Chromatic Patterns

The usual mathematical model of showing all possible combinations of using all four fretting fingers once each in a sequence looks like this:

1. 1-2-3-4
2. 1-2-4-3
3. 1-3-2-4
4. 1-3-4-2
5. 1-4-2-3
6. 1-4-3-2
7. 2-1-3-4
8. 2-1-4-3
9. 2-3-1-4
10. 2-3-4-1
11. 2-4-1-3
12. 2-4-3-1
13. 3-1-2-4
14. 3-1-4-2
15. 3-2-1-4
16. 3-2-4-1
17. 3-4-1-2
18. 3-4-2-1
19. 4-1-2-3
20. 4-1-3-2
21. 4-2-1-3
22. 4-2-3-1
23. 4-3-1-2
24. 4-3-2-1

The table is handy, but not very easy to memorize for practicing. As you practice fingerings across multiple strings and up and down the neck, you’ll see that half of the patterns are mirror images of each other. So you can simplify the number of patterns by pairing them up and organizing them like this:

Ascending Descending
1.    1 – 2 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
2.    1 – 2 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 2 – 1
3.    1 – 3 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 3 – 1
4.    1 – 3 – 4 – 2 2 – 4 – 3 – 1
5.    1 – 4 – 2 – 3 3 – 2 – 4 – 1
6.    1 – 4 – 3 – 2 2 – 3 – 4 – 1
7.    2 – 1 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 1 – 2
8.    2 – 1 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 1 – 2
9.    2 – 3 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 3 – 2
10. 2 – 4 – 1 – 3 3 – 1 – 4 – 2
11. 3 – 1 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 1 – 3
12. 3 – 2 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 2 – 3

Sample exercises and patterns corresponding to the first pair of fingerings are provided, so you can plug all the other pairs in accordingly. Run them across all strings, up and down the neck, forward and backward. Stick with standard down-up-down-up alternate picking until you get comfortable with all the pairs, then try up-down-up-down and legato (hammer-ons and pull-offs). Refer to the main chart of symmetrical ascending/descending patterns for additional practice.

Remember: the point of these chromatic-style practice patterns is to promote finger independence, and to facilitate moving patterns across strings and up and down the neck. They are not intended to be musical, but can definitely have musical uses. Use your imagination, mix and match patterns and timings, develop your own variations – and most of all, have fun with it.

To introduce ideas and patterns for exercises and how to apply them, we’ll use the following terms to describe the basic elements:

  • Cell – refers to the pattern at its most basic level, usually within a single position.
  • Loop – playing the pattern repeatedly in position.
  • Run – moving the pattern up and back several (at least 4) positions or strings, and back.

These are the building blocks for all the exercises presented in this book. When learning any new piece or exercise, it’s always best to take it a segment at a time, then put it all together.

Single-String Patterns
Let’s take a look at patterns that occur on one string. We can then move them up and down the neck, and then across the neck on the other strings. We’ll start with the first pair of fingerings in the table on page 7. The cell for the ascending fingering [1-2-3-4] looks like this:

The cell itself is the 1-2-3-4 16th-note combination; the quarter note after the phrase is primarily a place-holder, but also allows you to get the hang of the fingering, and bring it up to speed. Now try moving on to the loop:

Play this one at a comfortable tempo, to where it’s a continuous, seamless flow of notes. Gradually raise the tempo until you can no longer play it perfectly. Make a note of this maximum tempo. Now we’re going to move the pattern up and back a few positions on the neck:

As with the loop, play the run at a manageable rate of speed, gradually raising the tempo until it is no longer perfect. Now take a look at that final tempo, and compare it to what you ended with for the loop. Ideally, the “maximum run tempo” should be equal to the “maximum loop tempo,” but if it is less than that, then exercises that address position-shifting should be an emphasis of your warm-up and practice routines. (This principle will also apply to string-crossing.)

For the full exercise, run the pattern from the 1st position up to the 12th and back on the low E (6th) string. Then do the same thing on the other five strings.

Now, let’s look at the descending part of our #1 fingering pair, starting with the cell:

Now the loop:

And finally the run:

As with the ascending pattern, run this up and back, from 1st to 12th frets, on each string.
Hopefully the “cell/loop/run” format outlined here serves as a useful template for you in breaking exercises and drills down into more manageable chunks, working on those chunks at comfortable tempos, and then putting them all together into one coherent piece.

