memorizing scales – major, minor, pentatonic, dorian, etc. – jamming to your favorite songs, and carefully selecting your gear.

Now you’re about to embark on the quest to find a band where you can shine. Whatever you’ve learned in your tablature books and instructional videos won’t really help much in this stage of your musical quest. This in an exciting time, and you should embrace it fully. Personally, I started out with high school buddies, probably one of the best settings there is. Why? Because you’re all friends, there’s no stage pressure, no fear of being boo-ed, and everybody’s basically having a good time.

However, once you start feeling the need to get to a more serious – let’s call it, professional – level, you have to take several things into account with respect to yourself and your fellow band mates.


Common Ground

Make sure all of you agree and commit to the same band goals – if you just want to do bar gigs, weddings, festivals, concert halls, or even go into the recording studio and put all your innovative ideas on tape… or hard drive, what have you.


Friendship and Respect

If you are not friends with your band mates, or don’t plan on becoming friends with them, find another band. Chances are it won’t last. Also, don’t become a “backseat driver”? for the other instruments; focus on what you do best… in this case, play killer [insert your music style here] guitar.


Share Ideas and Be Open to Them

Think about your band’s direction, where you want to go, how your audience wants to perceive you, and what you want to deliver. Try crazy stuff out while on stage, it’s all about trial and error. You’ll find the sweet spot.


Keep it Tight

Now this one is crucial. You have to become one with the band. Like a living organism, if one of you is out of sync both musically and personally, you get sick. I’ll talk a little bit further about this one.

How to keep it tight? One point of view – probably the most common one – is that the drummer controls the rhythm and tempo. I disagree.

All of you control it, all of you sync it up, all of you keep it tight. The first thing you have to do is make sure you can keep a steady rhythm going. Spend some time on your own – with a metronome, perhaps – pick your favorite power cord or major seventh, and start strumming a pattern. Go from solid rock, to swingy blues, to chopped funk, to steady heavy metal. Change your tempo, go up and down. Try different BPMs (Beats Per Minute). And please, DON’T do this sitting down; tap your foot, bob your head, move your body, jam to the flow and flow into the jam. Move around. Heck, march if you want to (this works well for marching bands!).

Getting your band tight is nothing you talk about or discuss – it’s something you feel, all of you. Like a collective unconscious, like invisible waves, like an unspoken train of pulses. It takes time to fall into this very special groove.


Here are a few from past experience.


Not to yourself (you’ve done that quite enough already), but to the other dudes – or gals. Get a feel of their rhythm and beat, and just try falling into it. Again, move any or all parts of your body to the song’s beat. In short, listen with your ears, your stomach and your heart. I know, it sounds corny as hell, but it works. Trust me.


You know all those nice breaks, backbeats and sudden stops that make a song just plain “cool” Throw those in once in a while. Planned or unplanned. But stay connected with the others throughout each song, from beginning to end. Don’t plan the cues, just learn how to read and interpret them. It could be as subtle as a wink of an eye to a more obvious three-foot-high roundhouse-kick jump to end a song. (Is “sweet” is the new “cool”)

Stick to practice: The whole band has to commit to an agreed upon practice schedule. This goes without saying practice makes perfect – as a band.

Take a step back

Get a cheap MP3 recorder and digitize your band rehearsals. You could even get your dad’s 80s boombox and some 60 minute tapes, if you want. (Do they make tapes anymore?) Listen to your songs, listen to your playing and your sweet guitar solos, listen to the other instruments. Find your own weaknesses – I prefer to call them “opportunities” – and improve. Feel comfortable with your fellow rock gods and give them good feedback that the band can benefit from. Take it one step further, do the same but with a camera. (YouTube, here we come!)


Check out other bands. There’s nothing wrong in copying. I mean, don’t imitate, but get different ideas in your head, see other bands in action, find out what makes “them” tight.

Just get in there and do what you like to do and what you do best. Remember that one thing is for you and your band to have fun on stage, but the feeling is exponentially augmented when the audience has fun with you.


The key? Stay tight.

The Minor Pentatonic

If you are a rock, blues, jazz, funk, heavy metal, or country guitar player, the first solo you ever played would probably have been in the minor pentatonic scale. Why? Just because.

This handy little scale can adapt itself to any song and any style. It’s like a symbiotic organism to contemporary and popular musical pieces. Move it back three frets, and voila, it becomes the major pentatonic scale. Needless to say, personally, it’s the scale I use the most. Let me rephrase that, it’s the only scale I use.

Put an extra half step here and there to spice it up, throw in hammer-ons and pull-offs, sliding notes, bends and exaggerated vibratos, and you have yourself a nice little gadgetry of soloing power that will knock everyone out of their socks!

I’m not going to go into great lengths explaining the minor pentatonic scale from a music theory point of view, or some esoteric essay as to how it becomes part of your guitar-human essence. This brief column is to draw out the scale and show a few variations of it.

For the more advanced guitar gods out there, this columns is sure to be “one of many”, but I hope I can reach the diamonds-in-the rough beginners and pass on some knowledge and tricks I have come across over the twenty or so years I have been playing guitar.

