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Season 2, Episode 2 Heats Up!

Yngwie's volcanic combination of alternate picking and sweeping

By October 16, 2014News

Cracking the Code Season 2 heats up with Yngwie’s positively volcanic combination of right-hand techniques. Episode 2, Inside the Volcano, completes Yngwie’s right-hand strategy with a critical catalyst of his picking power: sweeping.

The Volcanic Arts

DEMON DRIVER:  Yngwie's magical arpeggiated excursions were both wondrous and fearsome.

DEMON DRIVER: Yngwie’s magical arpeggiated excursions were both wondrous and fearsome.

Countless YouTube videos document the nearly totemic status of the sweep arpeggio as the gateway to advanced picking technique in the modern era. But in the ’80s, sweeping was still a subject of intense mystery. Even by the time I arrived in High School in 1986, the technique was practiced by exclusively exalted virtuosos like Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine — and of course Yngwie himself. And while the term sweeping might have been somewhat familiar to younger players like me, its execution was anything but.


I was aware of the rake, a kind of muted scrape across the strings used as a rhythmic device in styles like reggae. Pop musicians had used variations on this general concept for decades. The technique famously provides the arpeggiated flourish on the intro chords to Del Shannon’s iconic ’60 hit Runaway.

But raking was nothing like the hyper articulation of Yngwie’s genre-defining arpeggio playing. The precision and clarity of his impressively intervallic passages at unbelievable tempos simply defied explanation. Nobody that I knew was aware of how he did it. Even those that thought they did failed to replicate the sound.

ARPEGGIO MYSTERY:  Yngwie's ingenious solution to swept arpeggios is actually fifty percent alternate picking.

ARPEGGIO MYSTERY: Yngwie’s ingenious solution to swept arpeggios is actually fifty percent alternate picking.

The common beginner approach of keeping the fretting fingers locked in a static chordal shape wasn’t enough. It produced only the overlapping sounds of Runaway, and adding unrealistically heavy muting to deaden the decay only lead to less fluidity in the sweeping motion itself. And this of course offered no insight into Yngwie’s seemingly effortless ability to repeat the pattern in a hypnotic swirl of arpeggiated colors.

Sweep Engineering

Yngwie’s actual solution — an ingenious combination of alternate picking, legato, and sweeping — is a feat of plectrum engineering as elegant as any that exists in guitar. And thanks to its reliance on downward pickslanting, as we’ll see in the episode, it is mechanically quite different than the two-way sweeping arpeggio strategies of prodigies like Jason Becker that became popular by the end of the decade.

But sweeping in the Yngwie world is far more than a way to play arpeggios. It is a core component of his strategy for efficient string switching that enables something that downward pickslanting on its own cannot: the ability to switch strings after downstrokes.

FILL 'ER UP:  Downstrokes and downward pickslanting  collaborate to solve the ascending scale problem.

FILL ‘ER UP: Downstrokes and downward pickslanting collaborate to solve the ascending scale problem.

This was powerful. By itself, downward pickslanting allows string changes to happen with almost no mechanical expense, but only on upstrokes. In the first episode of the Season, Get Down for the Upstroke, we saw how we could break free from this constraint through the clever use of legato. This wasn’t so much an extension of the downward pickslanting strategy as it was a subversion of it. By using a pull-off to force upstrokes, we could simply avoid downstroke-based string changes altogether, along with their mechanicall inefficiency.

But by introducing sweeping — in the physically downward direction, the same direction as his pickslant — Yngwie could turbocharge downstroke string changes by simply pushing through to the next string. Even by the time the term economy picking perhaps redundantly took root as a way of describing the application of sweeping to scalar lines, the sophistication of Yngwie’s integrated approach remained mysterious, even to advanced players.

Inside the Volcano

The fact is that the most challenging and unique elements of Yngwie’s scalar vocabulary are neither swept nor alternate: they’re both.

