Breaking free from the tyranny of time

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A simple but radical idea

This article contains one very important distinction when it comes to soloing. It’s applicable to any style of music and any instrument really. When I figured this one out, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about it anywhere. At the time, I had read my way through a lot of material on music theory and improvising, but nowhere had I come across this simple idea. I promise you this: If you will, not only read, but also apply what you learn on this page, you will experience a lot more freedom and fun when you kick in the extra distortion and start soloing.

An essential Yngwie trademark

In my alternate picking articles, I’ve been stressing the importance of practicing with a metronome. It’s so important to develop precision in a technical and rhythmical sense, especially when you play fast. The main reason of course is to make sure that you synchronize the right and let hand in systematical and predictable way. This article however is about the complete opposite. It’s about playing “out of time” This is one of Yngwies trademarks and one of the main keys to his unique style.

Playing outside the rhythm

But before we go on let’s be very clear about what I mean by “playing out of time” When it comes to notes, you can play “outside the scale” simply by choosing notes that don’t fit the key you’re in. This is a technique used very frequently in Jazz and Fusion music. But you can also play “outside” in a rhythmical sense, that is, you can leave the beat of the music completely for a while. When you do this, you forget about playing triplets, quarter notes and eight notes. You leave the mathematical equation of the music for a while and launch out into a run of lick that doesn’t fit the beat in any way.

Yngwie is outside most of the time

Malmsteen is out of time, 90 % of the time! He is not connected in any logic or mathematical way to the basic beat of the music most of the time he plays solos. In some solos it’s 95 %. Compared to other guitar players that’s very extreme. Paul Gilbert, for instance, “leaves” the music only 5 to 10 % of the time and most other shred metal guitarists never does. So this is quite a remarkable.

Most of the fast stuff Yngwie does has no connection to the music rhythmically, but when he begins and ends his runs, he’s very much connected.You could say that his solos mainly consists of fast “out of time” stuff with slower lines in between that are “in time” Try listening to a solo of his right now and notice how much of the time he’s wandering outside the rhyhmical context of the song.

Raging fireballs of fury

When I started learning to create my own solos I had no idea that I was “allowed” to move outside the song in this way. I found it very difficult to play improvised solos because I felt I had to begin and end every line perfectly in this sense. Ibelieved that I had to create "a song" on the spot with perfect in-time endings and beginnings. Then I started to wonder what made Yngwie's playing so chaotic, free and refreshingly spontaneous and then it hit me: He’s focusing a lot more on the sound of the solo rather than the single note. His solos are raging fireballs of fury and not perfect lines of licks and notes arranged in a neat, logical rhythmical sequence.

Tension and release

Learning how to play outside the scale is essential if you’re a Jazz musician. But it is equally important to learn how to play “outside the rhythm” when you’re a rock player. Music is a constant string of tension and release. When you play outside the basic rhythm of the song, you make your “inside” licks sound much more interesting. You release the tension that you created by playing outside the rhythm. The same thing goes in relation to the actual notes you are playing. If all you are doing is playing the notes of the chord playing in the back ground, it’s going to sound pretty boring after a while. So you need the other notes of the scale to create some tension.

And it becomes so much more fun to solo when you’re not strapped into the rigid rhythmical structure of the song all the time. You get a chance to wander of into the wild and come back into the beat again when you’re ready for it. When it comes to rock music, Malmsteen is a true master of this discipline. Listen and learn, then start doing it yourself.

Old School NeoClassical Lick 01

This is pure vintage Yngwie. A must-know lick for the Neoclassical shredder. I use my second finger to slide up to that high note in the end.

Old School NeoClassical Lick 02

This is the same lick played on all strings thorugh the Harmonic minor. Yngwie uses this specific type of run in a lot of his compositions. 

Old School NeoClassical Lick 03

Yngwie likes to end a lot of his phrases in this way. Notice the pickup switching from the neck pickup to the bridge pickup in the middle of the bend. Play around with this until you get that wah-like effect. If you're using a humbucker in the bridge position, chances are this effect won't be very convincing. simply because most humbuckers hasn't got enough high end. If you want to be able to create this effect, replace your bridge pickup.

Here’s how to implement this in your own playing

1. Select and practice licks that has an uneven amount of notes in them

A lot of the licks on this website consists of 5, 7 and 11 notes. And these doesn’t fit the 4/4 time signature very well. Playing these licks and runs forces you to leave the rhythm of the song and go for some outside playing. In my experience it sounds really great to use sequences and runs with an uneven number of notes, to produce these out-of-time lines in a solo and the reason is this: The ear can’t find the beginning and the end in these sequences because it’s not used to patterns with an uneven number of notes in them. So it gives up and focuses on the general sound of the notes instead.

It’s easier to play outside the rythm with uneven sequences and it easier to get a great sounding result. Runs that are based on triplets, for instance, seems to want to get back into the rhythm and they have a tendency to sound “wrong” when you use them for outside playing. It’s a bit hard to explain in writing but you’ll experience this yourself when you try it out. At least half of the sequences and runs that I have in my vocabulary has an uneven number of notes in them.

2. Practice playing out of time deliberately

Try this on for size: Start your metronome or use a backing track you can solo over. Then begin your solo playing in-time. Fire off a couple of cool sounding in-time licks and then go for something fast. If this feel completely awkward to you, use a legato lick or run to do this. You might even add some tapping to the mix also. Then slow the lick down gradually until you are able to find your way back into the rhythm and end the lick in a funky rhythmical way. Repeat this process over and over again until it feels natural.

To really own this technique make sure that you use "outside playing" to it’s fullest extend over the next couple of weeks or months. Exaggerate it as much as you can. Sometimes we need to overdo something in order to break an old pattern of playing and phrasing. If you do this enough you’ll start to use it without thinking about it. It will become a part of your musical vocabulary, a part that is going to add unbelivable variety and spice to your solos.