How to shred like Yngwie Malmsteen

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If you want to play like the best, you should know how the best became the best. If you know that, you can do the same thing they did, and achieve the same results. In the next series of articles I’m going to give you every little nugget that I’ve picked up in my study of Yngwie Malmsteen. I've found that there are two sides to cover when it comes to this guy. 1. How to play like Yngwie and 2. How to think like him. It's not enough to study his style of playing and copying everything he does won't contribute much to the world anyway. But if we pick his brain and see what goes on in there, we can develop similar ways to play that doesn't necessarily sound like him.

Build your own style

It’s  really cool to study the playing style of Yngwie because it’s so radically different from most other players. But the Malmsteen style comes from his mind. Like a dog that looks a lot like it’s owner, Yngwie Malmsteen’s playing is a direct reflection of who he is. In these articles I’m going to give you a series of licks that Malmsteen uses most often, but then I’m also going to show you how you can develop these ideas into something original, into something you have created.

Death to perfectionism

So let’s get going. The first thing I think about when someone mentions the name “Yngwie Malmsteen” is his casual playing style. I actually used to dislike his playing because I thought it was sloppy and casual. I was all into Paul Gilbert and razor edge precision in everything I did. If I played a 32 note run and I didn’t hit one of the notes as precisely and perfectly as the others, I would beat myself up. But as I grew more mature I started to recognize one amazing element in Yngwies playing, that I see in almost no other hard rock guitarists: Yngwie is not a perfectionist. In my experience, this guy is one of the only ones who is willing to make obvious mistakes when he’s playing. Some might argue that he is indeed a great perfectionist, but then how does he define "perfect" - it's certainly not in technical terms.

Anarchistic playing style

Compared to the playing of Mr. Paul Gilbert and so many others, Yngwie is sloppy, unpriced  casual and undisciplinedbut his playing is alive like no others in my experience. Some of his solo work is simply magical. When this man is at his best it sounds like there’s a demon screaming through the room. This anarchistic playing style makes him one of the most interesting players to listen to. Even though he uses many of the same sequences, arpeggios and licks over and over and over again, his work is always entertaining.

One String Yngwie Lick

This is the original Yngwie lick. It's a great way to practice the scale patterns on one string and really get them into your fingers!

One String Yngwie Variation 01

This is the first variation of the same lick. Notice how your left hand fingers are doing the same work, only the hand moves to shift position

Sloppy on purpose

When this dawned on me, I developed explosively. When I realized that my perfectionism had taken the fun out of playing guitar and that the sound I really loved came from a passionate anarchist and not a perfectionist, I began to purposefully play sloppy! When you are too much into what you play with your mind, you can’t let go and 1. Enjoy the process 2. Play with emotion. So I had to practice not playing everything perfect in order to get away from that. It's not that playing sloppy will sound greater than actually hitting all the notes you intend to hit, but it was a way for me to define another direction. A more musical and relaxed one.

“If it sounds right, it is right!”

This way of looking at music is contained in this Malmsteen quote: “If it sounds right, it is right” Since music is about sound, the sound of the music must be the ultimate judge of whether or not a lick or run is right, right?  :-) This seems like an obvious fact. But for me and many other people this wasn’t self evident. I believed in the assumption that, “If I played it right, it must be right” I didn’t bother using my ears to figure out whether or not I liked the result of what I just played.

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How to use this

This is so important: If you play with your mind and not your ears you are going to be an amateur musician all of your life. No matter how many skills you develop and how many people pat you on the shoulder, you will never find that amazing place where the notes flow from you like water. And this is not something you can only do when you have 10 years of training. You can start right now. Try this on for size: Play one 1 minute sequence of notes. You might play fast or slow depending on your level of skill.

But whatever you do - don’t stop... Keep on keeping on for one minute. Whenever you don’t know what to play, force yourself to play something anyway. Then go for two minutes, and three minutes. This exercise, done frequently, will not only build flow, it will also force you out of perfectionism. Since you have to keep on playing your brain have to focus on the future and not the past. It has to keep going for the next note instead of agonising about the last one.

Loosen up your licks!

Another thing you can do to loosen up your playing style is to practice playing most things legato. Revise all your sequences and runs and put as many hammer ons and pull offs in them as possible. This will allow you to loosen up some of your alternate picking licks and make them a lot easier to play. I’m not saying you shouldn’t play strict alternate picking anymore, but having an alternative can really assist you in going for more of the impressive fast stuff.

Make more noise

Practice ending and beginning licks sliding up or down the neck. Because a great deal of Yngwies solo work is improvised he's not always ending runs in the most elegant way. So what do you do if you're in the middle of a run and you have to end it to reach for that high note in the fret? You stop playing the run by sliding down the neck, you make some noise, then you pick a low note on the high E-string and slide that up to the fret. Bring some craziness into your playing!

Let yourself loose

For the next couple of weeks, focus solely on having fun when you play solos. Forget about playing something beautiful or cool, go for fun and outrageousness instead. Refuse to focus on whether or not you play “the correct things with the correct techniques” just let yourself loose on the fretboard with what ever skills you have.

One String Yngwie Variation 02

Practice the first to bars over and over until you really master them before going on to the next ones

Play like the best

The skills of Jimi Hendrix was very limited compared to most shredders today. But at the time he was one of the best and since he thought of himself as such - he played like that. How would you play if you where one of the best? How would you hold yourself and your guitar? Imagine visiting another planet where all the inhabitants have never heard music before. You are the only one with a guitar and everybody’s amazed about what you can do with it. How would that feel? How would you play.

Spend one minute imagining this and then pick up your instrument. How would you play if everyone in the audience screamed with excitement when ever you played a note? What would that do to your creativity? Would you loosen up and be more outrageous? Yngwie plays like he's the best in the world at what he does. A lot of people think he is and a lot of people think he isn't. But that doesn't seem to bother Mr. Malmsteen. He plays and holds himself like a king every time. Do you?

Beware of the demon of perfection

If you’re like me, you are going to do all this, but as soon as you start getting into it a critical voice is going to say “Who are you kidding this doesn’t sound great!” The way to silence this inner deamon of perfectionism is to do all this in an atmosphere of play and fun. Don’t take it seriously! This is the whole point. If you take it seriously you open the door so the demon of perfection can enter! If you see it as fun, it’s going to stay outside.

Yngwie has probably inspired more people to pick up the guitar and play, than anyone on the planet. Of course his music has a great deal to do with that, but to me, his flamboyant master-of-the-universe attitude is the main reason. We all want that. But the road to that place isn’t solely based on skill and ability but on attitude as well. Dare to rock the house with pride and power and maybe you’ll find yourself saying “Hey! That was totally sloppy and far from perfect but totally awesomely cool!”