Tommo's progress on the Erotomania final solo - including analysis

#1

Apologies, this is gonna be long! TLDR: see videos and technical commentary below :sweat_smile:
EDIT: Since the post generated some interest I tried to rewrite some parts avoiding the old DWPS/UWPS terminology, and only mentioning the path of the pick, I hope this is helpful!

The past year on the forum has motivated me to attack one of my all-time nemeses: that monster John Petrucci solo at the end of Dream Theater’s Erotomania. I could never have approached this challenge without Cracking the Code!

Since “better” is the enemy of “good”, I want to share with you a couple of recordings of the solo and some technical commentary about them. This is not yet sounding exactly the way I want, but that’ll probably never happen! Also please note this is cherry-picked stuff, I don’t even want to count the number of takes I attempted!

I hope this will be interesting for some of you and I’d be very happy to get a technical discussion going and get some constructive feedback (please note I have medium-thickness skin :smiley: )

Performance 1
The first recording is probably my favourite take of the solo so far:

Performance 2
The second is done with stereo double tracking: the R and L channels are my favourite and second favourite takes respectively. The slight differences between the two make the tone fatter and kind of badass. And yes let’s be honest: some rough edges are smoothed in the process, because the two Tommos help each other out :wink:

Technical Discussion: how I play the difficult stuff

For reference, I worked from David Escobar’s youtube transcription (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp7qlyMmpHM), but changed the fingerings in a few passages (more below).

For the most part, I try to use my default speed picking technique which is based on escaped downstrokes and trapped upstrokes (UWPS in the old terminology). Of course, to play some passages I have to occasionally transition to escaped upstrokes (DWPS in the old terminology) - so overall my technique is what we used to call two-way pickslanting. However, due to the speed of this piece I have tried to limit the number of transitions by using re-fingerings, swiping and the occasional pulloff.

Now for some crazy level of detail:

0:19-0:23 here we have several licks with one bass note followed by a string skip and a descending scale chunk. Starting with downstroke and using my standard escaped-downstroke motion I can clear the string skip, but then I make no conscious effort to clear the string changes in the descending scale - I just make sure that the left hand is muting properly in case some swipes happen.

0:23-0:26 here we have a descending + ascending scale where I make an effort to clear all the string changes (two-way pickslanting), then we go into a bunch of ascending fours on 2 strings, where I think my hand reorients itself towards a neutral/escaped upstrokes setup, and I am almost sure that I am using significant amounts of swiping - again I’m counting on the left hand to mute and keep things clean!

0:26-0:35 at the start of the neoclassical part I quickly reorient the picking trajectory to escaped downstrokes, then maintain this picking path throughout. I recently realised that I am not playing this bit in the same way as Petrucci does (I think he inserts a rapid double-picked note before each trill) - but this more or less gives the correct effect.

0:36 I am happy with how the vibrato came out :slight_smile: :v:

0:41-0:43 here I rearranged the lick to have less dramatic position shifts with the left hand: the third lick, which David Escobar plays on the A and D strings, I moved to the E and A strings.

0:43-0:45 The bass notes are decently chunky but I wish I had articulated the last one a bit better and I wish I had hit that power chord with more attitude.

0:46-0:47 Here I rearranged a lick so that it can be played with only escaped downstrokes - it feels like butter :slight_smile:

G-----------------------7~
D--------------5-7-8-10--- 
A--5-7-8-5-7-8------------ 
E-8----------------------- 

0:48-0:49 here my muting failed I let the open A string ring - sob :sweat_smile:

0:49-0:51 it is very hard to combine these scalar runs (which are perfect for escaped downstrokes) with decent-sounding vibrato in this very short amount of time available! I converted the second vibrato into a sort of bend to avoid making my life too hard (and I hae the impression that this is what JP also does in the studio recording).

0:51-onwards The skip 5s lick remains my weakest point. The speed (exactly 13 notes per second) is not far from my max on a single string, and some of the double string skips make it very hard to keep time (in fact, it is obvious by looking at the waveforms in my recording that the last note before a string skip tends to be a bit longer). I am aware that my time fluctuates in this part, although the overall effect is still ok I hope.

