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Essential Guitar Licks: Yngwie Malmsteen-Style Tension Builder

We all know a great lick when we hear one—Jimmy Page’s solo breaks in “Whole Lotta Love” and Mark Knopfler’s blistering triads in “Sultans of Swing,” for example.

Moments like these grab your attention and aurally brand your ears forever.

Or, sometimes it acts more subliminally: You suddenly find yourself playing a certain lick over and over again, wondering, Where have I heard this before?

Through the years, these licks have evolved into a vocabulary for the guitar. And like great writers who are always able to find the right word to make a point, great guitarists always have that essential lick at their disposal to express, in the moment, what they’re feeling.

And whereas the best writers are able to string those words together to form remarkable prose, the best guitarists link their licks to form living, breathing, musical statements. Regardless of what style music you play, it will do your ears and your chops good to go through each of these licks. Learn them, master them, and keep them on file for the next time you’re looking for just the right way to say what’s in your soul.

Today, we bring you an Yngwie Malmsteen-style tension builder.

Origin: This series of arpeggiated diminished 7th inversions fuels the fretboard fury of such shredders as Yngwie Malmsteen and Tony MacAlpine.

Theory: This lick works great as a tension-builder over a V7 chord before resolving to the i in harmonic minor.

Playing Tip: Because the diminished 7th chord is composed of stacked minor 3rds (1–b3–b5–bb7), each inversion possesses the same fretboard shape, which means you simply slide the lick up three frets to play the next one.

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.