Odd Man Out: Using Different Meters to Accommodate Your Technique

The following is taken from John Petrucci's classic column, "Wild Stringdom." For our final lesson on chromatics, I thought I'd throw you a little curve and give you a few odd-meter exercises in 5/8. Now you might ask, "Why play anything in 5/8?" Well, I came up with this sequence because it's easier for me to play across the strings. As some of you already know, I use alternate (down-up-down-up) picking exclusively. This can present a bit of an efficiency problem when crossing strings to play a three-note-per-string pattern, because the first note on every other string lands on an upstroke. To avoid this awkward movement and make my patterns flow a bit better, I try to craft them so that each time I cross strings, the first note falls on a downstroke. Let's get the 5/8 feel under our fingers first. FIGURE 1 is a good place to start.

Practice it by playing it on each string up and down the neck chromatically to the 12th position and back. Don't be intimidated by the odd meter: the one important thing to remember is that even though the rhythm is syncopated, the picking remains steady and strictly alternate (down-up-down-up). Once you feel a little bit more comfortable with 5/8 meter, play FIGURE 2, a great exercise to work on your string-crossing technique. Notice that I added accents to the pattern as if it were written in triplets. But if the pattern was simply three 16th-note triplets (or 9/16 meter), crossing strings would be awkward. To make it easier to pick, I added one note to that 9/16 pattern (making it a figure in 5/8 meter) while still accenting the notes to keep a bit of the triplet feel.

One way I make FIGURE 2 more exciting is by playing it up the neck using a metronome with the guitar set to the bridge pickup. When I reach the 12th position, I'll raise the metronome setting a few clicks and change to the neck pickup, and work my way back down. I keep repeating this until I either reach my target metronome tempo OR I feel sufficiently warmed up. I change pickups just because I like the way the neck pickup sounds in the upper register. To make this exercise even more interesting, try applying the 5/8 sequence to a diagonal four-note-per-string chromatic scale. Though Chopin's Etude No. 2, Opus 10 doesn't have any measures in 5/8 time, it's full of "diagonal" chromatic moves such as those found in FIGURE 3.

Make sure to practice these patterns with a metronome-this will certainly get you playing fast, clean and with a lot of authority. Lest you think that 5/8 is too impractical a time signature, play FIGURE 4, a riff that doesn't sound "odd-meterish" at all-in fact, it rocks pretty hard.

If you've worked on the other chromatic exercises in this lesson, you should be able to feel the 5/8 pulse pretty easily by now, so this one shouldn't be too difficult.

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