Analyzing A Crazy Riff For Pick Slant And Tonality (Long Read)

TSJMajesty

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Edit: so I've recently learned something to focus on more (keeping the pick kind of on top of the strings), instead of thinking about pick slant, and it does make playing riffs like this easier.


OP:

Still focusing mostly on my alt-picking skills, and I was messing around with yet another Dream Theater song, The Test That Stumped Them All.
There's this descending lick that has a really cool tonality to it, plus it's in 7/8, so it's got a different feel to it. I'm kinda fascinated by it for a few reasons.

One, it's just the notes of a C major scale, but the way it's played gives it a very cool tonality. It starts on a high E (2nd st. 17th fret), and basically descends: EDBA, DBAF, BAFEFA. Total of 14 notes, played as 16ths, so that's the 1st measure of 7/8. And there's 3 more measures. But he doesn't continue to skip the same notes, although the downward scale-like 'pattern' gets repeated. (sorry, I wish I had an easy way to post a tab.)

So the next measure starts on the 3rd note from the first measure: BAFE AFED FEDBDF
The next one starts on the 4th note of the original sequence: AFED FEDC EDCBCD
The last one starts on an E, one octave lower than the first note of the first measure: EDCB DCBA CBAFGA, ending on the low open E, 6th string.

The other thing that I find challenging about it, because of the various notes that get skipped, there's no consistency in the number of notes per string. And since it's a fast riff, I thought if I was ever able to play anything like it up to speed (or even close to it), I'd have to really think about how the pick slant needs to change.

Like if you play a basic 3-note-per-string run, and not repeating any of the 3 notes, you just change your pick slant each time you change strings. And if you do play the run in such a way as to do two 3-note groups on each string, you don't even have to change the pick slant.

But this riff!! There's no pattern to when/where you need to change the pick angle. I start in the 14th position, and do a shift down to 12th position at the highlighted D in the 2nd measure. That's the best way I've found to play it. Sometimes it's 1-note-per-string, sometimes 2, and sometimes 3. And in some places you hit one note, then go right back to the string you just came from, which is the hardest part of fast alt-picking for me.

So I figured, lemme practice this very slowly, and focus on where I need to change the pick slants. My hope is that maybe I can get a feel for when I need to alter that slant, just by how many notes I'm playing on a string, and what string I need to go to next. I'm trying to see if this will start to come naturally, for other types of licks that I might actually use. (Ah, who am I kidding? I just like messing around with this!) I'd also love to know what the thinking was in coming up with the notes, and what makes it sound so cool. I can hear certain notes imparting a diminished feel, but that's all I got.

I've watched a few videos, and one thing I'm pretty certain is it's all picked (I thought about, maybe some of it is legato, but no.) And even JP seems to have played it in different positions. I don't know how guys like him come up with this kind of stuff. The tonality of it is so cool, but wrapped up in the way it sounds is the fact that it makes changing strings extra challenging. I guess you could ignore pick slant, but if you did, I don't know how you'd ever get it up to speed, and clean at the same time.

Here's a guy playing it, very well. He stays in the same position, but I find doing that shift is easier for me:
 
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That's a kickass riff. Here's one version of the tab:
The Test That Stumped Them All measure 140 riff.jpg


Tried the first couple of measures. Based on that limited attempt, I was thinking you could to a combination of alternate and economy picking. Alas, the speed riffs I work on are usually limited to consistent 4/4 quarter or third notes with repeating patterns, so it would be a while before attempting that one. Best of luck mastering it!
 
That's a kickass riff. Here's one version of the tab:
View attachment 2414

Tried the first couple of measures. Based on that limited attempt, I was thinking you could to a combination of alternate and economy picking. Alas, the speed riffs I work on are usually limited to consistent 4/4 quarter or third notes with repeating patterns, so it would be a while before attempting that one. Best of luck mastering it!
Yep, that's it. I'm going to try to focus on keeping the pick right on the top of the strings, per some info in the book you linked me to I read last night, so as to not need to deal with pick slant. I've never heard JP even allude to it, btw.
As for practicing it to a beat, once I got it memorized, it wasn't too hard to count it as straight 16th notes. Thanks for the tab!
 
