Rusty Cooley’s Supersonic Single-String Triads

Major and minor triads—we don’t always think of these innocuous, nursery-rhyme-simple harmonic clusters as building blocks of a molten metal cadenza. But in the hands of Rusty Cooley, diatonic triads pick up where Eddie Van Halen’s soaring, triad-based solo break on “Ice Cream Man” left off and launch full-throttle up into the farthest sonic reaches of the shredosphere. The trick is to play each triad on a single string—and fast.

In the key of E minor, you’ll often hear Cooley playing blistering runs of sky-high diatonic triads that start no lower than the 15th fret of each string [Ex. 1]. “The first thing to do is get used to the shapes,” says Cooley. “Each triad starts on the 3 of the chord, and the root is always at the 24th fret, and is the same note as the open string two octaves below,” says Cooley. “For example, on either of the E strings, the Em triad starts on the 3, G, at the 15th fret; hits the 5, B, at the 19th fret; and tags the root, E, up at the 24th fret.”

There are a number of ways to play single-string triads. Cooley suggests starting by picking the first note and hammering the two that follow [Ex. 2]. Next, apply the same tactic starting on the highest pitch and descending using pull-offs [Ex. 3]. Or, pick the lowest note and ascend and descend legato through the other two [Ex. 4]. Last but not least, practice picking every note [Ex. 5], and, of course, practice all four approaches on every string.

“The real excitement begins when you burn through all six triads in a row,” says Cooley, tearing through the single-string arpeggios so savagely fast it could humble Niccoló Paganini. “When I’m ascending, I pick only the lowest note of each triad and hammer the other two. Descending, I play the same pattern of notes in reverse, but entirely legato, all the way down.”

One of Cooley’s favorite modes of attack is to descend through all six triads using a five-note pattern on the first string followed by a seven-note pattern on each string that follows [Ex. 6]. “That gives this descent a less predictable sound,” says Cooley. (For clarity, the phrase is presented with no time signature so the notes can be beamed separately for each string.)