The main challenge with this technique is the stretches. It's very important when practicing this to make sure you have your thumb right behind the neck and you're holding the guitar in a comfortable position to allow maximum finger stretch. Also, be mindful of any discomfort you may feel in your hands or wrist when practicing this. If you are cramping or experiencing pain, stop and practice again after a break.
The first time I came across this style of picking was in an article by guitarist Shawn Lane. I was totally blown away by his use of the traditional sweep picking while combining the use of his right-hand fingers to pick notes within the arpeggios. This technique works particularly well with major/minor scales or modal playing, as it is very easy to create three-string shapes that flow very nicely and closely together.
The lick I play here is something I'd actually use in a solo as a run; it's not an exercise. In every Sick Lick, I demonstrate ideas I would actually use -- or have used -- in solos. I'm not one for creating pointless exercises. I believe you're better off spending time practicing things you can actually use rather than playing through repetitious, unusable trills.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the Diminished 7th scale. I refer to this technique as the “Spider Technique." My friends came up with this name, and I thought that it was kind of cool, so it stuck! I'm forever searching for ideas and ways to push the boundaries of my playing. It's one thing to have an idea, but to actually follow through with it and get it up to a level where you can just rip it out is something else.
These arpeggios are one note per string. I love this technique because it allows me to cover the neck very quickly while freely changing positions on the fretboard. My inspiration for this kind of playing came from listening to piano players. I would hear the way they played arpeggios and try to mimic it on the guitar. Because piano players have both hands on the keys, they are able to create some monstrous-sounding arpeggios and runs.
I remember listening to Holdsworth play when I was a kid -- with complete disbelief at what I was hearing. It almost didn’t sound like a guitar. The speed and the wide intervalic playing was simply amazing. It wasn’t until I saw live footage of him playing that I began to understand how he created that amazing sound.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the diminished 7th arpeggio. I combine a few different techniques to create what I call an “alien" sound. This lick is very heavily influenced buy one of my favorite guitarists, Shawn Lane. Lane really pushed the boundaries of guitar playing. He had flawless technique and speed, and he used this technical prowess to write some incredible music.
It was because of my experimenting with major scales and modes that I originally came up with the “Thumb Technique”; I was searching for ways to play descending arpeggio patterns while keeping an even flow and rhythmic pattern. What I eventually came up with is the pattern played in this lick.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the Whole Tone Scale. You have to be careful with this scale when adapting it to rock, as tonally it is way outside what the listener would normally be used to -- so it's important not to get lost in this scale! Make sure you are always mindful of where you are on the neck and that you are thinking about what other scales you can switch in and out of if you start to get too far outside the tonal core.
I'm using a pretty crazy combination of scales in this Sick Lick. We start with the whole tone scale then move into the diminished and finish with the pentatonic. When I'm combining scales, I always base it around the pentatonic scale. As in, even though I might be using many different scales, I tend to focus the solo or lick around the pentatonic. Basically, I use it like my road map!