Thinking About Guitar Outside the Box

Most of my previous posts have been aimed at helping you understand how to move around the neck in a particular key so that you can break out of the typical pentatonic box for soloing or lead melody ideas. For this lesson we are going to use the same concept but in a totally different way!

Lead guitarist Zakk Wylde slinging a few of his Gibson Les Paul Custom model guitars

Today we will deal with symmetrical runs as well as chromatic ideas. Now we aren’t talking about car parts or some new yoga stretch but rather some cool and very different sounding patterns for you to try out. Symmetrical runs are favored by players like Eddie Van Halen and Zakk Wylde who always seem to find a way to make notes and passages sound out of this world and super interesting. An example of a symmetrical run would be something as seen below.

E 9 12 15
B 9 12 15
G 9 12 15
D 9 12 15
A 9 12 15
E 9 12 15

As you can see the same frets are used as you ascend up and across the neck. A common problem for some players is that these stretches aren’t exactly easy to make and take some getting used to. You may have to work on how far apart you can stretch your hand. Another important thing to work on is to try and use your first, second and pinky fingers when doing something like this.

It is very important that you understand what note you will resolve to. In the case of the lick above, you would resolve to a G. I would use a lick like this in an E minor or G major setting or lead passage. As you know if you’ve been following my posts, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining how to move around the neck in a certain key. A symmetrical run doesn’t sound like it’s in a key because technically it’s not. That makes it a challenge to use correctly since it’s important to resolve to a note in the key of which you are playing a song or jam in. Yet, at the same time it makes it sound really cool since it’s going against the grain of typical modal runs. Let’s take the example above one step further, and play this in triplets.

9 12 15
9 12 15 9 12 15
G 9
12 15 9 12 15
D 9 12 15 9 12 15
A 9 12 15 9 12 15
E 9 12 15

Doing something like this always comes across sounding really cool in my opinion. From here you can get into chromatics. Playing in chromatics means that you are playing every note in and out of the key you are in as passing tones to a note that is in the key you are in. The point here is to resolve to a note that is in the key you are in, but leaving the key in the middle using chromatic can lead to some cool ideas and tensions. Let’s skip the talking and get into the examples!

E 15 15
B 15 16 17 17 16 15 14 13 12
G 12

This is an example of playing in E minor but using the connecting notes to pair with the notes of the key to make an interesting musical statement. So last but not least lets combine a symmetrical run with chromatics and have some fun!

12 14 15 14 13 12 15
12 14 15 15 16 17
G 12 14 15
D 9 12 15
A 9 12 15 9 12 15
E 9 12 15

Work on this and you will be able to freely switch between staying in one key, or use these new ideas to expand and vary your guitar vocabulary!

Thanks for reading.

Brian Marshak is a staff writer at SMG. Brian is also a guitar player and composer in Hollywood, CA. He began playing guitar at the age of six and is mainly self taught from guitar magazines, jamming with other players and learning songs from tapes and cd’s. Brian studied at the Berklee School of Music for awhile on scholarship but left school early to move to Hollywood to work as a professional musician. Since 2006 he has done session work, live showcases, and touring for various bands. Email:

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  • Jesse

    thanks for the cool lessons, how about some video instructions, if not asking too much!

  • Jesse – nope, you’re not asking too much. we’ll have that for you soon!

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