Here is the A-minor pentatonic scale in its purest form.


Figure 1 – The minor pentatonic scale: up and down

I like to think of scales from a visual standpoint on the fretboard. The previous scale originates and stays on the fifth fret, and in my mind looks like this:

String 5th fret 6th fret 7th fret 8th fret
1 1 4
2 1 4
3 1 3
4 1 3
5 1 3
6 1 4


Figure 2 – The minor pentatonic scale “box”

The numbers represent the fingers:

  • 1 – Index
  • 2 – Middle
  • 3 – Ring
  • 4 – Pinky


There are various lessons that talk about “boxes”, this is the first one. The box method is also very useful way of looking at minor pentatonic scales, because they give you the flexibility and versatility of applying the scale in multiple places across the entire fretboard. But we won’t talk about those here… I do recommend you research these “boxes” later. Weird, wild stuff.

For all my fellow beginners, you must memorize this scale, or pattern, or fingering, or shape. Practice it over and over again. Use downward picking, upward picking, alternate picking, play it slow, play it fast, shift it to different locations on your fretboard. Choose the best representation of the scale that takes you away from thinking about it. Have you ever seen The Karate Kid? You know, “Karate not here. Karate not here. Karate here.” The same rule applies to the minor pentatonic scale. Don’t think it – feel it… breathe it… live it… be it.

The other important thing to know is which one to use. By which one, I mean which key to use. For example, if you know a song is in A-minor, you should use the A-minor pentatonic scale. If a song is in C-major, you should use the… the… anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Again, the A-minor pentatonic scale, because C-major and A-minor are close relatives. Kinda like G-major and E-minor. As you play along your favorite MP3s, you will discover the beauty of immediately knowing what key the song is in and quickly dive into a sweet and soulful pentatonic solo. This is a skill you need to master in order to use the scale.

Now to throw in some twists. Here’s a variation of the A-minor pentatonic scale with a different “shape”. It sounds the same, though.


Figure 3 – The minor pentatonic scale: with sliding notes

Here’s the first scale shown in this column, but with some “extra notes”, which gives it a more bluesy feel. You’ll notice that there are half-step runs on the fifth and third strings, or chromatic.


Figure 4 – The minor pentatonic scale: with flat fifths

This is another variation of the A-minor pentatonic scale, similar to the previous one, but with the chromatic runs in different locations of the scale. You’ll hear this scale shift from minor to major during these runs. Very bluesy, indeed.


Figure 5 – The minor pentatonic scale: with sharpened thirds

Now, the following variation of the A-minor pentatonic scale has “extra notes” almost everywhere. This example will give you ideas about where to add color, flavor and texture to the scale.


Figure 6 – The minor pentatonic scale: with chromatic embellishment

Here’s the finger/fret distribution of the previous scale:

String 5th fret 6th fret 7th fret 8th fret
1 1 3 4
2 1 3 4
3 1 2 3
4 1 2 3
5 1 2 3
6 1 4


Figure 7 – The minor pentatonic scale “box” (variation)

As a more advanced example, here is a downward run using the A-minor pentatonic scale using a series of hammer-ons, pull-offs and “extra notes”.


Figure 8 – The minor pentatonic scale: application example

Thanks for tuning in, and keep on rocking!

Little Jazz Link Monster

​Carlos Lichman is a guitar player from Porto Alegre, Brazil, since 1996. He’s played in many rock, progressive and heavy metal bands in nightclubs all around Rio Grande do Sul State.

He recorded the “Wake up the Dragons” album with Neverland (heavy metal). This album was praised by many Brazilian magazines. However, one year later, Neverland’s members stopped playing together.

Playing with many musicians from his city, Carlos began to arrange the songs for his first solo demo in December 2002.

This demo CD is called “Planet Rock” and it has 2 songs. The first one is Planet Rock – a speed metal song, with many variations of key. The second one is Embroiled in Squabbles!! – A hard rock song, that sounds like Mr. Big with captivating guitar riffs and blues links.

This demo has the intention of contacting record companies, magazines, and radio stations for support for the recording of Carlos Lichman’s CD-debut. However, in little time of launching the Compact disc comes obtaining great compliments in the musical world, Carlos Lichman was prominent artist, junho/2003, on Engloba Music web site, beside great names of Brazilian music, as Marcos De Ros (Brazilian guitarist) and Aquiles Prister (Angra’s Drummer).

After the release of the Planet Rock demo, Carlos has been arranging new songs for his first album and He is producing his first instructional guitar video.

Carlos teaches guitar lessons, workshops, does gigs, writes columns for the Guitar-Heroes web site (France), The Shred Zone (USA), Guitar Lessons Pro (USA), Rod Goelz (USA), Insane Guitar (USA) and Guitar Rock (Canada).

“Really Bad Day” Lick

Hello people!!! Are you ok? Well, I think you always want to improve your alternate picking.

This exercise was taken from my song “really bad dad”. I play this part in “A major” and it’s a very good exercise for alternate picking.

Pay attention you, need to jump from string 3 to string 1 during all exercise. Paul Gilbert does it a lot in his songs.

I hope you enjoy it.