THE VOLCANO PATTERN:  An ingenious combination of alternate picking and sweeping that powers Yngwie's scalar innovations.

THE VOLCANO PATTERN: An ingenious combination of alternate picking and sweeping that powers Yngwie’s scalar expression.

In the Yngwie picking strategy, sweeping works together with downward pickslanting to allow string changes after both upstrokes and downstrokes. Artful combinations of the two techniques allowed Yngwie to play passages of daunting complexity. His most impressive licks are, at best, extremely challenging for a pure alternate picker, and simply not possible at all with pure sweeping.

One such example, the volcano lick, is constructed from a hybrid alternate-sweep pattern that appears frequently in Yngwie’s scalar playing. It is this stroke of mechanical genius from which Cracking the Code Season 2, Episode 2 takes its name. And it serves as a kind of Rosetta stone to Yngwie’s approach. By the episode’s conclusion, we will have distilled the power of this lick into into five simple rules that summarize the nearly limitless possibility of the Yngwie strategy for musical expression.

The One-Way Ticket

THE UN-ORTHODOX:  The counterintuitive genius of Yngwie's one-way pickslanting approach.

THE UN-ORTHODOX: The counterintuitive genius of Yngwie’s one-way pickslanting approach.

These first two episodes of Season 2 are a dyad that completely encapsulates the power of a particularly powerful approach to playing. It is an approach shared by a comfortable majority of the world’s greatest players, from Eric Johnson, to Shawn Lane, to George Benson, to Randy Rhoads, and many more. The near ubiquity this strategy — a one-way pickslanting strategy — will become clearer as we move through Season 2.

This is not what we expected. Holding the pick with a pronounced floorward slant, rearranging fretting shapes to happen after upstrokes, utlizing legato to force upstrokes, using sweeping to switch strings — it all seems so… unorthodox. It is the antithesis of what you’d imagine any guitar teacher telling a novice. And yet, it’s precisely the opposite. Consider the sheer quantity of legendary players who instinctively found their way to it, and its nearly universal application across musical styles, and its potential for reliable power and speed. It is, in some sense, the very definition of guitaristic.

OBEY:  The regimentation of the Yngwie strategy as a source of unprecedented creative freedom.

OBEY: The regimentation of the Yngwie strategy as a source of unprecedented creative freedom.

Limitless Limitations

In the chronology of Cracking the Code, the Yngwie system represents a solid ten years of my own technical evolution. This was a time when, for all I knew, this was not just a good way to play — it was the only way. I became so comfortable with the interplay of its five component rules that I could begin to improvise mechanically. I could devise appropriate fretting and picking structures for new lines, on the fly, without “doing the math” of individual pickstrokes and string changes.

And that’s the key: Creative freedom is not escaping the rules, but becoming so conversant in them that they become effectively invisible. I achieved invisibility with the Yngwie system so thoroughly that I never felt constrained by its limitations — only empowered by its possibilities.

May it be at least as invisible to you.

Troy Grady

About Troy Grady


  • guy says:

    Sounds verry intresting,but for me diffecult to do !?
    Or is it just practise ,practise,and practise !

    good job ,by the way !

    • Troy Grady says:

      It may take a while to become comfortable with the combination of sweeping and alternate picking. However once you do, the Yngwie system is dramatically simpler than trying to do everything with pure alternate picking. And as I mention in the article above, things like the “Volcano Lick” would be pretty difficult for even amazing alternate pickers to do without sweeping.

  • jim says:

    I am having trouble getting the right feel and movement of the downward pick slanting…very frustrating. Like you Troy, I did everything just the opposite and it seems like your playing pains mirror mine, I just haven’t grasp the downward slant. I realized these things too recently after watching Andy James and other players and realized all the “super pickers” (Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan, Michael Romeo etc) picked this way. SO…my question is, how did I get this down? What pick should I use, stings, what should the tension be etc? a lot to consider….. I can pick fast and pretty good holding the pick in the opposite direction, but I realize it has it’s limitations because of physics of what you have explained and having a really hard time trying to adjust to downward pick slanting and making it work. I need some help !