Yep, that's it. I'm going to try to focus on keeping the pick right on the top of the strings, per some info in the book you linked me to I read last night, so as to not need to deal with pick slant. I've never heard JP even allude to it, btw.
As for practicing it to a beat, once I got it memorized, it wasn't too hard to count it as straight 16th notes. Thanks for the tab!

When Troy Grady first started posting those videos I remember spending some time with it and trying to incorporate the pick slanting into my picking but it was slowing me down more than anything. I know we’ve discussed it before, but I truly believe that starting everything with an upstroke when I was younger forced me to figure out how to play in-between the strings and getting up and over them.

Zakk Wylde was talking about this with Ola in that recent interview, how Zakk doesn’t really seem to care about minimizing motion in his picking hand, as where someone like Yngwie you barely see his right hand moving. I definitely go more for the Yngwie type picking; I keep just the tip (huhuhuhu) of the pick poking through my fingers and when I’m jumping to another string I just retract my thumb and forefinger very slightly to pull the pick above the string to clear it. It’s less than a 1/8” movement and it’s less than 1/8” of pick depth in regards to how much pick I allow to past the strings. But the pick is pretty much always perfectly straight against the string and if there’s any slanting going on, it’s only when I hit a string a little harder to accent a note and the pick flies off it in an upward motion, it doesn’t come into play for speed playing at all.
 
I definitely go more for the Yngwie type picking; I keep just the tip (huhuhuhu) of the pick poking through my fingers and when I’m jumping to another string I just retract my thumb and forefinger very slightly to pull the pick above the string to clear it. It’s less than a 1/8” movement and it’s less than 1/8” of pick depth in regards to how much pick I allow to past the strings.
That retract the pick technique looks promising. I am definitely gong to add it to my techniques-to-look-into on top of my other techniques-to-look-into, as it seems to require relearning my existing technique. @TSJMajesty had once described the relearning as a transition period where your brain cannot decide which technique to use, the old or the new.
 
Yngwie is a superb example of economy picking totally dictating everything. All his patterns and shapes are perfectly aligned with his right hand. When “Rising Force” dropped everyone wanted to understand how it was so fast, clean and practically every note picked. It was hard to find out in the early 80s . Not too long after the tab book came out. Everyone thought that it would contain the answer. It of course doesn’t because all of the tab is arranged in “caged “.
The transcription is correct but it is not played as the tab , I doubt it is possible. The first confirmation of this was the video, but this was effected on all of the solos. Even though this infantile attempt to hide how he was playing it was clear that YJ didn’t use stock shapes or fingerings.
 
Troy is 100% correct with all of his analysis of how the greatest players played what they did. Retroactively adding elements to your playing that you didn’t naturally develop on your own journey is far harder. It did explain a lot to me about my own playing that I had not looked into. I can play with ease some very challenging pieces but then there are standards that everyone seems to be able to play perfectly that I trip over. I am a down slanting economy picker naturally without ever even knowing. But hay Eric Johnson and YJM are just two more of us. It does mean I can breeze YJM lines but trip over Paul Gilbert ones , I could play PG string swap locks lightning fast but I was economy picking them.
 
I just recently had a bit of an ‘ah ha’ moment with economy picking when doing those EJ-ripoff descending runs, I was trying to re-learn something I recorded and thought I was doing a pull-off but it didn’t sound right, then I realized I was actually picking the notes but it was such a quick maneuver I wasn’t picking up on it. That’s been the biggest ‘mystery’ to me in regards to playing fast, it’s almost always so much easier than what I’m anticipating and more often than not, it’s a timing or a feel thing that causes the thing being played to sound faster than the motions actually are. This is definitely the case with me and economy picking because I’m anticipating the physical efforts I have to make and for some reason it disconnects me from the fluid/continuous motion it needs to be.

I actually practiced for a little while after I saw what I was doing, I just need to incorporate it across the neck from string to string. I’m also sh*t at playing up the neck as opposed to across it, which is something I’d like to work on more in the future.
 
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