I am picking almost everything and trying to clear all the string changes, although there may well be some swipes. I cheat a little by inserting pulloffs in some ascending figures, to make them more comfortable for my primary escaped-downstroke picking motion. Essentially I avoid the “ascending inside” string change. See for example the passage around 0:59

G-----------------------------------------9-10-12-10p9-- etc...
D----------------------------12-10-9-10-12--------------
A---------------8-10-12-10p8----------------------------
E-12-10-8-10-12-----------------------------------------

Well, thank you to anyone who read until here! I thought for now I’d close with a silly survey. Both videos are unlisted but I may publish one or both in the next few days :sunglasses:

Which recording sounds better?

  • the single take
  • the double-tracking

0 voters

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#2

no way id be able to remember all of it lol

99% of stuff u hear on albums is at LEAST doubled…either physically or electronically

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#3

Excellent guitar playing. You’re alt-picking is really top-notch. And I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that almost all guitarists ‘sneak in’ hammers/pull-offs and as long as it sounds consistent, who cares?

Just out of curiosity. The ‘run’ at the end… do you use a picking mechanic that still allows muting?

And I can’t tell which sounds better, they both sound great.

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#4

That’s just ridiculous \critique :hushed:

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#5

Damn, the double tracked version is tight. The string skipping part is hard to get clean.

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#6

Excellent playing! You make it look easy

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#7

Great job, this sound really good!

Since this is something you’re still working on, how do you plan to take this from almost perfect to perfect?

For me any strategy involving swiping is unreliable. I don’t say that because I think there’s anything wrong with swiping it’s just that the margin of error isn’t there. If you miss slightly with a swipe it’s likely to trip you up, but if you miss slightly in your execution of TWPS then you’re like to get a swipe and be OK.

When working on a DT solo myself a while back, the thinking above led me to spend quite a bit of time with the magnet, trying to clean up a particular string change from a swipe to a clean TWPS execution. My hope was that that would make the execution more reliable.

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#8

Yeah, I agree here. I understand that many guitarists are fairly good at swiping, but for me, it was where everything fell apart.

I know it’s a legitimate strategy for some… but I’ve never had a nice sounding ‘swipe’ pattern. It always sounded strange, off-tempo, and kinda muddy, and the only way I could fix it was to stop swiping.

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#9

Great job, Tommo. You could easily sit down next to Petrucci and match the solo with him at this point.

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#10

As has been stated on here before, the thing with swiping isn’t to try to swipe, it’s to try not to but not worry too much if you do.

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#11

Thanks all, I’m happy to get so many nice replies :slight_smile:

Weekend is a bit busy but will write proper replies to all of you in the next couple of days!

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#12

Wow man, this sounds great!

Am I the only one who had this elite mindset in his teens (and, tbh, later on) that hidden legato in these lines must be considered cheating?
You really motivate me to tackle stuff I couldn’t play so far but to make it my own this time (fingerings to fit my uwps approach, maybe even a hammer on or pull off here and there).

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#13

As Paul Gilbert says… your goal isn’t always to pick every note, but to pick ‘most of them’. I think even MAB sneaks in legato to make his patterns more playable.

I think unless you have committed yourself to learning a double-escaped technique at high speeds, this goes for almost every guitarist, including those who are masters of 2wps.

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#14

Thank you all again for the kind words! Time for nerding out in detailed answers/discussions :smiley:

That is totally a relief, and reminds me once again that I shouldn’t obsess too much about getting perfect takes :slight_smile:

Unfortunately that hand position does not allow for proper chugchug palm muting, though I can mute the “unwanted” lower strings. The mechanics has some similarities with the Batio setup although much less extreme. For proper palm muting I would use the mechanics around 0:43-0:45, but with that one I’m not very good at escaped downstrokes (particularly the ‘outside ascending’ transfer).

Thanks man and I do realise these are good takes so it may look like false modesty to post them in technique critique! I had a private discussion with @brendan who agreed I could post it here as a sort of “show and tell”, because this solo has been discussed multiple times on the forum and I was hoping that sharing my thoughts on it - as a guy that struggled with this solo for years - would be useful for others.
I admit there is of course an element of “I finally made it, please look at me!” (or I finally 95% made it :smiley: ).

Gotta go away from PC for a bit, but will add all the other responses soon!