    • Troy Grady says:

      Paul Gilbert and Guthrie Govan are actually not downward pickslanters — at least not all of the time. So the Yngwie system doesn’t really apply to what they do. The good news is that many, many of the most famous players in history have been primarily or even entirely dwps players: Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and many more. The only thing that matters in using dwps is that the upstroke clears the strings. That’s it. It’s just a method for switching strings. The Yngwie six-note pattern in the first episode is probably the simplest way to get into this. Pick choice, string choice, and even speed — none of that really matters. The first step is making sure you can move to a new string on the upstroke, comfortably, at any speed whatsoever. From there it just gets easier.

  • Ben Whiting says:

    Great lesson – been jonesin’ on Episode 2 for a long time…and wow…its answered almost all my questions about the Viking’s style.

    Just one mo’ question – I understand Yngwie’s picking strategy for ascending and descending fours, but one thing is bugging me. I’m sure I recall from your ‘Now Your Ships Are Burned’ lesson that Yngwie has TWO strategies for changing strings during descending fours.

    The first is the one we already know – start on a downstroke, cross strings on a pull-off in order to set up downward sweeping over the next part of the phrase.

    The second is a little tricker, and I think its in bar 12 or 13(?) of the solo. Ascending through the first two strings, Yngwie misses a note, starts to descend, then plays one note twice (at the 17th fret). This keeps the picking pattern the same, keeping to his rules, but I wonder if this is a common feature of his string crossing licks.


    • Troy Grady says:

      It sounds like you’re referring to “Now Your Ships Are Burned”. I don’t really think of that lick as descending fours, as it quickly becomes a much more idiosyncratic pattern than that. The repeated note you refer to is of course there so that we have an even number of notes per string on that string, and can switch after the upstroke. Now, whether that note is intentional, is anybody’s guess. These kinds of questions are interesting, in a Sherlock kind of way, but ultimately, the bigger picture of what he does in most situations most of the time is more instructive. And the method you’ve already outlined is exactly how he does multi-string fours.

  • Jeremy Fusco says:


  • Christian says:

    Hi Troy,

    Thanks again for a very interesting video. I’m primarily a gypsy picker, so focussing on downward pickslanting from the last video seems to help with some mechanical difficulties in my playing. Which isn’t bad for a little 20m show!

    Going through the rules for this type of picking . I play scales in the way you describe anyway – in fact that’s the way I did in intuitively when I first started learning and had to make myself practice alternate picking as I thought of economy picking as being in someway ‘cheating’ until I found that Gypsy picking used the same pattern. The upstroke rule/ligado note (I prefer the term ligado as legato to me is a musical effect, not a technique per se – for example Lage Lund plays legato but basically picks everything.) is not something I’ve employed and right away I can see that it obviates some difficult combination in the right hand. It will take a while to get this seamlessly integrated, I think!

    There are some divergences from pure gypsy picking (you wouldn’t start a string with an upstrokes, for example) but it seems pretty compatible, and a great ‘secret weapon’ to have in ones arsenal…

    Thanks again,


    • Troy Grady says:

      Cool! I agree that it’s unfortunate that the term ‘legato’ term has been co-opted to refer to any unpicked lick, because that is a distortion of its actual meaning. It’s certainly possible to play legato, as opposed to staccato, with picking.

  • I also got into Yngwie at an early point in my playing. My approach to the material was always strict alternate picking because I didn’t know any better. Through sheer repetition and brute force I was able to play a number of pieces (Far Beyond the Sun, Trilogy, Black Star). But, they were ALWAYS hard to play and if I left them alone too long, I would loose much of the ground I had gained in skill. It was an on going battle.

    After watching this episode, I went back to several pieces and applied the principle. Not only does it work beautifully, but once comfortable, it feels effortless. It’s freakin awesome!

