STRING SKIPPING In a range of styles
Playing on non-adjacent strings can make you sound surprising and sophisticated. And it’s not just a rock thing, as Richard Barrett ably shows.
As aspiring soloists, we guitarists are given plenty of advice involving the learning or practising of scales, or perhaps playing melodic lines to polish our skills, if we’re not quite so ‘academically’ inclined. Though all of these approaches are absolutely sound – and structured lines are arguably an essential part of any solo, they don’t take account of the fact that intervallic skips can play a very important role in melodic development. Intervals that may not always fall easily under the fingers, but sound natural to the listener - who may not play guitar, but appreciates a great melody or solo.
The approach I have taken in this article is to presume some scale knowledge; primarily the five Pentatonic shapes and the Major and Minor scales, both ‘in position’ in various locations on the fretboard, and in a more linear fashion along a single string. It’s not that you would need to go and study these scales before being able to learn or use these examples, but it is undeniably useful to have some sort of context to base ourselves on, or the range of possibilities is somewhat daunting. The trick (if there ever truly is one) is not to become subservient to patterns, systems or conventions (unless they make you particularly happy). Even then, it would be wise to keep an open mind – most people’s playing develops in phases, and favourite licks can come and go. Sometimes it’s when we play uncharacteristic things and take risks that we listen back and feel surprisingly pleased with what we hear. On other occasions, we might feel certain that we’ve absolutely nailed it, only to listen back and be strangely uninspired. Either way, it will have been a learning experience – so if you don’t regularly record yourself improvising, start today. It doesn’t need to be high quality, as the recordings would be purely for your reference. And if you’re really serious about raising your game, use a metronome, drum machine or beatbox to give yourself a rhythmic structure. It’s far too easy to be forgiving when you’re able to shift the tempo freely.
You’ll notice that some of these examples incorporate some very wide jumps across the strings. All but the simultaneously picked notes are possible with regular alternate style picking, though there are definite advantages to hybrid or fingerpicking; more on this later. The 12 examples are designed to show a range of possibilities, skipping one, two, three or even four strings. You will notice that wider jumps result in more unusual and non-linear phrases, though there are correspondingly fewer possibilities if we limit ourselves purely to playing four strings apart. These ideas are designed to become a part of your style, rather than a replacement for the more conventional approach. The two example solos aim to show a few string skipping ideas in context, firstly in a rock style, then taking a leaf out of Steve Howe’s book with a much cleaner tone and a more ‘prog rock’ feel . All the exercises can work over either backing track. I hope you enjoy them!
theSe IdeaS are deSIgned to become a part of your Style, not a replacement for the more conventIonal playIng approach