Bustin Out! By Jean-Marc Belkadi | February 2005
The Top 12 Coolest Ways to Play Outside Licks on Guitar
As a guitar instructor at GIT in Hollywood, California,
I’m thrilled to report an exciting trend: Young guitar
students are increasingly into playing again. That’s not to
imply there weren’t still throngs of kids hungry to learn
adventurous guitar styles during the height of the
grunge, nü-metal, and pop-punk eras—three arguably
uninventive, creativity-stifling periods in guitar’s recent
history. It’s just that lately, well, lead guitar seems to be
experiencing a resurgence, as it has once again captured
the imaginations of up-and-coming guitarists everywhere.
But it’s not just any kind of lead guitar my students want
to learn. Whether they’re into hard rock, hard bop, or any
genre in between, the inspired newbies who come through
my door often have one thing in common—they want to
play rebellious, radical,  harmonically irreverent lead
guitar lines that annihilate all clichés. They want to play
conversation killing riffs that drop jaws and inspire wide-eyed fascination
amongst their listeners and peers alike. In other words, these budding
mavericks want to learn how to play outside.In the spirit of fearless melodic
extremists such as Arnold Schoenberg, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane,
Allan Holdsworth, Buckethead, John Scofield, Scott Henderson, and other
pioneers of the non-diatonic frontier, the following approaches will help
you get off the beaten path the next time you’re taking a solo. Why? Because
sometimes nothing sounds more right than the wrong note. Here come
12 cool ways to hijack the scales, chords, and theory you already know in
order to play unrestricted lead guitar lines that gleefully shatter the
established notions of what you should or shouldn’t play. So fasten your
seatbelt. You’ve devoted years of practice to learning how to stay “in the lane”
musically. We’re now going to veer off the well-traveled highway of
mainstream guitar and do some serious harmonic and melodic off-roading.
Major Realization
The first thing I point out to my students is that you don’t necessarily
have to play non-diatonically—that is, outside of the scale that suits
the given tonality—to create the perceived effect of an outside lick.
For instance, let’s say you’re improvising in the key of C major. Even
if you never leave the C major scale, you can create a wildly subversive
sound by attacking the scale with the simple pattern of wide intervals
employed in
Ex. 1. Where most guitarists’ first instinct would be to
improvise lyrical lines using stepwise, scalar motion, this example uses
contrary motion on distant strings to create an extremely out sounding
yet brightly diatonic, inside phrase. (The lick, of course, also works
perfectly over Am, the relative minor of C.) As with all the other
examples in this lesson, once you’ve learned the required moves,
be sure to also try the phrase in reverse, as well as at a range of tempos.
Chromatic Assault
Another simple way to get outside sounds is through unbridled use of
the chromatic scale—in other words, freely tagging any or every note
on the fretboard, regardless of what key you are in. Using two strings
and a chromatic pattern that employs ascending and descending slides,
Ex. 2 is a sonic war machine. It's powered by an aggressive fretboard
pattern that suggests the more strident and volcanic riffs of Vernon Reid,
Buckethead, or Steve Lukather.
The Big Dipper
Most guitarists know the minor pentatonic scale better than the back of
their hands, yet don’t realize how convenient it is for creating refreshingly
out phrases. As demonstrated in
Ex. 3, if the band is vamping on Am and
you move the A minor pentatonic scale up a half-step for the second half
of every measure, you imply the Bbm7 harmony shown in parentheses.
As suggested by the three common pentatonic box patterns printed above
the notation staff, this alternating inside/outside sound is created by
blazing down eight notes of the first A minor box, shifting up one fret and
ascending those same eight scale degrees of the Bb minor pentatonic box,
and repeating the process with each new pentatonic box. Dipping in and
out of dissonance, this riff is a pentatonic rollercoaster ride.
Half/Whole Helter Skelter
In a sense, Ex. 4, much like the major-scale riff that opened this lesson,
utilizes string skipping, a simple pattern, and is fully diatonic. This time,
however, it’s only diatonic to a very mysterious sounding group of notes
the A diminished (or "half/whole") scale. Try this riff the next time you’re
vamping over A7, and you’ll be sure to attract attention as you spray the
background harmony with #9s, #11s, and other stinging chord extensions.
