Breaking Out Of The Boxes

author: RyanTS2 date: 09/27/2012 category: guitar techniques
rating: 7.9 / votes: 40 
Breaking Out Of The Boxes
Hello, UG Community! This is my first column, so I'd like to begin by thanking you for reading. I hope you'll find something applicable in the following: When I had advanced enough in my musical development on the guitar, I realized I was growing bored and frustrated with the same old minor shapes, particularly pentatonic boxes (figure 1). If this sounds familiar to some of you, I'm not surprised; guitarists from all walks of life and musical inclinations remember some point where they felt their playing sounded stale or uninteresting. Many of these musicians find a way out of these ruts, often in the form of learning some new scale shape or applying techniques like sweeping and tapping.

Figure 1: example of an E minor pentatonic box.


e]-------------------------------------------------------------12--15--------
B]-------------------------------------------------12--15--------------------
G]---------------------------------------12--14------------------------------
D]----------------------------12--14-----------------------------------------
A]----------------12--15-----------------------------------------------------
E]----12--15-----------------------------------------------------------------
When I got to that point, I tried to discover the source of my musical frustrations. I found that I had created a sort of safety zone for my soloing that was locking me into these minor pentatonic boxes, and at the center of that safety zone was my tendency to go straight for the root of the minor of whatever key I happened to be in. By starting off a lick with the root, my natural tendency to finish it out with the familiar box pattern took over. I resolved that I would approach soloing by avoiding the root entirely while still in that key. Instead, I focused on the second degree of the natural minor scale, a note not present in the minor pentatonic but one which can add more a bit more depth and exoticism to a standard I - IV - V progression (common in blues and rock contexts). One of the easiest ways to apply any new scale is to play it in three-notes-per-string sequences, so I built an ascending lick out of the second, the third (minor), fourth of the root on the sixth string, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh of the root on the fifth string. Then, I would simply jump up an octave to the fourth and third strings (playing the same scalar degrees on each string respective to the pattern used on the sixth and fifth strings), finally moving up one more octave onto the second and first strings (once again following the same convention). The resulting shape should resemble the Locrian mode. Whew! Thanks for bearing with me through all the description. For your reward, I present you with the following visual aid. Say we were playing in the key of E minor; the approach I discussed would give you the following lick up the neck (figure 2):

Figure 2


e]---------------------------------------------------------------7---8---10
B]----------------------------------------------------7---8---10-----------
G]-----------------------------------------4---5---7-----------------------
D]-----------------------------4---5---7-----------------------------------
A]--------------2---3---5--------------------------------------------------
E]--2---3---5--------------------------------------------------------------

    F#  G   A   B   C   D  (Sequence repeats every other string.)          
What's nice about this sort of run is that you can apply at least three different techniques to it while playing. Let's assume you played the above using alternate picking. You could apply some legato on each string, picking the first note and hammering onto the second and third (figure 3):

Figure 3


e]-----------------------------------------------------------7-h-8-h-10
B]-----------------------------------------------7-h-8-h-10------------
G]------------------------------------4-h-5-h-7------------------------
D]------------------------4-h-5-h-7------------------------------------
A]-------------2-h-3-h-5-----------------------------------------------
E]-2-h-3-h-5-----------------------------------------------------------
... or utilize pull-offs playing the lick in a descending fashion (figure 4):

Figure 4


e]-10-p-8-p-7--------------------------------------------------------------
B]-------------10-p-8-p-7--------------------------------------------------
G]-------------------------7-p-5-p-4---------------------------------------
D]------------------------------------7-p-5-p-4----------------------------
A]------------------------------------------------5-p-3-p-2-----------------
E]-----------------------------------------------------------------5-p-3-p-2
And for the more adventurous players out there, you can tap it out (figure 5):

Figure 5


          T           T         T          T          T             T 
e]----------------------------------------------------------7-h-8-h-10
B]--------------------------------------------7-h-8-h-10--------------
G]---------------------------------4-h-5-h-7--------------------------
D]----------------------4-h-5-h-7-------------------------------------
A]------------2-h-3-h-5-----------------------------------------------
E]-2-h-3-h-5----------------------------------------------------------

   T           T          T          T          T           T            
e]-10-p-8-p-7------------------------------------------------------------
B]-------------10-p-8-p-7------------------------------------------------
G]----------------------- 7-p-5-p-4--------------------------------------
D]-----------------------------------7-p-5-p-4---------------------------
A]----------------------------------------------5-p-3-p-2----------------
E]----------------------------------------------------------5-p-3-p-2----
So there you have it: three licks for the price of one! The idea is simple, but utilizing different scalar degrees can really help you move around the neck while breaking out of root-based box shapes. Applying different picking techniques to these extended shapes can add new dimensions to your lead work, enabling you to explore these ideas in dozens of ways all over the fretboard. Thanks again for reading. Please let me know in the comments if you found the content of this column useful. If the feedback is positive, I'll post another column in the near future.
More RyanTS2 lessons:
+ Guitar Phrasing: Step by Step Soloing 01/23/2014
+ Powers Of 4: Developing 4-String Sweeps Guitar Techniques 04/04/2013
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