Here’s another application for scales using open strings on the guitar. In this case, the ringing open strings create a very harp- or piano like impression in the arpeggio. Hmm… is it an arpeggio or a scale? That’s the cool thing about these open string licks – the way the notes in a scale can ring over one another creates a much more chord/arpeggio-like impression, instead of a dry, separated scale sound.

This is a difficult technique for those of you who haven’t played a scale this way before. My first impression was, “Oh man, if its this difficult, I’ll stick to the scale forms I know!” However, the sounds you can create with this technique are too cool to ignore, so I’ve broken this down very, VERY slowly, so that you’re sure to be able to play this after the lesson. (Tabs are below the video – click on “Read more”) Have fun:

Pay close attention to the picking technique in the video as well. It is far better explained there than in text.This “banjo roll” style of playing is by no means limited to country-style players! Many blues players use pick and fingers techniques, and even rock and metal giants Eddie Van Halen and Zakk Wylde are known for tearing up the fretboard using “banjo roll” technique to create flowing guitar lines. Just search youtube and you’ll quickly find a video of Zakk Wylde playing insane runs through a cranked Marshall amp using this picking style.

As I mentioned in the previous post, these open string scales and licks seem rather counter-intuitive at first; you find yourself reaching for a higher string to play a lower note, and vice versa. The mind recoils in horror at this breach of guitar logic… Tabs may or may not help you get your head around this, but here goes:

This is the basic scale that I play, without using open strings. Play this once to get it in your ear. It is a D major scale descending from E to A (which hints at the sound of an A7 chord):


Here is how to play this scale using open strings and keeping as many consecutive notes ringing as possible. It would have been possible to play the low A on the 5th fret of the low E-string and let the B note ring over it, but I wanted to open string to ring so I could play the harmonics on the 7th fret of the high E- and B-strings over it. Beyond that, letting those adjacent notes ring sounds better in the higher registers:


Now, here is the lick I played as shown in the video. It is a sequence played through the scale, descending in groups of 6 notes:


When you feel like you’ve got this under control, move on to the post before this one, where I go over a C scale using open strings in a higher position and an accompanying fast guitar lick that uses that shape. See you next time.