Did I just play that?
I think I did. What the?
Almost immediately, the feeling of fighting the string changes was completely gone. For years I had struggled to play patterns that moved across more than one string, and now,
I was playing one that slashed its way across five. What had moments earlier been just another scale fingering, had suddenly become a three-octave
sprint that I could pick not only with total accuracy, but also with total repeatability,
as I reeled off one flawless repetition after another. If this makes no sense to you hearing it now, trust me, it made even less sense to me doing
it then. But the suddenly uncluttered feeling of doing this was so stark, that it was impossible
not to grasp that something very different was happening.
But I knew that couldn’t be possible. All because of one thing: stringhopping.
This nefarious jumping motion was the fly in the ointment — a warp in the clockwork regularity of alternate picking. Just when you built up smooth, and consistent
picking speed on one string… You’d have to leap to another.
And this felt totally awkward and unpredictable. With both stringhopping and alternate picking
occurring simultaneously, it was like an impossible tug of war.
And this made sense, because alternate picking was a back and forth movement…
And stringhopping was an up and down movement… …totally at odds with each other. Yes, alternate
picking was back and forth. And stringhopping was up and down.
Back and forth. And up…and down? No — it couldn’t be! But…it was. When I held the pick angled slightly toward
the floor… and played a downstroke… I could see that the pick tended to bury itself
between two strings. For example, if I did this on the G string…
…the pick would end up trapped between the G and B string. If I wanted to move to a new
string, I would have to use stringhopping… …to lift the pick over the string that was
in the way. But if I now played an upstroke, something
magical happened: The pick rose above the guitar body and broke
free of the surrounding strings. This made it the perfect time to switch strings, because the upward motion of the pickstroke itself became the string switching movement:
Down was stuck… …and up was free. Stuck…and free.
It was such a simple concept. Now, I had considered pick angles before,
just not this one. I had used edge picking from the earliest days. But I had been doing
it with the trailing edge. When I saw that Yngwie’s style of edge picking used the
leading edge, I’d switched over right away. But it turns out that edge picking was only
one component of his pick geometry, and not even the critical one.
By using downward pickslanting, and simply switching strings after upstrokes, the switching from one string to another became perfectly smooth, and the barriers between the strings melted away. Holy sh**! The blazing speed of the pop tarts lick boiled
down to the genius of Yngwie’s single-string playing, which could be connected together
like train cars in any order, and still remain perfectly synchronized thanks to chunking.
Just like Yngwie’s single string licks, I realized that the lick I had created was composed
of units with an even number of notes. The first chunk was four notes: And this was the same chunk from the ascending fours lick on the tape… Just backwards. It was the fours pattern, but with the accent displaced, so that instead
of taking four notes in a row… You were shifting the window backwards by one note, so that you were instead grabbing these four notes: I did this twice on the first string. Then the second string was a six note chunk: And the third string was a two note chunk: Then the whole thing repeated: This was the whole secret to proper chunking. Patterns with an even number of notes that
started on downstrokes would always repeat on downstrokes. So I could play the whole three octave lick with perfect synchronization between the left
and right hands, just by focusing on those initial downstrokes. But there was more. If those patterns always started on downstrokes, then that meant they always ended on upstrokes. That meant that when it came to switching strings, my entire three-octave lick switched strings only after upstrokes. By inadvertently mixing Yngwie’s even-numbered note groupings with downward pickslanting,
it was like mixing baking soda and vinegar in science class to make a home-made volcano. This was insane. For years, I had struggled to make headway, and been stymied at every turn. And now, in an instant, everything had changed.
How could something so seemingly complex have possibly happened by accident? I had had all these elements swilling around in my head, like ingredients in a stew.
There were early advances, like deducing the note-by-note molecular structure of recorded
solos. That structure was hidden by speed, but the SK-1 helped reveal it.
Then there was the Foodtown solo. It was built of smaller phrases, chained together.
