In previous columns I’ve discussed licks that have stayed strictly within a particular scale or arpeggio. However, some of the coolest sounds in music are achieved when you play ‘outside’ of a scale. In other words, you play notes that aren’t correct for the overall key. This use of what’s called chromatic passing tones (notes that don’t belong to the scale or key you’re playing in) is very common in jazz guitar however it can also be great for metal soloing.

An easy way to achieve the added color that chromatic tones provide is to use symmetrical fingering patterns across multiple strings. By this I mean you play the exact same fretboard ‘shape’ on each string. When you do this certain notes will generally belong to a particular scale, while the symmetrical fingerings will also dictate the presence of additional chromatic or ‘outside’ tones. This can result in some cool, yet ‘out-there’ sounds.

When using symmetrical licks you should probably only play them in short phrases – if you based your entire solo off these patterns it would sound too peculiar and not cohesive. Also, the dissonance created by these shapes should be resolved to a safer scale or strong chord tone (root-third-fifth).


As you can see from the tablature, Exercise 1 uses the exact same fret groupings across the strings on the 11th, 12th and 15th frets. The symmetrical fingering you should use here is index-middle-pinky. Roughly in the key of E minor (as with the other exercises), this lick simply descends then ascends through the pattern using a steady stream of semi-quavers before ending with a held G note (the third). If we analyzed this run, we could view it as belonging to the E Blues scale (E-G-A-Bb-B-D) with the addition of a major seventh (D#) and second (F#) as passing tones. This lick, as with all the others in this column, should be alternate (down/up) picked.

Hear Exercise 1


The fretboard pattern here is the 12th, 15th and 17th frets. Use the same fingering as Exercise 1, only this time it will be a much larger stretch. Descending through to the 12th fret on the second string, the run then climbs back up and down on that string before moving to the third string and then ascending straight back up to the first. One of the cool things about this ‘shape’ is that as you descend from the first to the second strings, you get a doubled E note – strange, but it sounds different than if you just played two E’s on the one string. This lick uses notes from E natural minor (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D) with an ‘outside’ flat-five (Bb) included when it moves to the third string.

Hear Exercise 2


This lick sounds crazy and it’s one of my personal favorites. It’s exactly the same as Exercise 2, only here you reach your pinky out to the 18th fret for a very wide three-fret stretch between each finger. Due to this wide stretch, as you descend through the pattern on each consecutive string, you actually play notes higher in pitch – quite unusual and bizarre-sounding. Theoretically, we could analyze this lick as being predominantly E Locrian=based (E=F=G=A=Bb=C=D) with an added chromatic major sixth (C#).

Hear Exercise 3

I’ve only used the first three strings for these licks but you can try using all six strings for some even wackier sounds. On the recordings I’ve also doubled-up each run since they sound quite cool as repeated motifs. There are many more possible symmetrical patterns to explore so try coming up with some of your own sick and twisted sounding licks!