One of my absolute favorite things about the guitar is its capacity to be a puzzle and a game. As complex as the fretboard is, there are a ton of simple rules that can unlock your capacity to create cool and unique ideas without a ton of effort. I love coming up with limitations for how I can play and then setting out to solve the riddles, making music and stretching my brain in the process. In this way a single lick can turn into a whole “family” of ideas, more conceptual, but accessible to all of us who are looking to not play the same licks over and over again.
I am a horrible drummer. Even so, I love to sit at a kit with sticks in my hands and try to make things happen. While my technique is poor, my concept of rhythm and time continually inform and elevate my guitar playing. One helpful rudiment is a basic sticking technique that all drummers learn called the paradiddle. It’s an eightbeat combination of left- and right-hand sticking. The basic pattern is: RLRRLRLL. Try tapping it out with your hands on your legs at an even tempo to get a sense of it.
So let’s drop this paradiddle concept onto the guitar. The idea transfers easily from two hands to two notes or two strings. I’m using the A minor pentatonic scale for simplicity. In Ex. 1a you see the pattern represented as two notes, G and A, both on the same string. Turn on a metronome and give it a shot in eighth-notes at a slow tempo. Ex. 1b is the same notes but now on two adjacent strings. Work with these two beginning examples until you start to feel the alternating pattern naturally—without thinking about it.
In Ex. 2a we will apply this concept in a more advanced way, moving all the way up the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth position. Bar 1 is the pattern on the E and A strings, bar 2 the D and G strings, bar 3 the B and E strings. Ex. 2b is the same exact thing but in triplets. Notice how much harder that is, but so interesting in the way the eight-note pattern gyrates across a rhythmic cycle of three. And don’t stop there. Try it with sixteenth-notes and beyond.
A descending version of this idea is found in Ex 3. Notice again how the one-bar pattern on two strings just repeats itself with each new pair of strings. Try to take just take one bar and integrate it into your playing. Use it as a way to connect other licks. Try it in different positions of the pentatonic scale if you know them (and if you don’t know them, learn them by checking out Jesse Gress’ Fretboard Recipes column from the 2/15 issue).
To make this concept much more exciting, these last two figures will really get you moving fast across the fretboard. Ex. 4a incorporates alternating slides on the first and second strings. Ex. 4b has us navigating the same idea, but now on the G and B strings and therefore a little different in terms of fingerings and note spacing. The most heroic of ideas, Ex. 5, forces you to do quick position changes without the slides. I wrote it in sixteenth-notes to inspire you. Remember that slow and steady wins the race in music… and always practice with a metronome and take as much time as you need to get these lines flowing, clean, and soulful. Happy practicing. I’m sure you can come up with a ton of cool variations on this concept.
Matthew Charles Heulitt has worked with Narada Michael Walden, Zigaboo Modeliste, and the band MoeTar. MoeTar’s latest release is Entropy of the Century [Magna Carta].