These phrases were still complex, and not really identical. But I was beginning to learn,
by feel, that organizing my playing into discrete units created structure that allowed me to
play longer lines. And then there was downward pickslanting.
Amazingly, I now knew that I’d probably been using it all along, without realizing it. If I had never experienced its power before,
it’s because something was missing: a catalyst. When I stumbled across the uniform repeating
structures of Yngwie’s chunking, where every unit ended on an upstroke, it was like the
lightning strike on the primordial sea. The reaction was triggered, and all the ingredients
fused together. I immediately went back to the Yngwie video.
And sure enough, in every scene, Yngwie was holding his pick with a downward slant against
the body of the guitar. I’d never noticed this before, but I now knew that this was
hardly an accident. The result of this downward pick slant meant that any time Yngwie wanted
to switch strings, all he had to do was play a lick that ended on an upstroke.
And of course, I already knew that all of Yngwie’s single-string patterns had been specifically
designed in exactly this way. One of Yngwie’s most powerful single-string
creations was this one: It was of course an even number of notes — this time, six. And again, I found that if I just made sure
that the downstroke in the right hand… was always lined up with the beginning of the
pattern as a landmark, I could simply ignore the other five notes of the pattern… and the hands would stay perfectly synchronized. Because I was only focusing on one out of
every six notes… I could achieve fifty percent more chunking efficiency… than I could with descending fours. Even at ridiculous tempos… this was a data flow I could easily manage. After thinking about this, this made some sense. There would have to be a tradeoff between
the size of the chunk… and the memorization advantages that it conferred.
There was a limit to the number of things you could stuff into short-term memory.
Mechanical synchronization seemed to work this way too. If you made the chunk too large…
The hands would slowly drift apart. If you made the chunk too small, you’d have
to re-landmark too often, and it was confusing. This six-note pattern seemed to be a kind
of sweet spot. It was long enough to offer a huge amount of chunking efficiency…
but still small enough to remain tightly locked. But there was more. Just like with descending
fours, I could increase the chunking efficiency through rhythm.
If I could just align the landmark pickstroke with a metrically strong division of the time… Then the arrival of the downbeat made it easier to anticipate. Once the landmark and
the tempo were synchronized, it was almost impossible to play it wrong, at any speed.
Once I figured this out, the synchronization between my hands improved dramatically. I
started taking that six-note figure and moving it up and down the first string, through the
E minor scale. I had to change the fingering a little, but
the concept was exactly the same. Each new fingering of the pattern… would always begin
on a downstroke… and all the notes in between… would automatically line up… as long as
I was paying attention to the first note. And when it came to switching strings, the
power of the six-note pattern became even more apparent. This was great. As long as I kept the downward pick slant constant, I couldn’t even feel
the transition from one string to another. It was like they weren’t even there. And
in a way, they weren’t. There was no stringhopping because every upstroke was, itself, a string-changing
movement if I wanted it to be. Every time I played an upstroke…
…the pick was literally hanging in the air above the strings, just waiting for me to
drop it down on the next string of my choosing. This could be a lower string…
…or this could be a higher string. It didn’t matter which direction I went, as
long as the last pickstroke on every string was an upstroke. Within days I was taking the six note pattern and moving it at will across the neck in E minor. By combining this with the single-string version
of the pattern, I was finally able to connect one part of the guitar to another, just like Yngwie: I was finally beginning to develop real superpowers.
And even more amazing, I could call upon these superpowers at a moment’s notice, whenever
inspiration struck. This was huge.
Previously, my playing had been so unreliable. As it turns out, it wasn’t the elastic guitar
strap. And it wasn’t standing up. And it wasn’t even that I didn’t practice enough,
because god knows I had put in the hours. In fact, despite my fears, there was nothing
wrong with me at all. It was that my abilities had been neutralized
by the disorganization of my playing. When When patterns terminated haphazardly on upstrokes
and downstrokes, it was like I was flying blind. This made some string changes easy,
and others hard, totally confusing my picking hand. But now, even my single-string playing had suddenly become super-powered. I’d already
known about about chunking, but by combining it with downward pickslanting, the two insights
somehow seemed to reinforce each other, even when I wasn’t switching strings at all.
