How to create the Malmsteen sound

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Change one note and everything changes

The last tool you need to be able to improvise over any rock, pop or metal chord progression, is the Harmonic minor scale. This scale is our old friend the Minor / Major scale with a slight change and a new name. You take your natural A-Minor scale but change the 7th step and push it up one fret. Here's our well known A-Minor / C-Major pattern:

Now let's push the 7th step up one fret (The G note). That makes the pattern look like this:

You can use this scale over a normal A-Minor progression, when ever it sounds cool to do so. It's especially effective when you play over the 5th chord in the key of A-Minor, which would be the chord E-Major. But don't get too tangled up in theory, play around with it and use your ears to decide when to use what.

Malmsteen's favorite pet scale

If you turn the 5th chord of the A-Minor scale, into the 1st - then suddenly you're playing in the "Phrygian mode". That simply means that instead of using A-Minor or C-Major as you primary chord, you use the E-Major chord. So you would start and end you chord progression on that E-Major chord. This will give you a very dark and dramatic sounding chord progression. Yngwie Malmsteen uses this "Phrygian mode" very often. He might even write a song in A-Minor but when the solo starts he will shift to a chord progression that has E-Major as the primary chord. This allows him to use the harmonic minor scale during the entire solo.

When you play over an E-Phrygian chord progression the A-Minor harmonic sounds great all the time! So you get to stay in that raging sound of doom.

Here's a nice bonus:

When ever it sounds great to use the Harmonic Minor, it also sounds great to use the Diminished triad! And the diminished triad is one of the most useful tools in the Neo-Classical style of music. The diminished triad looks like this over the Harmonic minor:

I could have added more notes on the low E-string but this particular pattern is easier to remember. This is a very useful improvising tool and it's the easiest arpeggio to remember because it only has one pattern. This one pattern repeats itself over and over again. Try playing the Harmonic minor pattern followed by the diminished triad and go back and forth to hear how they sound.

Here's another important note: previously we have used the pentatonic scale as our "home base" because the notes from that scale sounds good over any chord in the key. When you play solos over a phrygian chord progression, the diminished triad is your home base! Starting and ending licks on one of these notes will not only sound OK it will sound really, really cool.

Now let's see how the Harmonic Minor looks in a four notes per string pattern:

The notes that fit the diminished triad are blue in this illustration. You are going to have to get used to the extra stretch of a minor third, but act as there's no other way around it and just do it. If you like Neo-Classical music this is a must to learn! As always, you can find the Harmonic Minor patterns under the tab "Resources" on this website.

Scales? - There can be only one...

Please be very aware of the fact that we're still just using the A-Minor / C-Major scale to produce this sound. For me, there is only this one scale, and then there are different scale patterns, like the pentatonic scale, that I put on top of that scale. But it's still the same notes I use. Then there are arpeggios like the diminished one, but that's still just the same notes. You can put new patterns on top of this scale for the rest of your life and they are just tools to improvise with. And every time you practice a "new" thing, you're really practicing the same old scale one more time, only used in a slightly different way or with a slight alteration. So when people ask you what scales you are using, you can answer "There can be only one..."

E-Blues Terror Lick

Different perspectives cannot turn one thing into many

Keep focusing on this basic truth and stay out of overwhelm. When you see different photographs of a neighborhood that you've never been to, every picture is going to look like it's taken in a different city. But when you know the neighborhood, it's only one thing you're looking at. If you keep yourself from being overwhelmed and focus on one thing at a time, I promise you, the entire seemingly complex world of scales will become "one thing" very fast.

Music theory and scales are a multidimensional world, because the outlook changes totally depending on what note and what chord that plays the "leading role" in the musical movie. That's why it can seem extremely confusing at first. But the same building does not become ten buildings just because you take ten different photographs from ten different angles - it might seem that way to a stranger - but it's of course merely the same old building.

In my next article I'm going to give you a very easy tool you can
use to instantly decide what scale to use over any chord progression. This will allow you to never be in doubt and to always know how to produce a great result. Until then, have fun with the Harmonic minor and that very special sound it produces.