In the next post, we’ll go over some ideas on combining ascending and descending patterns.

Octave Exercise

Inspiration for developing new melodic exercises can come from just about anywhere. I was recently listening to the new Megadeth album, which I’ve listened to plenty of times over the past few months since it came out. In the track Post-American World, I paid extra attention to one of the middle solos, and heard a nice octave run connecting an arpeggio-based melody. I hadn’t caught that previously, so of course I had to work out the notes and devise some exercises. Wider intervals tend to have a more “modern” sound to them that can add a different flavor to your melodic playing.

The simplest way to play two notes an octave apart is with a string between the two notes, which makes alternate picking more challenging. Well, that’s why we develop exercises, right? Let’s take a look at the A minor (C major) scale in octaves:


The octave notes are grouped together in the above example, but play them separately as well, using strict alternate picking. Try as many combinations as you can think of — start with the low note, start with the high note, with an upstroke, a downstroke. Take it slow, use a metronome, and observe carefully your picking hand motion as you cross over the B string in each direction. The real challenge is in economizing the height and distance that your picking hand moves, while not hitting the B string.

This example is very similar to the run in the Megadeth solo:


The cool thing about these sorts of exercises is that the possibilities are practically endless:  you can start from the lower note (“L”) of the octave instead of the higher note (“H”), you can start adding sharps and flats and go through the circle of fifths, go up the neck as well as down the neck, try other string pairs, etc.

Now let’s try the same exercise with melodic displacement. If the above pattern could be noted “HHLL”, then this next one would be “HLLH”, with the lower octave notes between the higher ones.


This is definitely more challenging as far as alternate picking goes, but what’s cool is the way it goes against what your ear tends to expect out of this type of melody, with the back-and-forth melodic contour.

Let’s try the run with triplet notes, in “LLH” and then “HHL” sequences:


As you get more comfortable working with all of these exercises and position shifts, start working in things such as slides, palm muting, artificial harmonics, etc.

Here’s another melodic displacement variation (LHL-HLH) for the triplet run:


Stick with the alternate picking, even though it might seem more difficult at first. Again, pay close attention to the range of motion your picking hand takes as it skips the B string.

This next one will be a little more fun, allowing for more “vocalisms” from the guitar:


Instead of alternate picking every single note, use the slides on the high E string to your advantage, so you’re only picking the first two notes of each three-note phrase as it descends the scale. Try palm-muting or artificial harmonics on some or all of the notes on the G string. This is very similar to the classic Dimebag Darrell run in the breakdown after the solo of Cowboys from Hell.

To close out this exercise, let’s try a full run down the neck, combining the first two phrases through multiple (non-adjacent) string pairs:


As always, work the patterns through as many string combinations as possible, go through the circle of fifths, etc. If you have any inconsistencies in your picking-hand motion you want to work on, this is a really useful way to do that, plus the more “modern” sound of the octave interval melodies.

Below are links for a full PDF of all the examples, plus a WAV file set at 120 bpm. Good luck!

Octave Exercise

Melodic Warm-up Exercise

Here’s a cool 16-bar run I’ve been using a lot lately for a warmup exercise. It focuses on a couple of important techniques, gets your hands moving quickly, and gives your ears something to listen to besides straight scales and chromatics. Let’s break it down into two sections.

First things first:  the entire piece is in sextuplets, in 6/8 time. As always, every note should be alternate-picked until you feel like you’ve mastered the progression at a decent tempo, at which point you can and should experiment with the usual dynamics (especially palm-muting and legato). Usually with a warmup piece you don’t really worry so much about using a metronome and keeping strict tempo, but for this piece it would probably help to use one at first, again to the point that you feel comfortable with the progression and techniques.

The piece breaks down into two main sections, six and ten bars respectively. Let’s break down the first six-bar section:

Bars 1-4


This is a six-note motif, with the root note descending chromatically against a repeated C-D-D#-D-C line, until bar 4, where the 5-note line played against the root becomes C-D-C-F#-C and the picking scheme changes substantially from having that F# note played on the D string instead of the G string. Take that 4th bar slowly at first, until the slight difference in picking sequence feels comfortable.

