Today we’re proudly launching the second Masters in Mechanics seminar! It’s called Antigravity. And it’s all about breaking the rules.
Update: we no longer offer the live seminar, but you can learn more about our Masters in Mechanics series — and Antigravity Digital — here.
Reimagining the Laws of Nature
In the first episode of Cracking the Code Season 2, “Get Down for the Upstroke”, we introduced a new world order of picking technique. By way of an elegantly simple mechanical adjustment called downward pickslanting, we unlocked Yngwie’s ability to perform speedy string changes with unheard-of levels of speed and accuracy. And in the process, a door to a world of musical expression swung wide before us. It’s a world inhabited by some of the greatest players of all time, many of whom share similar mechanical approaches. And now it’s inhabited by all of us. Far from requiring the athletic abilities of a natural athlete, Yngwie’s system for string navigation is learnable by just about anyone, because it’s based on a simple set of mechanical rules.
And today, just a few short weeks later, we’re going to break them.
In Masters in Mechanics Antigravity, we’ll lift the curtain on a distinctly un-Yngwie-like kind of fretboard organization: odd-numbered note groupings. Since the advent of the shred era, when players pursued virtuosity the way a drag racer pursues of horsepower, the ability to play three-note-per-string scales with picking has been a touchstone of guitar technique. Scale playing may be an elementary exercise practiced by beginners on other instruments. But thanks to the co-planar arrangement of the strings on the guitar — and on an array of instruments with similar designs — doing this with a guitar pick turns out to be quite the challenge. So much so, in fact, that only a selection of the world’s elite players seem to possess the capability to do this with strict alternate picking, in both directions, across all the strings.
In the technical arms race of the ’80s, this particular ability immediately became the showstopper. Like Franco Colombu bursting a hot water bottle with nothing but the power of his lungs, accurate, hyper-speed scale playing was a kind of carnival strongman routine that thrilled Sunset strip groupies and suburban bedroom shredders alike.
And it was something that Yngwie himself never actually did.
The Power of Two
In the Yngwie world, based entirely on downward pickslanting, musical vocabularies are constructed of phrases which primarily contain an even number of pickstrokes per string. This allows string changes to happen after upstrokes, when the pick is in the air — and this enables the legendary efficiency of dwps.
There were exceptions, of course. By using pull-offs, Yngwie could convert an odd-numbered fretboard note grouping into an even number of pickstrokes. The phrase would still contain an odd number of notes — but only an even number of them would be picked. Yngwie’s much-vaunted use of sweeping served a similar purpose, albeit only in the ascending direction. By simply continuing a downstroke through to the next higher string, the trouble of leaping the string would simply be circumvented.
These were ingenious and powerful optimizations, and we examine both of them extensively in the Masters in Mechanics seminar “Inside the Volcano”, and also in the Cracking the Code episode of the same name. But the ironic fact remains that the king of ’80s plectrum virtuosity simply did not play the very style of passage by which his level of technical ability had come to be defined.
But others did.
Getting Even With Odd
Riding a pop-cultural tsunami of interest in guitar technique, players both contemporary with and inspired by Yngwie soon arrived with a quite different set of superpowers. Michael Angelo Batio released his first instructional video, Star Licks Master Session: Michael Angelo, in 1986. It was followed soon after by Paul Gilbert’s Intense Rock, for REH video, and Vinnie Moore’s Speed, Accuracy, and Articulation, for Hot Licks.
And with that, a new era of alternate picking prowess had arrived. Here, improbably, was true three-note-per-string scale playing using an uninterrupted stream of upstrokes and downstrokes, interleaved one after the other at warp speeds as though blasted through a particle accelerator. Mike, Paul, and Vinnie moved effortlessly across the strings with strict alternate picking, seemingly in defiance of a set of natural laws few even knew existed. Was the great Swede wrong? Or was this a warp in the space-time continuum?
It was neither. It was two-way pickslanting.
An Antigravity World
The technique these players had pioneered, entirely by feel, using their gifts of athletic genius, turned out to be the solution to the enduring puzzle of the scale. Through an alternating sequence of pick angles — each tailored to a specific type of string change — a line containing a completely arbitrary number of notes could be played across the strings using nothing but alternate picking.
Suddenly, the power of switching strings after upstrokes wasn’t the only power in the universe. Through upward pickslanting, downstrokes were also capable of moving effortlessly from string to string. It was as though the rules as we knew them had been turned upside down. And when both downward and upward pickslanting were combined, that world became a gyroscope. There was no longer an up, and there was no longer a down. There was only the plane of the strings, and we were either on one side of it, or the other.
