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Performance Notes: The Volcano Pack

With the arrival of Season 2, Episode 2, Inside the Volcano, we

complete the Yngwie picking strategy with a critical and vastly
powerful string-switching mechanism: sweeping. Sweeping has of
course been synonomous with Yngwies plectrum innovations from the
earliest. His arpeggiated vocabulary was as iconoclastic for rock guitar
as it was mechanically ingenious.
But Yngwies use of sweeping, and its mechanical significance,
extends far beyond its vaunted arpeggiated applications. At the core of
Yngwies mechanical system lies downward pickslanting, an elegant
method for switching strings that fuses alternate picking and
stringhopping into one seamless movement. The price for its
ingenious efficiency is simple but significant: switch strings *only* after
And in a great number of cases, this is precisely what Yngwie does.
The six-note pattern, which we meet in S2E1s Six-Note Machine, is
an iconic example of the upstroke formula at work. Because the sixnote pattern contains an even number of notes, and because Yngwie
always chooses to begin this pattern on a downstroke, it always ends
on an upstroke. And this enables the string-switching fluidity of
downward pickslanting.
But what about cases where a given line does not end on an
Weve already seen one such example in S2E1, and its the Black
Star Lick. In this famous example of Yngwies descending scale
playing, a pair of interior strings each contain three notes, a fact which
is immediately problematic for the even-numbered requirements of
dwps. But the solution is simple: dont pick the last note. By using a
pulloff, an odd-numbered note grouping in the fretting hand can be
converted into an even-numbered note grouping for the right hand,
allowing the pick to move fluidly to the next string.

Its not that the pull-off buys more time for the right hand. Instead, the
critical advantage of Yngwies integration of legato and picking is that
it positions the pick in the ideal location for switching strings. From a
vantage point *above* the plane of the strings, the pick can drop down
on any of the other five strings, just as it would have if that string had
naturally contained an even number of picked notes.

Sweep Escape
All of which sets the stage for the arrival of sweeping. By extending a
single pickstroke through more than one string, the problem of rising
above the plane of the strings is circumvented entirely. The pick no
longer leaps or stringhops the next string: it simply pushes on through.
The power of this is formidable. Pickstrokes no longer need be
converted into upstrokes by way of legato. Instead, they simply
continue on their trajectory, encountering the next string in their
direction of travel. And for Yngwie, there is only ever one direction of
travel: down.
Because of Yngwies reliance on downward pickslanting, sweep
pickstrokes in his mechanical system are only possible in a physically
downward direction. When the pick is held with a downward slant, it
will flop over each higher string like a baseball card in the spokes of a
bike. The greater the degree of pickslanting that is used, the less
resistance this flopping motion produces. Conversely, attempting to
sweep in the ascending direction with a pronounced downward
pickslant is essentially impossible. The tip of the pick digs underneath
the strings and refuses to slide.
This means that sweeping in the Yngwie system is only possible while
playing melodically *ascending* lines. Despite this seeming restriction,
this capability is actually incredibly liberating. The ability to execute
clean, fully-picked string changes after both odd and even numbered

note groupings per string, is ridiculously powerful. This means that

*any* left-hand fingering that can be devised be it one note per
string, two notes per string, three notes, or more can be executed
cleanly, at blistering speeds, fully-picked, with no loss of mechanical
In the two halves of the Volcano Pack, Arpeggios, and Scales, we
examine a selection of archetypal examples of powerful alternate
picking, sweeping, and legato integration in the Yngwie system. The
complete array of components are displayed in their natural habitat, in
lick examples pulled from both Yngwies lexicon and other real- world
soloing applications. Thanks to their ingenious picking design, many of
these examples start on downstrokes, and end on upstrokes. This
makes the Yngwie vocabulary a vast toolbox of musical expression
one where any element can be connected seamlessly to any other
element, almost anywhere on the fretboard, and on any string.
This is only a taste of the incredible mechanical power and incredible
musical possibility of the Yngwie system. Indeed, as well see in future
episodes of Cracking the Code, the Yngwie system is not just an
artifact of Yngwies world. It is arguably the cornerstone of picking
mechanics in the modern era, and likely, in all of plectrum-based
instrument history.

