This is something I do to keep myself out of ruts, and to escape CNS, or Cliched Noodling Syndrome. I tend to think I'm not the only one prone to letting my fingers play what they will, so I thought I'd share this idea.

I wanted a way to practice and combine various techniques in ways that weren't necessarily obvious to me, so this is what I did: I grabbed a hat of mine that I never wear, and I took a piece of A4(standard) printer paper. I drew lines on the paper so that I had 16 equal sized rectangles arranged four rectangles long and four rectangles wide. A4 paper is 8-1/2" by 11", so each piece was 2-1/8" wide and 2-3/4" long. I cut them out so I had my 16 pieces. I folded each of these in half, top to bottom.

Now that the technical part is out of the way: From here, I wrote down a technique or theoretical suggestion on the inside of each folded piece, and put them in the hat. Every day, I take three pieces of paper out of the hat, and try to create a riff, melody, or lick based on those techniques combined.

Though many of these combinations have been used before, they are likely beyond what your fingers will do on their own, and you may find some very cool sounds. With the goal of each day being to create something musical with the techniques, you can create something as technically advanced or simple as you like, as long as it sounds good to you.

For an interesting example, let's say you picked out of the hat these three techniques: Finger-picking, artificial harmonics, and alternate time signature(of your choice, any time signature outside of 4/4).

So what do you have here? Well, as I discovered from getting this myself, you can sound pinched harmonics with your thumb plucking the string as your index finger touches the harmonic node, so that's something I hadn't thought of before. Using your fingers also lends itself to drum harmonics, commonly used in the acoustic playing of Michael Hedges(among many other acoustic virtuosos), which are sounded by slapping the side of your finger against the string an octave up from where you're fretting notes on the fretboard. Finally, using an alternate time signature(for example, 5/4), you have your technical palette.

You're all, of course, free to come up with 16 things of your own to put on each piece of paper. However, I think some of you might ask me for the 16 things I put down, so I'll preemptively answer that. Here's my list:

Mechanical Techniques
1. Palm-Muting
2. Tapping
3. Legato(and fretting-hand tapping)
4. Sweep-picking
5. String-skipping
6. Finger-picking
7. Harmonics(Natural harmonics, ariticial/pinch harmonics, drum harmonics, harp harmonics)

Expressive Techniques
8. Slides
9. Trills
10. String bends/vibrato(half-step and whole-step bends, pre-bends, vibrato, etc)
11. String bends/vibrato(whole-step bends and greater, such as two steps, or even three, and anything inbetween, again with pre-bends and vibrato, etc)

Theory-based Technique
12. Augmented scale(5, 6, 7, and 8 note scales; learn a new one each time you get this card! Examples: Harmonic minor, Hirajoshi, Whole-tone)
13. Augmented time signature(From as simple as 3/4 or 5/4 to kooky like 13/16, and 17/32)
14. "Outside" notes(chromatic notes outside the chosen scale)
15. Odd-note groupings/polyrhythms(fitting 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, etc. notes to a given beat/beats)
16. Double-stops(two notes played at the same time; make use of the intervallic possibilities of chosen or given scale)

Feel free to ask me questions about this. I'm sure a common thought would be "Why string bends twice? Was he that desperate for a last thing to fill all 16 cards?" But no, it's because I think people usually stick to half and whole step bends, so being forced to use bends greater than that will get you thinking outside of the box.

Another question might be "Why something so basic as palm muting?" Ever tried palm-muting while tapping? You can do it, and it's worth messing with(use your forearm/elbow/upper arm till you find a clear tone). So experiment!

You can always add more to your hat of techniques! Anyone have suggestions for other techniques/stuff to put in the hat? Tailor your hat to your style of playing, but also tailor outside of your style, broaden your horizons! Post anything not on this list already. Alternate tunings might be extreme, but it's an idea. So is using a slide.


Here's a lick to look at. I wrote this based on these three techniques: Legato, odd-note groupings, and large bends. The harmony chords are also shown. The bends will take practice, as will the odd-note groupings, but hey, that's what this is all about right? The lick over the harmony sounds very satisfying.

This next one's a riff in G minor:

This riff came out of the combination of double stops, tapping, and slides. In keeping with the spirit of this lesson, combining techniques and not simply just adding several together in one lick or riff, all the tapped notes are double-stops, some with slides.

That's what I came up with while writing this. Legato and bending tend to lend themselves toward licks, as double stops favor riffs. So be original! Decide to use the legato and bends for a rhythmic riff, and those double stops for lead lines. Keep experimenting.

Happy guitaring, and good luck!

Member #3 of the "I play my guitar as high as Tom Morello does" club.
thats a pretty cool idea i'll try it

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Wow! This is a very good idea. Most of the time I work on techniques individually but have trouble hooking them all up, this should help with that.