    I do have a question though. Is there such a thing as No-direction slant picking? I tend to favor a directional picking approach that uses sweeping to change strings in both directions, but have learned to keep the pick upright so that it doesn’t favor either direction. I guess this may be something discussed in a later episode.

    • Troy Grady says:

      Zero-degree pickslanting isn’t really a strategy that anyone uses. For one, the pick only really flows over the strings smoothly when it’s slanted in the direction of the sweep. This was the thrust of the ‘garage spikes” animation in this episode. Even players who think they’re using zero-degree pickslanting are almost always using some, however slight. It’s very difficult to sweep across the strings while maintaining a perfectly vertically rigid pick.

      More importantly, zero-degree pickslanting would make it impossible to do any kind of alternate picking inside a swept lick, since pickslanting is always required for string changes during alternate picking. And if you look at all the great two-way sweepers, from Jason Becker to Gambale to Jimmy Bruno, you will notice that they use very obvious two-way pickslanting movements. You can see an example of this in the Gambale clip on the Season 3 page of our site. And you can see another great example in the Rusty Cooley code archive — check out the maj9 arpeggio clip in the gallery on his page.

      Ultimately, pickslanting is the dark matter of the picking universe, the glue that connects and enables all elite picking strategies, both swept and alternate.

  • Rowland says:

    I’m trying to apply this to the main riff in Trilogy. The one right after the drums start. So, does Yngwie start this on an upstroke? That would mean the open G also starts on an upstroke? It would also mean that I’ve been playing it completely wrong all these years? :\

    Great job Troy! I really love these videos.

    • Troy Grady says:

      Correct! The downbeats throughout the entire lick, including the descending section, are upstrokes. But conceptually you’ll probably chunk the pattern on downstrokes. This includes the pickup notes in the descending pattern — the first note on the new string that begins each repetition — and each of the fretted triplet figures against the open string, all of which begin on downstrokes.

  • John McMInn says:

    Hello great 3D video about YJM . I noticed early on ,Paul Gilbert recorded Y.R.O he said stood for “Yngwie Rip off” !:) First of all Pauls version he uses the Black Star Rhythm and throws in the note C .The note C to E minor means it is natural minor , not Dorian , Where as Yng leaves the tonality open to sub any scale he wants .Yngwie uses so many more tonalities and melodies than Paul or MAB , That and the timing he uses to slide up to notes and begin phrases ,delay the beginning of the riff and give it a sudden “Jump start” Great example is “Hangar 18” from the Alchemy CD if you count it as he plays it the scale riff starts on the 2 of the measure . I don’t know if that is subcontious with him, but you can count it out, and it makes the whole thing work, and breathe,unlike someone who is just alternate picking a scale perfectly
    So since the bass is holding one note in Hangar 18, the Phrygian ,Nat minor ,Dorian, or any diminished is used .
    I find by playing Diminished W 1/2 over the 7th degree of major (min 7b5) you can create the diminished ladder . When you sub Dorian for nat min, it moves the diminished a half step, in this way you have all the chromatic notes .
    It is kind of cool to play a chromatic scale using the “Black Star” picking , 2 picked notes followed by 4 picked notes on the next string
    I may add the solo in Purple haze is infact the E Mixolydian ,with 1/2 W diminished over it to get additional notes . I fully believe Tony Iommi used the purple haze Rhythm ,and mixolydian lead break to write WAR PIGS I’ve been “Cracking some Codes” Myself ,too,man

  • Hi Troy! I run the Yngwie Malmsteen 100% group on Facebook and one of my members ‘Michael’ wants me to ask you about his thoughts for your clarification on the topic of pick slanting. Maybe you can chime in a little to help explain and I’ll repost your comments back in my group. Here is Michael’s question: “Troy talks about Downward Pick slanting (like Yngwie) and plans to discuss Two Way Pick Slanting (Paul Gilbert) ….. but is there a No Pick Slanting style? Yes, the pick would tilt 30-45 degree forward toward the headstock (like almost everybody does) BUT … think about it …. with NO PICK SLANT relative to the floor — all upstrokes and downstrokes would be identical as far as mechanics …… the pick would hit the string at mirror images to each other regardless of UP or DOWN if there is no slant relative to the floor. Thoughts?”