The Two-String Shapes:
2str dim
2str dim droplets +
2str minor
dim fives
Yngwies solution for two-string arpeggio playing is as mechanically
powerful an example of the integration of sweeping and legato playing
as exists in his vocabulary. Because these are triad shapes, executing

them with pure alternate picking would mean flipping the picking
structure with each repetition: downstroke, then upstroke, then
downstroke, until all your fingers (and ships) are burned. To be clear,
were not just talking about individual notes. Were talking about whole
*patterns*. This is a very unsual feeling, and it takes a solid working
command of two-way pickslanting to do this with pure alternate
But not for Yngwie. Because the ascending side of each repetition is a
sweep, one alternate pickstroke is eliminated. This allows each
repetition to start on the exact same pickstroke: a downstroke.
The Three-String Shapes:
3str desc
3str dim
3str minor
Yngwies three-string sweep arpeggio shape is not only a foundation
of almost all of modern sweep arpeggio playing. Its a misnomer: the
shape is 50% alternate picking. This fact alone differentiates Yngwies
approach from many modern, fully-swept approaches in a number of
key dimensions. For one, it is entirely reliant on downward
pickslanting, allowing the individual pickstrokes in the pattern both
of which are upstrokes to exit the plane of the strings gracefully.
In Masters in Mechanics, we examine this patterns ingenious
construction in great detail, deriving the rationale for each and every
pickstroke it contains. For the purposes of this collection, follow the
picking instructions in detail and reference the slow motion clips to see
what this design looks like in actual practice.
Note that the descending fours example actually breaks the rules.
The connection between each repetition of this pattern is actually a
downstroke. Despite the orderly world of Yngwies picking design
there are actually a few cases like this one, where Yngwie chooses to
switch strings after a downstroke. This only ever occurs in the

ascending (i.e. physically downward) direction, and well examine it in

an upcoming episode of Season 2, as part of the discussion of the
third element picking style.
For the time being, you can execute this string change as I do here
in the slow motion clips by simply lifting the pick back to the top
string. Although this is technically stringhopping, it is feasible here
simply by virtue of its isolation. Its the only pickstroke in the pattern
that requires this approach, and you can pay special attention to the
accuracy of the lifting movement as you practice this.
The Five-String Shape:
5str min
Yngwies famous five-string ascending arpeggio shape is idiosyncratic
in a pair of important ways.
For one, the fretboard configuration is quite different from the one that
most modern rock and metal players would utilize to play this pattern.
Most modern shred interpretations of this lick utilize the A-minor
barre chord shape that occurs at the 12th fret.
But Yngwies shape is actually a combination of two different fretboard
shapes: the 2str minor asc shape, and the 3str minor positions
shape, both detailed above. The lower half of the lick is built upon the
two-string shape, and the upper half of the lick is built upon the final
shape of the three-string lick. Connecting these two involves a bit of
fretboard gymnastics as the left hand steps over itself to reach the
upper shape. But the picking structure is completely logical. Simply
joining the structures of the two component patterns produces the final
You may notice that the descending component of this arpeggio shape
is simply not represented here. And theres a reason for this: it doesnt
work. Working backwards through the picking structure of this lick,
youll quickly realize that a roadblock exists after the third string. There

is simply no way to get from the third string to the fourth string using
Yngwies system. This sequence of three successive string changes is
simply only playable with something Yngwie doesnt do: upward
As a result, Yngwie usually attempts this with alternate picking, and
usually fails. Its visible clearly on the REH tape, and in most of
Yngwies live performances. In the famous occurrence of this lick at
the end of Far Beyond the Sun, the missing/flubbed notes are simply
disguised by the bands instrumentation.
The Hybrids:
3oct min
The included three-octave minor lick isnt actually an Yngwie lick, but
its a practical extension of the Yngwie picking strategy that displays
the full power of the system at work. One of the most straightforward
ways to conceptualize arpeggio playing on the guitar is by simply
repeating the same shape in three octaves. But doing this with
alternate picking is a stringhopping disaster. By incorporating
sweeping into this design, not only is the 1nps component neatly
blended with the remaining two notes of the pattern, but each pattern
connects seamlessly to the next by way of upstroke string changes.
This section of Yngwies song Trilogy Suite, from his third album of
the same name, is a tour de force of arpeggio playing that again
highlights the full power of the system at work: two-string shapes,
three-string shapes, legato escape hatches, and scale playing. Its a
challenge to do this with fluidity, but its nothing compared to the
contortions this would require with pure alternate picking. That this
passage has been incorrectly transcribed so many times in lesson
books of the past (most often as 1nps, 3-string sweeping) is a
testament to its incredible ingenuity.

