Mixed Scale Runs: Picking + Legato

Blast through your scale runs and create subtle texture differences in sound by mixing picking and legato. While there's little more satisfying than a perfectly executed alternate picking run, I'm a huge fan of injecting legato into the mix. Why? I believe there are two reasons:

Play faster sooner

I realised as a beginner (and struggling with alternate picking) that I could drastically increase my scale run speed by picking some notes and using hammerons & pulloffs to hit others. It gave my picking hand just enough of a rest during the legato sections to keep up.

It sounds great

I also realised that the mixture of percussive, picked notes and fluid smooth notes created a subtle yet pleasing sound difference throughout scale runs. See what I mean by giving this quick scale section a go, ascending and descending in C Major:

As abstract as this comparison is, I would compare the mixing of legato and picking to how a sparrow flies. If you've ever seen one flying overhead you may have noticed that they flap for a second or two and then tuck in their wings and fall for a moment, and then flap again, and fall again.
This is how picking + legato feels for me.
It makes me feel like a sparrow =|

Here's a brutal Jeff Loomis style shred lick using the technique!

 

 

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Introduction to 3-notes-per-string scale sequences

The following scale shape is the Aeolian mode, otherwise known as the natural minor, the full minor, the minor scale and so on. I firmly believe that the 3-note-per-string scale shapes are the only modal scale shapes needed. Box shapes are unnecessary and cumbersome to work with, especially when trying to gain speed or eloquently sequence scales.

Sequencing the scale

Sequencing the minor scale is no different to sequencing the minor pentatonic scale. The pattern of notes simply follows the sequence chosen. Here are two somewhat challenging yet useful sequences:

LINEAR 4ths

This is the name I personally gave this sequence. Other than that I suppose one could call it the “Up 4, back 1 sequence”.

Ascending:

Descending:

SKIPPED 3rds

This is a very common sequence. Otherwise known as "diatonic thirds". Once you’ve become familiar with it, you’ll start noticing it everywhere in music. It’s difficult to articulate as the notes are “skipped”. Skipped sequences are typically harder to play than so called “linear” ones, so don’t aim for speed with such sequences straight away.

The “skipped 3rds” sequence goes like this: Skip up a 3rd, back down 1.

Ascending:

Descending:

Sequence mixing

This next example showcases how sequences can be mixed together within a scale to create interesting musical passages.

In A minor (Aeolian):

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Clean Up Your Alternate Picking

A hugely under discussed aspect of alternate picking is that of picking hand imbalance and the trouble it can cause.

Alternate picking is when notes are executed by the picking hand in an alternating manner - a downstroke followed by an upstroke followed by a downstroke and so on. For whatever reason, players often tend to be far better at downstrokes than they are at upstrokes. And, if one picking direction is favored then a picking imbalance will be encountered.

Let's dive right into exercise No. 1 to combat this.
Exercise 1

Take this chromatic exercise. It's 4 repeating notes played with alternate picking. Accent (pick hard) every downstroke. And now...
Exercise 2

Try the exact same thing but accenting every upstroke instead.

Did you find one exercise easier than the other? Whichever one you found to be a little harder - practice that one far more than the other. Working on our weaknesses makes us strong, and in the context of these 2 exercises, working on our weaker pickstroke will bring us balance.

The other area of alternate picking which is prone to imbalances is string crossing (playing a note on one string and then switching to another to continue playing). There are 4 ways to cross a string: Outside picking away from you, outside picking towards you, inside picking away from you, and inside picking towards you. Here is a graphic to explain what I mean:

String crossing is the biggest hurdle when it comes to fast, accurate, multi-string picking runs, and all 4 of these string crosses need to be mastered evenly. If even one of these aren't as good as the other 3 then you will be imbalanced and severely restricted.

And so I designed a short, repeating exercise to address this. The exercise includes all 4 string crosses. You will feel what I mean the moment you try it!
Exercise 3

Here is the video for the final exercise with in depth explanation:

 

 

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The Mystical Romanian Scale

Try something new and check out the Romanian scale! The Romanian scale is actually the 4th mode of the harmonic minor scale. It has a rich and exotic sound when played and features the following intervals: Root, 2nd, minor 3rd, sharp 4th, 5th, 6th and flat 7th.

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Three-Note-Per-String Blues Scale Patterns

As we know, the blues scale is a fundamental scale learned rather early on. Perhaps for this reason, it is widely thought of as a beginner's tool. This is not the case! Not only can the blues scale be used to create some of the most slick/emotional blues solos, it can also be visualised and played as a 3nps scale. This allows for further sequencing opportunities, huge fretboard coverage and opens up a whole new world of wild, flashy and wide-interval legato/ tapping licks (if that's your thing).

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Improve Your Legato

In this short study I’ve prepared probably one of the most useful legato exercises I can think of, some technique pointers to keep in mind, and a long run for you to work on.

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