More Riffs for Technique

A great way to build technical chops and musicality, and get a break from running the same old scales and patterns over and over, is to take a song or riff that can be used to highlight a certain technique, and use it as warm-up material. Let’s take a look at a few quick and easy riffs from classic (if lesser-known) songs, that will build finger independence and picking technique.

The first example is very similar to the melodic riff from the beginning and end to Rush’s ’70s epic Xanadu.


Probably the first thing you’ll notice here is that it’s in a 7/8 time signature. If you haven’t played much outside of 4/4 or 3/4, this is a good opportunity to try out a fairly simple odd time signature. It’s as simple as counting out a beat.

In 4/4 time, you would count “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” to play a single bar, with each counted beat being a 16th note. For the above 7/8 bar, you simply drop the last “4-and”.

So, “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and”, repeat. It takes a little bit of getting used to, like anything else, but time signatures such as 7/8, 9/8, or 5/4, where a single beat is added or removed, are easier to adjust to.

(Using the above counting example, you would count out a 9/8 beat as “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5-and“. Stick with nailing the feel for 7/8 for now.)

The next thing you’ll see is that the riff is simply the same 7-note pattern played twice, and because of the odd number, in strict down-up alternate picking, the picking pattern for the second time is exactly reversed from the first. So the first note, E (9th fret, G string) is played with a downstroke the first time, an upstroke the second time. This is a really handy riff for practicing “inside” and “outside” picking, for adjacent and skipped strings.

Finally, all four fretting fingers are used to play the riff (which is a sequenced E major scale), and in patterns you may not have practiced before.

So in one mighty little riff, you get to work on:

  • Odd time signature
  • Inside and outside picking
  • String skipping
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Finger independence

Pretty cool.

The next riff is similar to the late-’80 Yngwie Malmsteen song, Déja Vu.

MR02a MR02b

The first two bars of the riff are played four times, before shifting to the third bar. The best way to go about learning this riff is one bar at a time, putting the first two together before moving on to the third bar. Make sure you can play the first two bars together, repeated in a continuous loop (at least 4-5 times without stopping) at a modest tempo (at least 96-100 bpm) before working on the third bar.

The riff and song are in F#m, a good key for rock and metal playing. The first bar is simply a four-note ascending sequence, moving up the F#m scale (F# G# A B C# D E) one step at a time. Before getting to the E (7th degree) in the scale, the second bar of the riff shifts to a nice descending pedal-point sequence, which requires a tricky shift toward the end of the bar. Take it slow, work it up to speed, and pair it up with the first bar, before moving on to the third bar off the riff, which is an extended F#m arpeggio.

Notice that the suggested picking for the third bar mostly involves sweep picking. The fingering is only a suggestion, try different fingers, depending on where and how you decide to shift as you go through the arpeggio. The main thing, as far as the picking and fretting suggestions go, is to keep it sounding smooth and effortless.

It will take some doing to get any or all of this riff up to the tempo that Malmsteen plays in the original song, but the primary goal is just to highlight some specific techniques:

  • Alternate picking
  • Sweep picking
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Pedal point
  • Position shifting
  • Arpeggios

The final riff we’ll look at is similar to one of the main riffs from Dream Theater’s The Root of All Evil. John Petrucci is a master of fast, tricky, melodically sequenced riffs, and this is actually one of his simpler ones.


Simple is frequently more effective than complex, as far as writing songs and riffs goes, and this riff is a good example of that principle. And yet every finger is utilized, and there’s some position shifting, and the beats on which you cross from one string to the other may be a bit unpredictable at first. Melodically, Petrucci incorporates chromatic notes to nice effect.

  • Alternate picking
  • Position shifting
  • Finger independence
  • Chromatics

Have fun with these riffs, and try to think of others from songs you enjoy, that help pinpoint specifics techniques you want to work on.

Kreutzer #12 Finale

Let’s finish off the Kreutzer #12 with the last ten bars. Not only does the progression shift substantially, going Bb-Eb° before heading back to the more familiar Am-E, but the sequencing patterns begin differently than before.


Make sure, as you continue to refine and internalize the various patterns and sequences in this piece, that you go back and try applying, for example, the sequencing patterns from bars 23 or 27 to bar 1 or bar 5. The main thing here is to master all the triad shapes shown throughout; once the shapes are familiar, they can be sequenced in any way that sounds good to you.

The piece concludes with a return to the home key of A minor, finishing off on the high A note. (Something to try:  what if that final note was an A major chord instead?)


Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this piece, and gotten some cool ideas for sweep picking, arpeggios, triads, and sequences from the material. We’ll do a follow-up post soon with explanations and printable cheat sheets for triad shapes and circle of 5ths.

The PDF link below contains the entire tab (and notation) for the piece, suitable for printing and easier reading. Have fun!

Kreutzer #12 (full)

Kreutzer #12, Part 2

Continuing on with the Kreutzer #12, let’s see what the next several bars look like. While the chord sequence of the first 8 bars (Am-Dm-G-C) is the start of the classic “cycle of 4ths” progression, instead of going to what would be the next step in that cycle (F), the next arpeggio turns out to be E major, followed by A minor (E-A being yet another 4th interval), and then a nice melodic move by shifting from A minor into A diminished, and briefly nodding back to E major in bar 14. See tab below:


Notice how the A°/E arpeggio sequence in bars 13-14 deviates from the pattern established by all the previous arpeggios, at first starting out the same, then shifting back down for the second half of bar 13, then the doubled-up first notes of the E triads in bar 14. This adds a nice change of pace, in terms of style and flow.

