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!