For a meatier sound, try double-stop approaches to this scale, such as
the one in
Ex. 5.
Kaleidoscopic Patterns
Taking inspiration from the late, great jazz maestro and GP columnist
Howard Roberts,
Ex. 6 proves that a fun, easy way to create outside sounds
on the guitar is simply to play geometrical patterns on the fretboard.
This lick, with its columns of ascending fourths, uses a visually predictable
pattern to create an unpredictable melody. It generates one of an infinite
number of new sounds you can create by simply visualizing a fretboard
pattern and then playing it.
Supreme Horn Licks
Perhaps no musician made outside notes sound more in than John Coltrane.
That’s because there was always both passion and concept behind every
pitch that poured forth from his horn. One thing the legendary reedman
was known for was superimposing various triads over a static background
key, as in
Ex. 7. Here, to stunning aural effect, a succession of major triads
(Gb, Eb, C, and A)—each of which is a minor third lower in overall pitch
than the previous—is projected against the background A7 vamp.
Whole-Tone Heaven
Don’t forget to check out the whole-tone scale when you’re looking for new
melodic colors. One fingering for the scale is presented above the notation
staff in
Ex. 8. As if the enigmatic scale didn’t sound out enough already,
here, as we ascend the scale, we’ve applied octave displacement where
some scale tones have been bumped up an octave to heighten the
notes already ethereal quality.
Ex. 9 offers a two-string whole-tone
pattern that’s fun to play fast.
Did Mean to Impose
Another fun demonstration of superimposition is Ex. 10. Here, alternating
Aadd9 and Ebadd9 arpeggios are stamped onto an ordinary background
harmony of A major. Building half of the riff’s add9 arpeggios on the
key’s tritone, Eb—the so-called "devil’s interval"—we add a dangerous
and dissonant melodic intrigue to the otherwise happy sounding passage.
Sweeping Success
For some rising triplets that tap into the innate power of a B5 groove,
Ex. 11 a spin. If blazing speed appeals to you, know that this lick can
be executed quickly by playing the first two pitches in each triplet with a
nimble downward sweep of the pick.
12-Tone Rows
Few if any licks sound more modern and atonal than 12-tone melodies one
of which is presented in the first measure of our final phrase, appropriately
Ex. 12. But Austrian-born composers Arnold Schoenberg and
Josef Matthias Hauer were pioneering angular 12-tone music as early as
1919. The concept behind this genre of composition is simple: Arrange all
12 notes of the chromatic scale in whatever sequence you like in a row in
which—unlike tonal music—no group of notes predominates. The way you
eliminate tonal and modal focus is simply to ensure that no pitch recurs
until all of the other 11 have been played. This idea is easy in theory,
but tricky to put into practice on the fretboard.
Outward Bound
Now that you’ve tackled all the riffs in this lesson, realize that each example
herein is merely a musical springboard. Once a given technique has launched
you in a new musical direction, experiment with anything that can alter your
melodic and timbral trajectory for further outside adventures. This can mean
tweaking the tempo, changing the melodic direction, employing dynamics,
engaging effects, accenting select notes while ghosting others, changing the
time signature or rhythmic groupings, or transposing the phrase up or down
in pitch. Each example has been presented with no key signature
(i.e. in the key of C) because, although chord symbols are provided for every
example, they are to be treated only as possible harmonies the rhythm
section might play behind the written lick. (Don’t forget that often the
quickest way to make a lick sound out is to simply modify or substitute the
chords that accompany it.) And finally, be sure to innovate. Take inspiration
from these techniques and invent some of your own outside approaches,
because if everyone started playing these rad riffs, they would lose
their rebel sound.
Guitar Player Magazine, Session Column featuring:
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Jazz-Rock Triad Improvising for Guitar - Jean Marc Belkadi  
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Outside Guitar Licks - JMB  
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Advanced Scale Concepts and Licks for Guitar - JMB  
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