The next eight-bar section returns to the original sequencing pattern, starting with an E major inversion (the first note of the sequence is G#, which is the second note of the E major triad). From there the progression returns to A minor, then to B diminished, then back to an A minor/C inversion:


Unlike the earlier A° arpeggio, the B° arpeggio in bars 19-20 conforms to the main sequencing pattern set by almost all the previous bars. Again, this is a great extended sequencing pattern to learn, and it’s a terrific exercise to map it out in reverse and play it. Print some blank tab pages from the Resources page and give it a shot!

In the next post, we’ll finish off the #12, and then follow up with another post spelling out some of the concepts (triad shapes; adjacent string trios; cycle/circle of 4ths/5ths) in greater detail.

Presto Change-o

The next two PTG books for Kindle are scheduled for release on July 4, with free downloads available for that entire weekend (July 4-7). One of the books is based on the Presto movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata #1 in G minor.

This one is going to be a shredder’s paradise — the piece itself is technically and musically complex and rewarding, and the book also includes dozens of exercises derived from the work. These exercises range from sweep and economy picking to pedal point to developing melodic contour. This book is ambitious in scope, and will give you tons of technique and theory knowledge while you play. And even after the free download weekend, it will be priced at only $2.99, far less than the price of a single professional lesson.

And I promise you, this one book contains months, perhaps years of valuable knowledge that you can apply to your own playing right away.

So I’d like to give you a preview of what you can expect from the Presto book in a couple of weeks.

Let’s take a look at the first few bars of the piece:


The Presto starts off with some nice arpeggio work. You can see we have this tabbed for economy and sweep picking, but initially you should run through it with strict down-up alternate picking until you have the forms and fingerings down.

Check out the sweep arpeggio fingerings tabbed below for G minor and G major:


You can pick the hammered notes if you prefer, but if your hammering technique is tight, it will actually sound smoother and cleaner as you set up to sweep through the rest of the arpeggio. This is a great introductory exercise to sweep arpeggios, and one that you can break down into its component parts, and incorporate into your soloing and melodic playing.

We’ll have more excerpts in the weeks to come, so play hard and stay tuned!

Killer Chromatic Warm-ups

A good warm-up routine should get both hands going quickly and effectively. It’s the same idea as stretching before a workout, to not only get the muscles up to speed, but to loosen them up, to prevent stiffness and soreness.

Chromatic warm-ups are ideal for getting all the fingers on the fretting hand limbered up. While this is best accomplished with routine exercises that you’ve internalized over the course of many practice sessions, it’s also good to shake things up a bit, and bring in some new ideas to keep your brain and fingers fresh.

Here’s the basic chromatic position run utilizing all four fingers:

There are two main types of variations on this standard pattern that we’ll look at in this post. The first type of variation utilizes displacement along the strings, which forces both hands to synchronize along more complicated patterns. The next example shows the basic run with every other note displaced to the next adjacent string:

Take this one nice and slow at first, keeping a strict down-up alternate picking pattern as indicated. Since this is a very fundamental mechanical exercise, really take the time at slower tempos to observe the motion and mechanics of each hand; they should be economized as much as possible.

Now let’s take the displacement idea, and run it across four strings at a time, one for each finger:

Stick with alternate picking at first, but the really cool thing about this particular exercise is that it also works great for sweep picking:

 If you’re unfamiliar with sweep picking, this is a great way to get more comfortable with that technique. Work just the basic pattern first, without changing string sets or positions at all, just the first two beats of the first bar, back and forth. Take it slow, and concentrate on keeping the notes smooth and even. They should not ring together, you’re not strumming a chord. That’s one of the biggest challenges with learning sweep picking, getting each note to play fully and evenly, yet keeping it from running into the next note.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, this variation will either keep you busy or give you nightmares:

Although we’re tabbing these patterns starting from the first fret, it may be easier to start from a higher position, such as the fifth or seventh fret, and keep working up the neck, or to start further up at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down the neck. Don’t be shy about moving these around for more comfort and ease of play. If at any point you start feeling actual pain in either hand, stop immediately and rest your hands for a few.

The other main variation of chromatic exercises involves multiply picked notes, instead of just doing each note singly up through the pattern. Each successive note grouping requires the hands to synchronize just a little differently than you might be used to. Here’s the double pattern:

The triple pattern can be played either as regular triplets/sextuplets, or as a “3-on-4” pattern as regular 16th notes. Check out each variation, definitely play each one, and note how each affects alternate picking.

Chances are that the 3-on-4 pattern will present some difficulty at first, but it’s a very cool-sounding technique at higher tempos. Take it slow at first and use a metronome, and you should be able to get a feel for it before too long..

Finally, the quad pattern:

Collectively, this is a ton of stuff to work with, so as always, take it a piece at a time, work the patterns in as many areas of the neck as possible, and benchmark your maximum tempo on each pattern, to determine appropriate warm-up speeds. Devise variations of your own and work them into your warm-up routines. Have fun!