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Leveling Up Your Licks: Exploring Four-Note Patterns and Permutations

Leveling Up Your Licks: Exploring Four-Note Patterns and Permutations

Hello, and welcome to my new Guitar World instructional column!

Over the next few months I will be demonstrating a variety of the techniques and musical concepts I employ when writing and playing with my band, All That Remains, while also offering an approach to building chops and broadening musical understanding on the guitar.

Most rock guitarists employ repetitive sequences in guitar solos, and in this first column I’d like to show you a great exercise based on four-note patterns that will be applicable to many different situations.

FIGURE 1 illustrates a basic four-note pattern played in 12th position and based on the E minor pentatonic scale (E G A B D). I begin on E, on the first string’s 12th fret, hammer-on to G, three frets higher, pull-off back to E and then end on D, second string, 15th fret.

Our first permutation will be to change the highest note in the lick, substituting and reaching up to the A note at the 17th fret, as shown in FIGURE 2. If we combine the two patterns, we get the sequence shown in FIGURE 3, played at a slow tempo.

Now that you have the whole pattern down, let’s try playing it at a moderately fast tempo. In FIGURE 4, I alternate between the two four-note sequences on each beat, beginning with the high-A pattern followed by the high-G pattern. I alternate twice in both bars 1 and 2, and end with a slide up to E, on the B string’s 17th fret.

The next step is to apply this concept up and down the fretboard to other positions and shapes of E minor pentatonic, remaining diatonic to, or within the structure of, the scale. As shown in FIGURE 5, I begin with the 12th-position pattern detailed in FIGURE 4, and then shift up three frets to 15th position, initially executing a hammer/pull between the 15th and 19th frets on the high E string.

This is played twice, followed by a return to the 12th-position pattern, after which I move down to 10th position and alternate between the 15th and 12th frets on the high E.

From here, I like to expand the lick to both higher and lower positions of the board, moving up to 17th position in bar 7 and down to seventh position in bar 11.

Once you have all these shapes and shifts memorized and the patterns feel comfortable under your fingers, the next step is to ramp up the tempo. In FIGURE 6, the patterns are played in 16th-note groups in 2/4 meter. Try to keep your fret-hand as relaxed as possible through this exercise, while striving for smooth, clean execution.


Oli Herbert is the lead guitarist and a founding member of the critically acclaimed American metal band All That Remains, whose eighth studio album will be released this spring.

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