Bars 5-6 (see above)

One of my favorite melodic maneuvers, ascending triads using chromatic inversions. This sequence essentially functions as the melodic “bridge” between the two main sections. Check the chord implications throughout the piece, and use them for ideas for your own study pieces, progressions, or songs.

Bars 7-10


The rest of the piece is string skipping, so if you’re not comfortable with that technique, you should be fluent with it after mastering this short piece. Bars 7 and 9 are identical, and 8 and 10 are symmetrical, as diminished triads repeat every three frets, and are musically enharmonic. That’s why in bar 10 the arpeggio is shown as C#° (A#°/G°/E°), as it is technically all four of those things, because of the symmetrical nature of the diminished scale.

Bars 11-16

mw03 mw04

The string-skipping progression continues chromatically in bars 11-12, before heading into a “classical” cycle-of-fifths (E-B-D-A-C-G) progression in bars 13-15, before resolving on the B in the final bar. The stretches in bar 12 are wide, and a simple alternative to that is shown below. It can be either alternate or sweep picked; obviously, I would suggest you try both.


As always, get the progression comfortable under your fingers, increase the tempo, try various guitar dynamics, and especially throw in some melodic and harmonic changes of your own. As long as it sounds good, warms up your hands and ears, and gets you working on specific techniques, it’s good. Have fun!

Fun With Triads: Anastasia

“Rock guitar” is obviously a pretty broad, subjective spectrum. Blues, country, metal, and even jazz contribute to how each of us perceives that category. But virtually any rock player (or any style player) should check out the Slash tribute documentary, Raised on the Sunset Strip.

Beyond the expected accolades from his peers and (former and current) bandmates, what emerges is a profile of someone who is happiest when playing the guitar, who probably can’t conceive of doing anything else. That’s pretty awesome, and is the ultimate goal for just about any player, to be able to make a living at it so you can play all the time.

Slash famously insists that he knows very little music theory, and has no formal practice routine, he just works around in the major and minor scales and blues boxes, plays patterns and things that sound good to him. He’s probably the best contemporary example of a great player who is able to play anything he wants, purely by ear and feel. Tone, taste, and technique all combine for a powerful, passionate style.

We’ve taken a look at the technical aspects of the classic Sweet Child o’ Mine intro riff, which Slash developed as a practice exercise. Let’s take a look at another great melodic intro riff of his, from Slash’s 2012 release. The song Anastasia starts with an almost flamenco-flavored acoustic melody, essentially finger-picking the chord progression, which is in the key of D minor (yes, the saddest of all keys). See tab below:


Notice the suggested fingerpicking (p=thumb; i=index; m=middle; a=ring finger). Try it also with a “hybrid” approach (pick and fingers), like this:


The picking does not have to be strictly down-up alternating, also try economy picking (in the same direction on adjacent strings), or starting with an upstroke. As the chords are arpeggiated down and then back up, the main goal is to make sure the sound is smooth and steadily “rolling” back and forth.

This progression is very similar to that of the Ozzy/Randy Rhoads classic Mr. Crowley. If you already know some or all of the classic solos to that song, it may help you get a feel for this one.

Let’s check out a couple of “exotic” scales that can be used to add a little spice to these types of progressions.

The Harmonic Minor Scale and the Spanish Phrygian Mode
Remember that there is more than one minor scale. Usually the natural minor (R 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7, in Dm: D E F G A B♭ C) is used for solos and melodies. But the harmonic minor (R 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6  7, in Dm: D E F G A B♭ C#), which does not flatten the 7th, has a slightly more exotic sound which lends itself well to more “Spanish”-sounding melodies. Anastasia is one of those songs, so having a handle on the harmonic minor scale will pay off huge melodic benefits here. Just one note of difference, but you can really hear it:


As always, it’s a huge help in navigating the fretboard to map out scales in as many positions as possible. The first example stays within the 5th position, while the second example starts in the 10th position and travels up and along the neck, ending a full three octaves higher on the 22nd fret of the high E string. Learning the positional “boxes” and then connecting them is the key to fretboard mobility.

Try out this cool scalar lick based on the harmonic minor scale, designed to go back and forth through several positional areas of the neck:


The phrase in the final bar will be slightly tricky at first, but that “slide and stretch” move will pay off in developing your own wide-interval melodic licks. Throw in all the cool guitar vocalisms where applicable — palm muting, legato, artificial harmonics, vibrato, etc.

