Stephen Ross: Shrapnel Style Shredding 101

What do I mean by the term, “Shrapnel Style Shredding?” To me, it means breaking out of the box (no pun intended) and pushing the guitar to its limit. And, just when you think maybe limits exist after all, a new artist comes out and shatters your entire belief system.

Remember when a pentatonic scale was thought as a box shape? Well, after Mike Varney, owner of the Shrapnel record label, started seeking out the hottest unknown guitarists on the planet and releasing their music, the pentatonic scale morphed into a whole new three-note-per-string monster. And that was only the beginning! Then there was sweeping arpeggios, sting skipping, tapping licks of all shapes and forms, legato madness and machine gun style picking all coupled with musicality, phrasing and emotion. This lesson is designed to give you a crash course in this style of playing by showing several licks, which in my opinion define "Shrapnel Style Shredding".

Sometimes you will hear a player say that they don’t know what scale they are playing. They may not know what scale they are playing, but they are relying on some sort of system of patterns and positions to know what notes to play over a given key. They just don’t know the name and theory behind the patterns they are using. Imagine trying to improvise over changes thinking in terms of one note at a time. Your fingers would get tied up in knots. Scales and patterns are necessary to map the music in your head to the guitar neck. Even if you have perfect pitch, and can hear every note, you will still need to find them on the guitar neck and you do that with scales and patterns.

If we look at all the possible permutations of a chromatic scale (without repetition) we see the number is quite large, 12*11*10*9*8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1 = 479,001,600. Wow, that is a big number! For a seven note scale it is, 7*6*5*4*3*2*1 = 5040 and a five note scale is, 5*4*3*2*1 = 120. If anyone has some free time, try writing out the 479,001,600 possible permutations of the chromatic scale. It would only take 90 years to finish this if you wrote out 14,950 patterns a day. Well, maybe just try it with a triad. That would only be 3*2*1 = 6. For a C Major triad they would be; CDE, CED, DCE, DED, ECD, EDC. So the point is; you have plenty of patterns and possible note sequences to work with.

Imagine picking up a guitar and playing something for the first time. Where do you start? What scales do you normally play? We all would like to be able to play perfectly everything musically we hear in our heads all of the time, but unfortunately; this is not always the case. Many times we get nervous or just don’t feel inspired and we get short circuited. It is good to have an ample supply of great sounding phrases, scales and patterns available at all times just in case we are in one those situations when the music just isn’t flowing freely. Create these standbys from licks that you played previously that sound great to your ear. Analyze what you like about a phrase and capitalize on it and write more of them. It is also a good idea to write these down so that you can have them for reference if needed. So earlier, I asked you to evaluate what you normally play when first picking up a guitar. Do you usually revert to the same five patterns or scales? Do you usually stay on the top three strings? Do you always descend when playing fast and never ascend? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself. This is a great way to work on weaknesses and shortcomings.

Before we dive into the examples, I just want to point out a few things: A chromatic scale is a twelve note scale with each note being a half-step or semitone apart. A mode is one out of seven diatonic scales (seven note octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave). A pentatonic scale is a five note scale. If you take a diatonic scale such as C Major, and remove the dissonant intervals, the fourth and seventh; you will get a C major pentatonic. Finally an Arpeggio is when you play the notes of a chord individually like a scale. These are the components from which these examples are derived.


Lick one takes the pentatonic scale and transforms it into a lick that utilized three-note-per-string stretched, legato playing, sweeping and two-hand tapping. The lick is in G minor. Most of this example comes from the pentatonic minor scale with chromatic embellishments; however the final part of the lick is built from a Bb major arpeggio:

Lick two takes a basic arpeggio shape and transforms it into a lick with chromatic tones, two-hand taps and legato phrases. The lick is in C Mixolydian which I like to think of as F Major starting on the C note:

Lick three takes a few modal shapes and transforms them into savage alternate picking licks that span most of the guitar neck. This lick is in G major:

And finally for lick four we mix together some sweeping and tapping to push the speed limit in playing arpeggios. This lick strings together an E7, A7, D7 and G7 arpeggios:

Well, there you have it, a crash course in Shrapnel Style shredding. Now don't forget to practice all of these licks to a metronome until cleanly executed. After that, start ripping them apart in all positions and keys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

About Stephen Ross:
Stephen Ross is a professional guitarist/author who released is debut CD, "Midnight Drive" on Shrapnel Records in the early nineties. He is also the other of the book "Arpeggios for the Modern Guitarist" published by Hal Leonard and leader and chief songwriter of the Rogosonic project. Stephen has finished writing and recording his second instrumental release. No release date available yet.

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