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 fascinatio
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
For some rising triplets that tap into the innate power of a B5 groove, give 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.
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 numbered 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.
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 meantweaking 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. Co-written with Jude Gold
Guitar Player Magazine, Session Column featuring:
Few years ago, Dweezil called Jean Marc Belkadi to help him decipher
his Dad's ultra obscure partitions for his Zappa plays Zappa Tour and he
describes Jean Marc Belkadi's teaching to the journalist Darin Fox in
this GP "Guitar University" Read the article here
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