Where the natural minor scale is also a mode (Aeolian) of the major scale, the harmonic minor scale is its own scale, which means it has its own modes. (Refer to the free printable Modes cheat sheet for more information on how modes are derived from scales.)

One of the coolest modes around is the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale. It has that quintessential “classical” feel, and has been popularized over the years by players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, and Yngwie Malmsteen. It is commonly referred to as the “Spanish Phrygian” or “Phrygian natural 3rd (♮ 3)” mode. To play the fifth mode of the D harmonic minor scale, you start from the fifth degree of that scale, which is A:


Knowing how to spell scales and modes intervallically makes it easier to transpose them to other keys. The tab above, while derived from the D harmonic minor scale, would be called A Spanish Phrygian, since A is the root note of the mode. It still plays over D minor just fine, but the D Spanish Phrygian would be a slightly different animal.

So here is how to spell the Spanish Phrygian in terms of intervals:  R ♭2 3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7. Remember, all of those flats are in relation to the major scale.

So now to spell out the notes for D Spanish Phrygian, we take the notes of the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#) and flatten the 2nd (E), 6th (B), 7th (C#), resulting in this: D E♭ F# G A B♭ C. Check the tab below:


Both examples stay strictly within position. If you’re feeling adventurous, map the this mode out along multiple positions, like we did earlier with the harmonic minor scale, and develop melodic licks from the notes of the mode. Stay strictly within the note range of the mode before adding “passing tones” or “outside notes”. That’s the best way to train your ears to the “flavor” of any mode or scale.

Here’s another sample lick that takes you through the notes and positions:


Quick rundown of the techniques deployed in the lick:  first bar ascends through the mode in thirds; second bar uses pedal point for melodic development before a short ascending transition into the third bar, which features descending arpeggios before landing on a B♭ note (6th degree of the mode). Definitely try sweep picking on those arpeggios in the last two bars, palm muting and artificial harmonics on the pedal point in the second bar, palm muting on the first bar, etc.

Use all those vocalisms judiciously; like a master chef preparing a special dish, you try this spice and that spice until you find the right combination, you don’t throw everything in all at once.

Record a simple one- or two-chord vamp in D minor, and practice all three of the scales (D natural minor, D harmonic minor, D Spanish Phrygian). Listen closely to the differences between them, as well as the similarities.

All of the above examples and techniques are to provide some background and ideas to apply in learning the Anastasia riff. That’s the best way to learn any song and make it your own, rather than merely parroting the notes.

Back to the Song
From that soft intro the band kicks in, with Slash retracing that Dm chord progression, this time with a really cool pedal point ascending triad sequence.


Start by taking just the first pattern, and playing it repeatedly until it’s smooth and crisp at medium to fast tempo (96-120 bpm). As always, take it slow at first until you memorize the pattern, then it’s a simple matter to start moving it along the progression. Listen to how just changing a couple of notes or a position keeps the musical tension going, until it finally releases and you start the descending pattern to resolve the progression.

The way the riff alternates between the B and E’ strings will force you to really examine what your picking hand is doing. Definitely alternate pick everything, accenting only the beat notes, and keeping everything else very moto perpetuo, constant and even.

Moto perpetuo exercises are great for disciplining your picking hand to stay within a steady range of motion and pressure, neither over- or under-accenting, just playing everything smooth and clean. There’s a ton of stuff in this post to work on, so take it a piece at a time, really listen to the nuances and differences between the various scales and modes described, and experiment with what sounds good in developing a nice melodic lick, whether for a solo or for a main riff. Have fun!

B.B. King, R.I.P.

It’s no overstatement to say that B.B. King influenced countless guitar players, changed the way the instrument was played in important ways. He certainly wasn’t the only one of his generation; in addition to the other two “Three Kings” (Albert and Freddie) of blues, you had (and still have) Buddy Guy, and the late Albert Collins was another contemporary who had a strong voice on the instrument.

But B.B. was probably the most prolific of the bluesmen, and certainly had the longevity, playing well into his ’80s, at a pace that players half his age frequently won’t run.

There’s a pretty decent rundown of King’s approach and solo style here. You may recognize the box as pentatonic box #2 (the major pentatonic), with a passing (blue) note thrown in. This is yet another feature that set B.B. King apart from most blues and rock players — the use of the major pentatonic rather than the usual minor (box #1) pentatonic that everyone uses.