Finally, thanks to the power of VHS, a truly teachable system for alternate picking had arrived in living rooms around the world in thousands of spools of analog tape. And while pioneered by geniuses, this system was nevertheless based on specific hand movements that anyone could replicate. Through the confluence of modern mass media and a freshly analytical approach to guitar instruction, this system had the power to eliminate decades of struggle and frustration practically on the spot.
Now, grab your VCR remote control, and fast forward almost thirty years.
In 2014, it is a world where “be kind, rewind” was replaced long ago by glimmering optical discs. And those, in turn, were replaced by real-time streams of digital video, streaking across continents in milliseconds. It is a world where vast catalogs of musical knowledge beam into living rooms around the planet through an interactive telecommunications organism with billions of typing fingers. It is a world where technical mysteries of all kinds are solved mere moments after their discovery by millions of indefatigable brains working in harmony. In such a world, surely, technical knowledge this powerful would have long ago become the foundation of guitar curricula across the world.
Except that it has never been taught before.
Go For Your Masters
Last month, we launched Masters in Mechanics, a live, small-group discussion series that unlocks legendary players’ techniques through analysis of historical footage and an investigative workshop format. Our first seminar, Inside the Volcano, which dives deep into Yngwie’s downward pickslanting innovations, has been a great success. We sold out all our initial slots in under an hour, then added another batch and sold out of those just about as quickly as Yngwie makes jaws drop in “Now Your Ships Are Burned”. We were both thrilled and intensely flattered.
When we sat down to plan the Masters in Mechanics seminars, all we knew is that we had some seriously powerful material to cover, and that we weren’t going to short change it. This material transformed my own playing ability in mere moments, and we wanted it to have the same effect on as many other dedicated players. What we didn’t realize is how long they’d be:
Two and a half hours!
And that’s before the encore. We finish the arpeggio discussion at about an hour, and then the “Volcano lick” discussion about thirty minutes after that. The “applications” discussion finishes about twenty minutes after that, around the two-hour mark. And that’s when I ask if anyone’s glucose levels are plummeting, and if they’d like to keep going. If the answer is “yes” — and so far, it has been unanimously so — that’s when we spend another twenty minutes on the Yngwie system of motion mechanics.
Yngwie’s forearm rotational solution for actually generating the alternate picking motion fits perfectly with his string-switching strategies, and in fact flows naturally from his hand position without any further attention paid to its rotational nature. It’s a particularly hands-on moment of the lecture, and has been reliably popular with players interested in a new and natural way of building raw hand speed.
Finally, we wrap up the Q&A section anywhere between a half hour and forty minutes later. At which point, threatening to break the three-hour mark, I hook myself to an intravenous supply of Diet Coke and break open the sesame chicken.
The Value Proposition
That wiped out feeling of filling your brain with knowledge for the length of an Avengers movie is no different than the feeling of emptying it, lecture after lecture, in service of that education. Make no mistake, I love delivering the Masters in Mechanics seminars. But they are physically demanding. They also impact the time it takes to produce episodes and special features for the show itself. No matter how hard we try and minimize this impact, the sheer amount of work involved in producing and delivering Masters in Mechanics makes this impact unavoidable.
But we called this Masters in Mechanics for a reason. We wanted this seminar series to be the most intense, focused, rigorous, and ultimately powerful classroom-style investigation of picking technique available anywhere in the world. And we want to keep delivering that experience. But to do this, we’re going to adjust the price to be more in line with the work involved in creating it.
Even at the new, flat fee of $100 per seminar, you’re paying less than half the going hourly rate for elite-level guitar instruction. And as part of your registration, you’re getting a pile of support material more closely allied with a college-level seminar than a guitar lesson. The Masters in Mechanics download packs are the big brothers of the Cracking the Code Season Pass download packs. For example, the Masters in Mechanics Volcano Pack for Inside the Volcano contains over 60 painstakingly played, filmed, edited and transcribed examples of Yngwie’s alternate and sweep innovations. Filmed in both wide angle and our trademark pick-hand closeup, these clips are an invaluable resource for what these techniques look like in actual practice. When paired with the insights in the seminar, you have the result of literally decades worth of research and finger-busting practice available at a click.
Unleash Your Learning
Ultimately, we don’t really think of Masters in Mechanics as a guitar lesson. We see it as a way of untethering your mechanical limitations, so that the lessons you do take, with the players you love, can focus more exclusively on amplifying your musical learning. When I interviewed Mike Stern for Cracking the Code, he spoke openly about continuing to take lessons himself. Imagine that. But the difference is that he’s not using that time to reverse engineer picking patterns. He’s using that time to absorb music.
The fact that he still cares to do this, after as long and storied a career as he’s had, is really what mastery is all about.