    • Troy Grady says:

      Hi Steve! Someone else asked this in the comments above, and you can see my answer if you scan up just a bit. Short anwer again, no. The central problem in picking is getting from one string to another. Thanks to the flat / co-planar arrangement of the strings, the only way you can move to a new string efficiently at high speed is on an angle. If you have no pickslant, then you have no way of doing this because the pick never leaves the plane of the strings. You can observe every great player that’s ever hoisted a guitar, and you will always see a pickslant of some sort when it comes to switching strings. It is simply the design of the instrument. It is also, for that matter, the design of the mandolin, oud, balalaika, cuatro, and just about every other instrument that does not use a highly radiused fingerboard and bridge. And this is why you will see pickslanting in the playing of virtuosos on all these other instruments as well.

      Moving forward, the guys in your FB group are more than welcome to ask anything they want here or via email. Thanks for watching!

  • John McMInn says:

    The Volcano lick is a pattern of 5 ascending ,great idea ,rule of thumb. The riff on the top 2 strings is a 10 note riff . I noticed most southern rock licks and blues riffs are patterns of 5 .The question is can you put 5 notes where 3 notes usually are played

  • John McMInn says:

    Also Gary Moore of Coliseum II with Don Airey and Viv Campbell, were major pick slanters .The same is true of Bass guitar . Many people think steve Harris uses 3 fingers when he uses 2 ,and creates a tremolo with 1 .Jaco Pastorius used 2 fingers and One for the tremolo ,obviously you are brushing across the strings like a paint brush to get the next string ,which really is “Sweep Picking,or economy of motion . Also look at the angle an upright bass player uses .Fingers slanted .
    Back to the guitar .Gary Moore used economy picking to the point you could tell there was an attack and a whole sound he was identified with .The beginning of the End So;o Mr Crowley was economy picked . Everything Zakk Wylde does is based on that .

  • Papa Heugz says:

    This whole series has me completely mind blown. Fantastic work by you and your team, Troy. Can’t wait for the next episode!

  • Robert Thomas Baumer says:

    Speaking of Paul Gilbert, In his intense rock 2 video, this first pentatonic lick he does has a picking structure that I think I figured out, but I am not sure of.
    The lick starts of on the 7th fret of the A string and goes like. E -> D (pull off) -> C (6th string) ->D ( 5th string) E (hammer On) -> G (4th string)-> E (5th string)-> D (pull off). That’s the main ( what Paul calls) the ” meat and potatoes” of the riff, and then it continues up the A minor pentatonic pattern in 5th position.

    His picking structure Looks like this: (Downstroke) E -> D (pull off)—-Then he Downstroke again on C (6th string) —- then upstrokes on D ( 5th string)–then hammers on E—Then Upstrokes on the G (4th string)—Then Downstrokes on the E (5th string) and the pulls off on to the D note, and then continues the pattern from the 4 string.

    He starts off teaching it from the 4th string to show what key it is in (I think). That’s where he call the pattern the “meat and potatoes” of the lick.

    It seems like it works with downward pick slanting, because all the notes in the main “meat and potatoes” part of the lick are struck once (odd number) and it sets it up for a sweep to the next chunk of the pattern, but I’m not sure.

    Can you give me you thoughts/observations etc?

    There is a clip of it on Youtube.


  • Joey says:

    Troy I purchased the season 2 pass. How long before tabs will be available for all the content?

    • Troy Grady says:

      Hi Joey! The downloadable packets arrive with each new episode. Episode three should be out shortly and the download pack of Eric Johnson-style licks will arrive with it.

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