Once your ear figures out the key, it should be relatively simple to pick up the melodic and solo notes. Of course, that’s the easy part with the blues — the real challenge lies in learning to make every note count, to make your phrasing spare, to make the notes sing and swing. That’s the magic, to plug directly into an amp, no effects, no lightning-fast licks, just you and your hands making the guitar sound like another voice, like a woman crying, whether in sorrow or joy. It’s very much a duet, between King’s voice singing a verse or chorus, and then playing a melody or solo on the guitar, as a response from the other vocalist.

Again, the note choices are critical, but not in the sense of having to memorize a pattern or box or scale. If you hit a note your ear perceives as “wrong,” just remember that the “right” note is next to it, one fret up or down. Then your wrong note becomes a passing tone. Even a “wrong” note played with conviction is better than a “right” note played half-assed. Keep it simple. Think of your tone — the amp, the guitar, the amount of pressure you use in your picking and fretting hands — as your speaking voice. Think about what you’re trying to say on your end of the conversation.

Watch the way B.B.’s left hand shakes as he squeezes every last drop out of a note, that’s vibrato. Hendrix had it, Stevie Ray Vaughan had it, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons and Joe Bonamassa have it. Great vocal bending control and powerful vibrato are among the strongest tools a lead guitarist can have. B.B. King helped forge that path for the rest of us, a true musical pioneer.

Bending and Vibrato

As we mentioned in the Still Got the Blues lesson, one of the really cool things about the guitar is that there are techniques you can use to mimic human vocal sounds and styles. Two of the most powerful of these “vocalisms” are bending and vibrato. They are related, but not quite the same thing.

The thing about bending and vibrato is that they require your ears as much as your hands to accomplish successfully. For beginning players, this can be difficult, because you’re still in the process of training your ears to what sounds “right” or “in tune.” Rest assured that persistence will pay off when it comes to ear training, it just takes time and practice.

These techniques are difficult to teach as well, because they are more about feel than precision. That doesn’t mean that there’s not some precision involved, just that it’s not easy to convey with a simple tabbed lick to practice.


A good vibrato is characterized by being able to sustain the note long past it being initially picked. Keep pressure applied with the fretting finger for as long as you can, letting the note ring out. A minimal amount of motion with the finger, either back and forth, up and down, or “circular” (sort of a cross between the first two), will help sustain the note even longer. Bring your wrist into the motion a little bit as well, for stability and support. Some players will even use their forearms as well. Keep it simple until you get a better feel for it.

As the vibrato motion continues, the pitch of the note will alter microtonally (less than a quarter-tone). It’s important to not use so much vibrato that you end up off the note you were aiming for. Again, knowing how much is too much is mostly a matter of trial and error. Really listen to how much the note “shakes” when you apply even minimal vibrato motion.

You’ll find that it’s more difficult to apply vibrato (and bending) on the wound (lower-pitched) strings. Still not too bad, again it’s just something that takes practice and ear training.

Usually when we run through a scale or a melodic sequence the idea is to use a metronome to track and improve your precision and time. For this exercise, you don’t need a metronome at all. You really don’t need any tab, either. Simply work a basic chromatic position pattern from the low E string to the high E string. Start at the 7th position or higher, use each finger once per string, 1-2-3-4, low to high and then back down.

Do not worry about keeping a rhythm or playing in time for now. Just get a feel for sustaining the note, and giving it a little vibrato. Sustain each note for as long as you can, before moving on to the next note. You will probably find that the pinky finger is not very good at this by itself, so use your ring finger for added support. (You’ll need that for bending also.)

Work through the position pattern a few times, by then you should have a feel for what you’re striving for, and your ears and fingers are prepared. Then try it out all over the fretboard, any combinations you can think of. Play a three-note-per-string scale going from the low E string to the high E string, putting vibrato just on the last note before you go to the next string. See the tab below:


The above example doesn’t have to be played perfectly in time, but start trying to keep it at least to a rhythm. Slow to medium tempos work best for now, but even in faster songs, a well-placed bend or vibrato is a nice change of pace from a rapid-picked flurry of scale fragments.

