Get your alternate-picking lines swinging with these triplet and sextuplet solo ideas

Paul Gilbert
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic)

Our inspiration for this lesson is Paul Gilbert’s amazing picking chops. Don’t be put off by this, as we’re looking at the approach rather than closely trying to emulate the great PG. Anyway it’s important to start by playing these examples slowly and perfectly. If you aim to play them too fast, too soon you’ll be programming your fingers to play in a messy and uncoordinated way.

The first step is to get the picking hand used to groups of six (or three) before getting into more complicated patterns for the fretting hand. Therefore the first example features repeated groups of three notes with the beat subdivided into six notes per beat. Cementing the rhythmic feel of the six-note rhythmic groups with the picking hand will mean that the more involved fretting-hand patterns will feel more natural.

The examples start on one string then move on to include crossing to other strings, while maintaining strict alternate picking. It’s important to be able to integrate the sextuplet rhythm into a pattern of other rhythms, such as 16th-note rhythms.

Rhythmic variety humanises a line, and relentless use of the same rhythm can become stale pretty quickly. Remember that a singer has to take as breath once in a while, and keeping this inspiration in mind helps with pacing a solo.

So you’ll see that, by the fourth example, after all the straight 16th notes we’ve integrated the sextuplet 16ths idea into a line with a more legato approach – it’s the same kind of line but breaking out of the alternate picking approach for a more fluid type of phrasing.

That one has a distinct neo-classical sound to it. It’s important to be able to play freely with alternate picking and legato techniques, adding economy picking and sweeping if they fit your vibe. 

Our final lick is a position shifting constant movement workout. It will work  over Am7 as a Dorian line or over Em7 as an E Aeolian line, and sounds cool both ways.

Remember this is just an introduction to this style. The real benefit will come when you start to experiment with crafting your own lines. One powerful way to use licks is to alter them to fit other chord types. For instance, by altering a few notes, these lines could be made to conform to the blues scale for a different vibe – think Joe Bonamassa!

Consider making up new lines using the same pattern in terms of how many notes you pick on any particular string before moving to the next – then you already have the picking pattern down. Good luck! 

Get the tone

You’ll need a heavy rock tone, with either a high-gain guitar amp or distortion pedal – or more than one overdrive pedal – to achieve the right tone. Reverb works, and delay can sound great but be careful to keep the delays fairly low – if the repeated notes are too loud you’ll lose clarity. Many multi-FX units and modellers have a noise gate which can reduce unwanted interference. 

Example 1. Warm-up

Our first example is a warm-up exercise. Start slowly as these are the building blocks of this lesson. Practise to a metronome before working with the track.

Example 2. Mixing up the rhythms

This example starts with a bar of constant sextuplets then breaks up the rhythm with 16th-note triplets using the open second string as a pedal.

Example 3. Constant stream of notes with repetition

This example uses a longer period of constant movement but includes some repeated notes to keep the fretting hand’s movement simple.

Example 4. String-skipped arpeggios plus sextuplets

This idea starts with string-skipping arpeggios then jumps into a sextuplet legato line for variety of phrasing.

Example 5. Sextuplets with position shifts

Check out this stream of sextuplets with position shifting – start slow with this one. This is ripe for development!

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