Picking Patterns: Threes Gone Wild!

This week I have a new picking challenge for you. In our last picking lesson we looked at playing groups of three over rhythmic groups of four. That is, taking what would normally be a triplet pattern and playing within the “grid” of sixteenth notes. This time we’re going expand the groups of threes to three separate rhythms: sixteenths, sixteenth-note triplets and eighth-note triplets. Note only will your hands get a great workout, but this will help you groove some interesting rhythms into your playing.

The Basics

So let’s start with a quick rhythmic overview. We’re going to deal with three types of rhythms in this pattern. The first, sixteenth notes you should already be familiar with. For every beat in a measure you play four notes. In 4/4 time these are typically counted out loud as “1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a 3-e-&-a 4-e-&-a”. 

We’ll also be using eighth-note triplets (often just called “triplets”), which is three notes per beat. Think of any waltz or shuffle and you have a basic triplet feel. These are counted aloud as “1-&-a 2-&a 3-&-a 4-&-a”. Musicians often describe triplets as having a circular “rolling” feel to them.

We’ll also play sixteenth-note triplets which are also sometimes called sextuplets. This means that we’re fitting six notes into the space of a single beat. If you aren’t yet used to how these sound, it may help to get the basic eighth-note-triplet rhythm in your head and then simply double the speed of it.

The Pattern

Now for the pattern itself. It begins with four beats of threes-over-sixteenth notes, then into two beats of sixteenth-note triplets, finally ending with eighth-note triplets played as a descending arpeggio. Not only is this a bit of a finger-twister, but you also need to get the rhythmic changes down.

Let’s do this in G major (also A Dorian), and we’ll start at the bottom with this pattern:

Example 1

Notice that we’re not covering the entire pattern across the neck. We only make it as far as the second string (for just one note). It’s just enough to fill the two measures that fits our pattern rules. Why? I thought it sounded best to make the patterns fit into two bars.

The first measure and a half get us up the pattern and we use a big arpeggio to walk back across the neck to bottom strings to get ready for the next pattern as we shift up. The challenge for your picking hand is to mix alternate-picking and sweep-picking smoothly.

Pay attention to the pick-strokes. For most of the line it’s strict alternate-picking. But on the descending arpeggio at the end do some pretty major string-crossing, so we employ just a hint of sweep-picking to get us across the strings. The two eighth-note triplets are each picked with a down-up-up stroke order.

When we finish the first pattern we happen to land on the second note of the next one. So we can shift up to the next pattern and play the same basic idea again:

Example 2

Notice that the timing and the picking order is exactly the same as the first example. The only variation going forward is switching patterns as you move up the neck. Since the remaining lines are all played the same way, here are the rest of them for your enjoyment:

Example 3

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

Example 6

Example 7

Example 8

As always, take these nice and slow with a metronome at your side. Don’t increase the tempo until you can play each line with clean articulation, even rhythms and the correct pick-strokes. The sixteenth-note triplets can be pretty fast to play so don’t base your starting tempo just on how fast you can play the straight sixteenths.

Even if you can’t belt this out at top-speed, it’s still a great workout for your hands. Not only do you get your hands playing some new combinations, but it also helps solidify your knowledge of the fretboard by playing scale patterns in new and unusual ways.

The variation in rhythms should also give your ears some experience with different units of time and how they sound. Being able to change up the rhythm of your lines goes a long way to keeping your improvisation interesting-sounding.

Until next time, keep rocking!