As you get more comfortable with vibrato, start experimenting with widening the note as you’re sustaining it. It’s still not quite a half-step bend or more, but it’s more than the subtle microtonal changes we started with. Make that final note of the phrase sustain as long as possible without having to pick it again. It will take some trial and error but it will be well worth the effort.

There are great players of all genres, not just blues, that use vibrato very well. Rock players such as David Gilmour, Gary Moore, Frank Marino, and Zakk Wylde all have tremendous vibrato, as do countless other players of all styles. As you start hearing in your own playing the sound you’re trying for, you’ll start hearing it in the music you listen to as well. Obviously, that’s true for just about any technique, but it’s especially so for highly personalized techniques such as vibrato and bending. Like with anything else, imitate the greats, and then make it your own.


Bending is just like vibrato, only more so. (See, that was easy!) Successful string bending requires being able to push or pull the string considerably farther than vibrato, but the real difficulty is in maintaining pitch accuracy. You’re bending to another specific note, whether a half step, a full step, or even more. But you want to land accurately on that note at the right time, which requires even more feel and ear training.

For the higher-pitched strings (high E and B), you will be pushing the string straight up toward the ceiling. For the lower-pitched strings (low E and A), you’ll pull the string straight down toward the floor. For the two middle strings (D and G), it’s pretty much your call; there’s generally enough room on the neck to bend quite a bit without pushing or pulling the string off the neck (which chokes the note).

Again, learning how to bend with taste and feel requires training your ears just as much as your fingers. So let’s try a simple and effective exercise to train ears and fingers simultaneously in the nuances of bending strings. The idea here is to create a unison; you’ll play a regular picked note, and then bend up to that note from the string below it. Check the tab:


Bend slowly at first, working up to the target pitch without going past it. You will probably need to use your ring finger to support and reinforce the pinky. Listen closely to the two notes, pick back and forth between them if you need to in order to remember your target. When the two notes ring together, you’re there.

The tuning between the G and B strings makes it easy to practice bends of a half step and a full step. Try both examples below:



Use your vibrato to work on holding the bent note as long as possible, at least into the next note. Listen closely to make sure that the bent note matches the note on the next string accurately. Just like with tuning, the two tones should match perfectly. Practice bending the note at different rates, quickly and slowly, the variations will give your ears and fingers a workout.

Bending down the neck on the lower strings is also cool for riffs. Here’s a simple but effective one used by countless bands over the years:


For the last exercise, visualize the first two boxes of the E minor pentatonic scale, starting at the 12th fret. We’re just going to use the first three strings (E’-B-G) for this exercise:


Again, don’t worry too much about perfect metronomic rhythm just yet, just try to keep it more or less in time. Now let’s try creating the highest notes on each string by bending the next note up to it, then releasing it back down to the original pitch:


This one will definitely take some practice, so be patient, take it slow, and listen closely for the pitches of the bent notes to be accurate.

As always, make sure to try these out all over the fretboard, especially when you practice transposing the pentatonic boxes in various keys. Vibrato and bending are probably the two most important techniques that make up great phrasing, and let you find and create your own voice on the guitar.

Usually we’ll sign off with “stay tuned,” but when it comes to ear training, it’s extremely important to be accurately tuned. Unless you’re comfortable and experienced at tuning by ear, use a tuner to be certain. Have fun!

Still Got the Blues

A reader recently asked about the classic Gary Moore song Still Got the Blues. I’ve been a huge fan of Gary Moore since the early ’80s Corridors of Power / Victims of the Future era, and back in my cover band days, Still Got the Blues was a favorite of mine to play. The melodic theme is simple but effective, and the structure of the song gives you plenty of room to stretch out as a soloist, and check out a wide array of melodic possibilities.

To begin with, let’s go over the basic chord progressions. Here’s the main verse progression, over which the main melodic theme also is played:

SGB_v1 SGB_v2
The chords are arpeggiated as shown above in the intro, but strummed when the vocals come in. Use a clean tone, neck or bridge pickup, back the volume off a bit from max.

At first glance, since the song starts with a Dm7 chord, one might assume that the song is in the key of D minor (the saddest key of all). But it resolves in A minor, and in fact the chorus progression, as we’ll see, is pretty clearly in A minor. No worries, as there is only one note between the two scales/keys, as A minor uses all the natural notes (A B C D E F G) and D minor flattens the B note (D E F G A Bb C D). We’ll explore that later in this post.

