Thrash Course with Dave Davidson: Applying the Diminished Scale to the Pre-Chorus and Chorus of “Deathless”

Last month, I introduced the two different primary forms of the diminished scale, which I use as the basis for the riffs heard on the title track of the latest Revocation release, Deathless. This month, I’d like to go over the song’s pre-chorus and chorus sections.

The two primary forms of the diminished scale are very similar. In essence, they are exactly the same, except the second form simply starts from the second note of the first form.

One of the forms is often referred to as “whole-half,” or “W-H-W-H,” etc., which signifies the pattern of ascending a whole step, then a half step, then a whole step, then a half step, etc. If we were to instead start from the second degree of this pattern and make that note the root note, the result would be “half-whole,” or “H-W-H-W,” etc.

Let’s begin with the pre-chorus, which is the song’s third riff, illustrated in FIGURE 1. Like the initial riff, this figure is played in 5/4 meter, is based on the structure of the half-whole diminished scale and utilizes two-note harmonies played in conjunction with bass pedal tones. FIGURE 1 is built from two four-bar phrases, the first of which is performed with alternate (down-up) picking, as applied to 16th notes. Whenever there’s an eighth note followed by two 16ths, such as on beat one of each bar, the eighth note is sounded with a downstroke and the following 16th note is picked with another downstroke, followed by an upstroke on the next 16th note. Be sure to keep your pick-hand wrist relaxed so that you will be able to power through this pattern with an aggressive yet precise delivery.

Proper palm-muting technique is also essential to the clean execution of this lick. Indicated by the abbreviations P.M., palm muting is achieved by resting the edge of the pick-hand palm across the low strings just in front of the bridge. In bars 1–4, palm muting is applied to all the low pedal tones played on the sixth string. In bars 5–8, the rhythm of the line switches to eighth notes, so I use mostly consecutive downstrokes in bars 5 and 6 and switch to alternate-picked eighth-note strumming in bars 7 and 8.

FIGURE 2 shows the song’s chorus rhythm part, which is built from strummed octave shapes fretted on either the sixth and fourth strings, or the fifth and third strings. I switch to straight 4/4 meter here because, for the chorus, I wanted to get a more rock feel that drives the beat hard. Bars 1¬–5 are played in a steady eighth-note rhythm, for which I use alternate (down-up) strumming. Then, in bar 6 into bar 7, I incorporate tremolo picking. While holding specific octave shapes with the fret hand, the pick-hand alternate picks (actually strums) the shapes as quickly as possible. Again, be sure to keep your pick-hand wrist loose to attain the proper snap and clarity needed when playing this part.

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