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#15

Yeah, that is my issue as well, almost exactly. When I go into my MAB impression of ‘shredding mode’, my elevated wrist makes it difficult to mute, but without it, I can’t escape properly at high speeds. And I too have the largest issue with ‘outside ascending’. The last year, I’ve been fixated on trying to fix that particular transfer.

Anyhoo, I hope to get as clean as you… but am not quite there yet.

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#16

Totally, and it also feels like an athletic feat! I need a lot of warmup to be able to play this part at (approximately) tempo, and I also have a limit on the number of times I can play it in the same session before getting too tired. For reference, I think the above takes where No 9 and 10 of a session of 12-13 in total. This excluded the warmup where I played the solo about 4-5 times from 75% speed to about 95%.
By about take 12 I was unable to play the solo and decided to stop!

Also, the gain helps to keep the attack consistent, in the recorded direct input you can hear quite a lot of volume inconsistencies between the different notes - it’s much less impressive. Happy to share the DI if people are interested!

Thank you but trust me it doesn’t feel like that :smiley: I am still looking for ways to make this solo feel more comfortable, so that my performance on it can be more consistent from one day to the next. As I said, this stuff is cherry picked :wink:

I would do some minor polishing here and there, but it is definitely the string skipping part that needs the most work. In particular I would like to improve how it feels, rather than how it sounds! At the moment it’s quite an athletic thing for me, while ideally I would like guitar playing to feel as effortless as possible.

The sheer picking speed is of course the main difficulty here, coupled with the fact that the picking motions need to be big enough to cover quite large distances (between 3 or 4 strings). I am exploring slight variations in the right hand setup and even non-fully-picked solutions to make the whole thing feel smoother and more repeatable, see for example this post that I wrote in @zhang’s thread:

Hehe, thank you but technically it’s more like: if I could have about 10 attempts at the solo next to JP, hopefully in one or two of them I won’t screw up :sweat_smile: . PS: and it would have to be in my bedroom withou 10000 people watching!

This is also in reply to @lars and @hamsterman, regarding swiping. In my case I don’t really try to avoid it, in the sense that I know “mathematically” that it will happen if I don’t make a conscious effort to clear certain string changes (e.g. by changing pick paths). I don’t feel that swiping is the bottleneck in this solo: if I focus on the left hand muting, the swipable parts (e.g. ascending fours) come out quite clean and repeatable.

Yeah I would totally endorse that! Life is too short to not play something you want to play just because of a pulloff! (Talking to myself as well, as I often get trapped in that “cheating” mindset).

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#17

Great job, tommo! Nice tone and your playing is really nice and fluid!. Your picking sounds great! Well done! :slight_smile:

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#18

Yes I would be interested in hearing that for sure!

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#19

This about the third or fourth hardest thing about Gilbert’s “Technical Difficulties,” for me, though the order is reversed - decent vibrato, then blistering 6-note run. I assume it gets easier with repetitions, so maybe another 5,000 or so and I’ll have it down, lol.

Is this something you’ve observed in your own playing, or is this more driven by reason and theory? Reason I ask, is while theoretically speaking I can see the appeal of that argument, in the Antigravity seminar Batio certainly isn’t having any issues with swiping in descending runs, and if you think about it, really, the margin of error is pretty low for ANY motion in a fast alternate picked run. If you miss slightly with the tWPS wrist rotation, that’s gonna trip you up just as good… And that’s a much mechanically “bigger” movement than a ghost sweep across a strong.

Anyway, Tommo, this is exceptional. \m/

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#20

I saw the unintentional swiping happen under the magnet and when there was a clean swipe the run would be good, but when I missed the swipe it would be bad. I thought I was doing clean TWPS when it went well, but I never was.

At that point I can either try to make more clean swipes or aim at eliminating the swiping with perfect TWPS and be happy if that gets me to clean swipes instead. To me it makes sense to aim for no swipes, but the goal is really to play the thing so it sounds good and feels good and reliable :slight_smile:

I’m naturally UWPS but at speed the way I ended up swiping was that I would adjust my hand to neutral (or even slight DWPS?) and swipe the ascending string change. This made the change to DWPS much easier (or unnecessary?) for the subsequent descending string change.

IOW we’re both half-right: you can miss half the TWPS changes and have it degrade gracefully to a swipe. Right? :slight_smile:

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