The seeming randomness and unpredictability of my technique had completely vanished. It
was solid, reliable, and devastatingly accurate. But wait a minute. Was I really saying that
Yngwie only ever switched strings after upstrokes? That couldn’t be right. What about all those
three note per string scales? There’s one. This was the Trilogy scale shape.
It was one of the most common scale shapes in Yngwie’s playing, and he used it many times
throughout the video. This time it was a song called “Black Star”. And from watching the
video, I could see that I had gotten it totally right — the fingering looked exactly like
the way I had been playing it since high school. It was three notes on the E string. Then four
notes on the B string: one, two, three — there’s there’s the index finger; watch the slide — four. Then three notes on the G string, three on the D string, and two on the A.
So again, it was three notes, four notes, three notes, three notes, and two notes.
And this was a problem. Because I knew that if you started on a downstroke, and played
four notes on a string…that would be good. But if you did the same thing and played only
three notes, you’d be stuck. And that…would be bad.
So I decided to take a closer look at what the right hand was doing, to see if I could
spot the actual pickstrokes. The video was blurry and it didn’t seem likely, but I thought I would give it a shot anyway. First there was a slide — that was clearly
a downstroke. Then, as the hand came back up the neck, that looked like an upstroke.
Then the left hand played three notes, and the right hand didn’t do anything. So those
were legato notes. But I already knew that, actually, because I could tell from the records
that those notes weren’t picked. The use of legato here was more of a special effect,
to give a smoother sound. Fair enough. Then on the B string we had: down, up, down,
up. The last upstroke was the slide note with the index finger, which was picked, so you
couldn’t hear that it was a slide, just like in the descending fours pattern. So that was
four notes on the B string, and the last note was an upstroke.
So that part actually worked. Now onto the G string. It was down, up, down…
but wait a minute. The left hand pinky was already down on the new string. That can’t
be right. Rewind. Again it was down, up, and then down again, but on the pinky.
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Yngwie was only picking two notes on the G
string. The third note, the index finger of the left hand, was not picked at all.
It was a pull-off. Not only that, but the same exact thing happened
on the D string. Down…up…pull-off, and before I knew it, the ring finger was already
down, and the last two notes of the lick were down, and up, on the A string.
So despite appearances, the G string, the D string, and the A string were all two notes
per string as far as the right hand was concerned. The whole lick, then, from a picking standpoint, was: legato, then four notes, then two notes, then
two notes, and then two notes. Every string containing fast picking was an even number of notes, starting on a downstroke, and therefore, switched strings after an upstroke.
I couldn’t believe it. I had already experimented with using a pull-off for the third note,
and it just didn’t sound right. But I guess I just didn’t do enough experimenting. When I counted them up, from the B string to the A string, this lick had twelve notes,
and ten of them were picked. It wasn’t surprising at all that I couldn’t hear the legato. In fact, I realized that I could eliminate the legato sequence on the top string entirely… by simply starting on an upstroke. This caused the picking on that string to end on an upstroke, which connected perfectly to the rest of the lick. Now the lick had fifteen notes, 13 of them fully picked. But what if I went even further? 27 notes, and only three pulloffs. Amazing. Yngwie’s use of legato was not just stylish
— it was strategic. It was an instinctive adaptation that used a single unpicked note to totally transform an unplayable passage into a slashing sonic stiletto. But this also had an immediate impact on Yngwie’s sound. His playing wasn’t just a robotic
assembly line of mechanized repetition. Each note received a unique treatment of picking
or legato, muting or openness. An overall contour — the feeling that something inside
there was actually thinking, moving, and…alive! Things were really starting to get interesting. The Yngwie tape had provided little in the
way of formal instruction, but what it offered in return, the closeup view of Yngwie’s
actual technique, was so much better. There was a lot more here than met the eye, and
I could only imagine what else lay ahead.