You know as guitar players we are often obsessed with learning new scales. We think if we can just master Hungarian Minor or the Dominant Pentatonic scale that we will reach the level of virtuosic nirvana only glimpsed in one of Steve Vai’s fever dreams. But there is a dirty little secret that most of us miss and that is that rhythm matters when we play lead guitar too. No, I am not talking about actual rhythm guitar (rhythm guitar, for the uninitiated, is that boring stuff between our solos!) but playing leads with an interesting rhythm and not falling back on just regular old sixteenth notes and eighth notes. This is something all of the greats from Eddie Van Halen, to Albert King, to John Coltrane knew well. But sometimes even just regular syncopation isn’t going to cut it. Want to know what might? Then you should read on.

One easy thing we can do that will instantly spice up the proceedings is to use odd groupings of notes. This isn’t using odd time signatures, but staying within the structure of a sixteenth note and grouping it in 5’s or 7’s. What will happen if you do this is you will have one extra sixteenth note over the beat when you group in 5’s and one fewer than two beats if you group in 7’s. The sound makes what you are playing instantly interesting and catchy to the ear.

Check out the 5’s grouping here applied to the G Major scale.

(Check out the 5’s sequence)
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The big challenge is to overcome your inclination to want everything to be right on the downbeat, but of course that is exactly what we are trying not to do. It takes a little practice, but it is well worth it. Just go slow and play it to the metronome until you can feel it. Want something even more exotic?

Check out the 7’s pattern this time applied to the A Phrygian scale.

(Check out the 7’s sequence)
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Not only does the Phrygian scale bring an exotic flavor to the party, but it is being enhanced by the odd grouping. This is something that can be a powerful tool when improvising if not over used.

These groupings are also very effective when used in a linear fashion along one string. It takes something that might sound a little unimaginative and adds a little zazz!

Here is the linear 5’s grouping along the high E string in A Minor.

(Check out the linear 5’s)
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Here is the same scale grouped in the 7’s sequence.

(Check out the linear 7’s)
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Of course, you don’t have to go to something unusual like a pattern of 5’s or 7’s to get the job done. You could take a familiar idea like a group of 4 sequence and just do a little rhythmic displacement. Now this is not nearly as complicated as it sounds, all you have to do is start the sequence on a sixteenth note other than the first one of the beat. It will feel like a much hipper version of a regular run of the mill scale sequence. In other words, you get a lot of bang for your sequence buck when you phrase this way.

Here is the group of 4 sequence starting on the second sixteenth note of the beat on G Major.

(Check out offset sixteenth notes #1)
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Here is the same sequence starting on the third sixteenth note.

(Check out offset sixteenth notes #2)
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Finally, the coolest one which is the same sequence starting on the 4th sixteenth note.

(Check out offset sixteenth notes #3)
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Remember that the world is your oyster here and these can be applied to any sixteenth note grouping, sequence, or lick you might know. One thing to keep in mind is that just like how a powerful spice can add a lot to any dish, using too much can ruin it. So it is with these offset sequence concepts. They are best used as a little spice to add flavor to any solo phrase you can think of, but if you use it too much it won’t give the listener anything to hold on to. Always remember that music is meant to be listened to and while we guitar players might find it incredibly clever that we included all of these interesting concepts, the average listener just wants to be entertained by what they are hearing. As we all learned from Uncle Ben in Spiderman, with great power comes great reasonability. So use these tools with economy and finesse and your playing will stand out from the crowd in the best of ways!


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