Outside-the-Box Shred Lesson: A Tribute to the Late, Great Shawn Lane

A huge musical influence of mine is Shawn Lane, one of the greatest guitarists ever, who sadly left us at the age of 40. Shawn inspired me to develop licks and patterns along the lines of his distinct approach, oftentimes comprised of drum-like patterns based on specific poly-rhythms and syncopations, executed with mind-boggling speed.

FIGURE 1 is a good example of a Shawn Lane–type lick. It’s based on the D minor pentatonic (D F G A C) and D blues scales (D F G Ab A C) and performed with fast alternate picking. The lick is phrased in a steady sequence of sextuplets, or six-note groups, with six notes played on each beat in a descending contour.

Two notes are played on each string as I steadily move across the fretboard. Another element to the articulation of the lick is that I like to rake into the first note of each beat, which means that I drag the pick across fret-hand-muted lower strings before striking the target note.

When playing fast descending sequences like this, I’ll often barre my index finger across a given fret, in this case the 10th, which serves as an anchor as I move across the strings from high to low. The finger isn’t actually barred in a conventional way; instead, I keep it in that position throughout but only apply fretting pressure against the strings when needed.

FIGURE 2 offers a twist on this idea: I begin with a reverse incarnation of FIGURE 1, moving instead from low to high strings in steady sextuplets, and in the second half of the phrase, I descend back down the scale in alternating descending groups of three. Another twist is provided via the “chicken pickin’” technique employed here, as I repeatedly pluck the highest string in each three-note group with my middle finger, followed by a picked downstroke on the adjacent lower string.

FIGURE 3 is another Shawn Lane-inspired run, this time based on a steady progression of 32-note patterns, each of which descends in four-note groups while also shifting up the fretboard in whole-tone (two-fret) increments. Once again, the lick is performed with alternate picking throughout, so start slowly and gradually build up speed, striving for clear, precise articulation. FIGURE 4 offers a cool variation, in which the first note is picked repeatedly before descending the remainder of the pattern.

FIGURE 5 is also based on alternate-picked 32-notes, this time with each note in the pattern double-picked, as I descend the B minor pentatonic scale (B D E F# A). I highly recommend checking out Shawn’s masterful playing on his solo albums and many guest appearances.

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