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Eric Johnson's Pickslanting Pentatonics

By Lessons No Comments

The cascading waterfall of sound that is Eric Johnson’s lead playing has captivated players and listeners for thirty years.

Sonically, it’s an almost formless wash of sunshine. In Eric’s ethereal soundscape, all the edges are smoothed away.

Even the distinction between scales and arpeggios seems to blur. His patterns tumble imperceptibly through positions, like falling through clouds. And his limitless supply of sparsely voiced diatonic chord substitutions only enhances the vertigo. And it’s the seemingly imperturbable precision of Eric’s right hand that makes it all possible.

And now, armed with a modern understanding of picking mechanics, we can actually begin to understand and recreate Eric’s wondrous style. Read More

pickslanting vs edge picking

The Difference Between Pickslanting and Edge Picking: An Explainer

By Lessons 37 Comments

Here’s a question we get all the time: what’s the difference between pickslanting and edge picking?

This seems to be a source of frequent confusion. The two are very different, and do completely different things, but since both involve pick angles and rotation, this can be hard to intuit without a direct visual comparison. The above image is from an animation coming up soon in Episode 3, “Eric the Right”, and is designed to make the difference as clear as possible. Read More

Down Around the World

By Lessons
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Bruce Lee’s famous exhortation to be like water may just as well have been directed at guitar players. The first of Season 2’s revelations, downward pickslanting, is shapeless and formless. It becomes Yngwie. It becomes rock. It becomes music. It’s one of the most universal and adaptable mechanics in picking — and for guitarists, the root of many of the most celebrated techniques in history. Read More

Steve Always Wins: The Crossroads Intimidation Breakdown

By codenews, Lessons 48 Comments

In 1986, Steve Vai was having one of those years. March saw the debut of the film Crossroads, for which Steve wrote and performed both the rock and neoclassical sequences of the now-famous guitar duel, and in which he also landed a starring role as the devil’s swaggering henchman, Jack Butler. Trailer clips of the film’s climactic musical showdown, with its mesmerizing cascade of diminished arpeggios, had just begun to explode adolescent minds across the country when David Lee Roth stepped into the studio with Steve to record his highly anticipated post-Van Halen grudge album.

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Lesson: Inside Eddie's Arcade

By codenews, Lessons 5 Comments

The Cutting Room Floor

Not all great ideas make the final cut, and the overly ambitious scene “Eddie’s Arcade”, from Season 1, Episode 1 of Cracking the Code, is a great example of that. An over-the-top homage to Tron Legacy and Back to the Future, it was a tour de force of cinematic animation whose demands on my personal time were ultimately at odds with the exigency of actually getting things finished.

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Shawn Lane: So What?

By Lessons 8 Comments

Centrifugal Funk was supposed to be just another one of those guitar compilations.  Released by shred pornographer Mark Varney in 1991, it featured a trio of hired guns laying down silicone-enhanced solos over processed covers of trad jazz tunes.  This was the era of Nirvana and Pantera, and the infomercially polished karaoke numbers on the disc were already dead on arrival.   But the formidable talents of the help bordered on necromancy. Read More

Albert Lee: Fun Ranch Boogie

By Lessons 2 Comments

If you’ve ever been humbled by the effortless speed and harmonic fluency of our string-slinging siblings south of the Mason-Dixon line, you’re in good company. So universal is the admiration among shred masters for their flatpickin’ and fingerpickin’ brethren that country-inflected radio rock tunes like Van Halen’s Finish What Ya Started comfortably share iPod space with the striking industrial-country fusion of players like John 5. Then there are the bona-fide switch hitters like Eric Johnson and Steve Morse, whose dual citizenship in roots and rock essentially moot the question. Suffice it to say that a healthy fear of country skillz is an integral part of the shred psyche. Read More

There's a Freight Train Comin'

By Lessons No Comments

This lesson appeared originally as a master class at

It’s always exciting to get your hands on something you can’t get anywhere else. So as a measure of thanks to Joel Wanasek for inviting me to do a guest column at, I offer up a transcription you won’t find anywhere else on the internet. It’s none other than the guitar solo to Nitro’s Freight Train, the most over-the-top ’80s metal song you never heard. Read More

Yngwie Malmsteen: Now Your Ships Are Burned

By Lessons 14 Comments

When they named it shred, this is the song they were thinking of:  soaring leads, piercing vibrato, weepy tremolo, slippery legato, and ferocious picking, simmering over a roiling cauldron of drum and bass that’s almost as funky as it is angry.  We’re talking about Now Your Ships Are Burned, the third track from Yngwie Malmsteen’s watershed 1984 album, Rising Force. Read More

Michael Angelo: The Art of Playing Lightning Fast

By Lessons 2 Comments

My favorite parts of Michael Angelo‘s seminal instructional video Speed Kills are the impromptu, undocumented solos that pop up occasionally throughout the DVD. There are precisely four of them, and I like to think of them as being named by the huggably cheesy dialogue that invariably surrounds them. If you’re familiar with the video, you might recognize such basement-tape classics as The Art of Playing Lightning Fast, The Keys to the Lamborghini, You Can Just Kick Back, and Tendonitis. Read More