You can catch a couple of performances (of varying quality) of Moore playing the song on YouTube. The tab below approximates what he appears to be playing, and is generally how I play the melodic theme:


It’s been mentioned in here many times, but it bears repeating:  there are many cool things you can do on guitar that you simply can’t do on any other instrument, or at least not nearly as easily. One of the most important things is being able to bend notes, and this song is a prime example of how you can really make the most of that technique. (We’ll be doing a bending “mini-clinic” in the next post.)

But of course there are plenty of other really cool things exclusive to the guitar, that work well in songs such as this one. Sliding into and out of notes, hammer-ons and pull-offs, vibrato, palm muting, raking, and harmonics all add character and flavor to the notes, infusing the melody with a “vocal” quality.

If you check out more of Gary Moore’s catalog — and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to do so — you’ll find that he was not only a master of quick ‘n’ nasty scale runs, but had especially mastered the art of making long, slow, mournful notes at the right time, that could sound very much like a human voice. Check out Moore’s amazing rendition of Roy Buchanan’s classic The Messiah Will Come Again for another crash course in using the lead guitar like a human voice.

Here is the chorus progression for the song. Use a cleaner, “rounder” neck-pickup tone, with a bit of chorus and reverb, not much distortion, and strum the chords clean and smooth. Pay special attention to the small but important shift from the F9 to E7#9 chord near the end. (Bonus:  That is the same E7#9 chord, known as an altered dominant, that makes up part of the verse progression to Hendrix’s Purple Haze.)

The melodic theme gets recapped in the solo breaks, and it’s important that you don’t play it exactly the same way every time. The essence of really good improvisation on a theme is to preserve the basic structure of the melody, but also be able to sense the places where you can play around with the feel of it, the placement of the notes, the dynamics, the “vocalisms” you can do that are unique to the guitar.

Here are a couple of variations on the main melodic theme that I used to do pretty regularly in live performances. Definitely try it first as written, with all the rakes, slides, hammer-ons, palm mutes, etc., and then make sure to start working through it with your own variations.

SGB_var1 SGB_var2

The beauty of this approach is that you get to really concentrate on capturing the feel of the melodic theme, of learning it note-for-note but then taking it further and playing with rhythm, dynamics, note choices. Again, that’s really the essence of blues-based music, taking a song and putting your voice into it. making it say what you want it to say, the way you want to say it.

That goes equally for the solo sections. Notice how they’re basically extrapolated from the root melodic theme, how Moore uses that strong melody as a springboard to improvise. As noted earlier, the song is technically in the key of A minor, but the theme plays over a progression that starts with a D minor chord. (In theory terms, pretty much all the chords in that progression, especially the Bm7b5, point directly to A minor.)

You might also think about the improvised solo as working between A minor pentatonic (A C D E G) and A minor diatonic (A B C D E F G). Only two notes difference, but as you’ll hear as you jam over the progression, where and how you use the B and F notes make all the difference in the world, for this type of song.

What’s fun to do in the solos, I found playing it dozens of times live, is to throw a few nods to D minor into the mix, just to keep it from sounding like variations on a single scale. So that means using that Bb note at strategic points to add a bit of color. The A Dorian mode (which is the same as A minor but without the flattened 6th, so A B C D E F# G) can also be used for a slightly “lighter” mood, but use that F# wisely. Try the F# and Bb (as well as the “blue note” of the A minor blues scale, Eb) in different parts of your melodic phrasing, especially as leading tones.

No matter what type of music or song, all solos are built by putting shorter phrases together, like words in sentences that eventually form paragraphs. The most important parts of the phrases you build your solos with are the first note and the last note, where you start each phrase and where you land, to move on to the next phrase. You’ll find that certain notes of the scale are ideal to begin the phrase with or “stick the landing,” while others (such as the F#, Bb, and Eb) make great passing tones to get to those destination notes.

Finally, while there’s certainly nothing to say that you can’t or shouldn’t work in a couple of speedy picked or legato runs here and there to spice things up, the elements that will really make your solos and phrasing stand out in this type of song are tone, taste, and dynamic control (loud/soft). Bending and vibrato will go a long way in making the melody shine.

Stay tuned, the next post will take you through a couple of simple exercises designed to get your note-bending chops going.


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