Scalar Sweeping:
Yngwies approach to three-note-per string scale playing is as
powerful today as when it first came slashing out of your stereao
speakers in 1983. Simply put, ascending three-note-per-string
sweeping is hands-down the easiest way for beginning players to get
the aggressive sound of fast, accurate scale playing with a minumum
of effort. Rather than the athletic challenges of leaping from string to
string using pure alternate picking, the challenge of the sweep
approach is fluidity. It will take some practice to make this happen with
evenness, but the upside is that its dramatically less likely that youll
hit wrong notes in the process.
The Volcano Licks:
volcano lick -
volcano pattern - in
The Volcano lick is the terrifying example of sweep and alternate scale
playing from which the episode derives its name. And for good reason.
Perhaps more than any other single example we examine in the show,
this lick contains an incredible wealth of examples of the power and
speed afforded by the Yngwie picking system: multi-string patterns,
position shifting patterns, strict 3nps multi-string patterns, and even
2nps patterns its all here. All told, we spend more than a half hour
on this one lick in Masters in Mechanics, separating its many parts
and deciphering their mysteries.
The Volcano pattern itself is the core of the lick: a unique pattern of six
notes that involves three string changes and even some one- noteper-string playing. This pattern would be a challange for even strong
pure alternate players, but the application of the Yngwie ruleset

streamlines this effort to an amazing degree. Youll hear it in many

Yngwie solos, in combination with strict 3nps ascending scale playing,
where it is often interspersed with multiple instances of itself,
cascading one pair of strings to the next.
The outro solo to Overture 1383 features just such an ascending
line, and is represented here in the ascending multi-string portion of
the volcano pattern in context clip. Also notable is the connection to
Yngwies famous toolbox of single string patterns, and also the Black
Star Lick, to finish things off. There is nearly limitless possibility in the
integration of these parts each by themselves learnable, and triply
impressive when engineered into stunning six- string, multi-postition
phrases like this.
Bi-Directional Licks:
evil eye
We feature the compound lick in the episode as another example of
Yngwies ruleset at work. On the tape, Yngwie takes an interesting sixnote rolling fretboard shape and plays it first with a purely legato
approach, and again with picking. What is interesting in this
conversion is the engineering process he employes. The lick is subtly
transformed to eliminate a single note in each repetition, forcing the
ascending string changes to rely on sweeping. That he almost
certainly makes this alteration at a subconscious level is all the more
impressive. He finishes by way of connection to our favorite
descending scale pattern, the Black Star Lick.
The evil eye turnaround is as textbook a demonstration of Yngwies
asymmetrical approach to scale playing as exists in his recorded
output: sweeping on the way up, alternate and legato on the way
down. Its also a great example of how the sonic character of these
two approaches can be woven into the design of a musical passage.
The aggressive muted approach to the ascending side of the passage
blends balances perfectly wih the more liquid approach to the legato

sound on the descending side. The turnaround at the top of the

pattern where the pattern transitions from one technique to the
other is like a motorcyle whipping around a corner. Its aggression
and finesse in one fell swoop.
As a kid, holding Yngwies picking technique the absolute highest
regard, I had no idea there was any legato in this passage. As an
adult, I simply dont care. Its musical meets mechanical design at its
If Yngwies picking sytem were gothic architecture, descending fours
would be its Milan Cathedral. Fours function as a kind of musical
villain in Cracking the Code: a pattern so tortuously twisted that its
nearly impossible to play in its most straightforward fretboard
configuration using alternate picking.
This is why, when I first watched the REH tape, I was both disappointd
and yet also relieved to realize that Yngwies most common
implementation of this was a single-string pattern. As I became more
familiar with Yngwies integrated system, I revisited the multi-string
version of the lick and designed a way of executing it using a
combination of alternate, sweep, and legato techniques. It was far
simpler than navigating the strings with pure alternate picking. It
sounded great, with much less effort. And like so much of the Yngwie
vocabulary, these different techniques lent a kind of multi-textural
sound to the pattern especially at high speed.
It was only then that I realized that Yngwie himself also plays it
*exactly* like this. Yngwies approach to circular fours on the top two
strings is a staple of his live soloing. This circular pattern can also
connect seamlessly to the descending multi-string version of the lick
as demonstrated here.

As an exercise, try applying Yngwies rules to reverse engineer the

picking for this pattern. Do it before watching the slow motion clip, and
before reading the tablature, and see how close you can get. Then
pick up a copy of the REH tape and see if you can find an example of
him doing it! Hint: Its within the first ten minutes.
The Alternate Picked Licks
shift triplets + 4+3
black star
Finally, its not all about sweeping in the Volcano pack. Shift triplets
and the 4+3 shape are staples of Yngwies now-iconic scalar
vocabulary. And of course, would couldnt leave without shaking hands
with our old friend, the Black Star Lick.