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This week's Guitarist in the spotlight: Yngwie Malmsteen

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Every week we will be looking at a different guitarist whose history and guitar playing we will study. This week we will be looking at Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen.

Yngwie was born in Stockholm, Sweden on June 30th, 1963. On September 18th, 1970, the day that Jimi Hendrix died, a young 7 year old Malmsteen decided to pick up the guitar after seeing footage of Hendrix smashing and burning his guitar live on stage as new of his death spread around the globe.

As he got older and progressed into his teens, Malmsteen started practicing more and more. It's around this time that he also got into the music of Deep Purple, with the album "Fireball" having a massive impact on his playing. It's also around this time that he discovered the music of classical violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini, after seeing a performance of his music live on Swedish TV by a Russian violinist. The fast runs and broken chords/arpeggios present in Paganini's music hugely impressed Malmsteen and he was determined to implement these techniques and concepts into his own playing. It was also around this time that he also became influenced by the music of Bach.

All three of these artists had a huge impact on Malmsteen's present and future style...Deep Purple's heavy guitar riffs, the Baroque chord progressions and melodies of Bach and the lightning fast scale runs and arpeggios of Paganini's music, all would have a massive impact. By the time Malmsteen was in his mid teens he was practicing up to 9 hours a day. In addition to that he had his own band which he fronted, both as singer and guitarist, playing the local Stockholm circuit. However mainstream success eluded him as Swedish record companies deemed his music "not commercial enough".

However in 1983, when he was 19 years old, he sent a demo tape to Mike Varney in the USA, who was instantly blown away. The super fast Harmonic Minor Scale runs and sweep picked arpeggios was something that hadn't been heard before. Yes, Richie Blackmore had introduced some classical styled themes into various Deep Purple songs and Randy Rhoads of Ozzy Osbourne as well as Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth had inputted some neoclassical ideas into their music but no one had done it to the extremes that Malmsteen was doing it. So Malmsteen was brought over to the US to play in local LA band Steeler then Alcatrazz. However Malmsteen soon left the following year to release his first solo album "Rising Force". This album created a new benchmark in rock/metal guitar playing, the lightning fast sweep picked arpeggios and Phrygian dominant scalar runs all in the context of an intense heavy metal style creating the new style Neoclassical Metal, and inspiring millions of guitarists in the process. In today's lesson we will be looking at a few licks and techniques based on Malmsteen's style.

The Phrygian Dominant Scale is one of Malmsteen's chosen scales as it has a very dark sound. Here we have E Phrygian Dominant seeing how the root note, or starting note is an E. This scale is also position 5 of the Harmonic Minor Scale, in this case A Harmonic Minor.

Malmsteen also loves his arpeggios and in this example we see one of his trademark arpeggios: The A Minor arpeggio over 2 octaves which he often plays separately in his solos. To shift into different keys simply shift the arpeggio to a different fret eg to play the arpeggio in E Minor simply play the arpeggio starting at the 7th fret. Or to the 15th fret if you wish to play the arpeggio in C Minor.

In this third lick we hear classic Malmsteen. Malmsteen often likes playing a combination of Minor and Diminished arpeggios, and here we have a sweep picking lick consisting entirely of A Minor and Diminished arpeggios. This lick is very reminiscent of the sweep picking sections which can be found in the track "Liar" from the album "Trilogy". It's also in licks like these that we see Malmsteen's classical influences come to light, one obvious one being 19th century classical violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini and his use of broken chords and arpeggios, all played at very fast speeds.

Another trademark Malmsteen lick. Another technique that Malmsteen loves to employ is his use of pedal tones. Here we really see the Bach influence coming to light, as pedal tones like these can be often found in Bach's compositions, mostly his Harpsichord works. This lick is also very reminiscent of the pre solo section of the song "I'll See The Light Tonight" which can be found on the album "Marching Out". As far as music theory is concerned, this lick is based on the A Harmonic Minor Scale,

Here we see a lick again based on notes from the A Harmonic Minor Scale. In this lick a basic 6 note pattern is started on the note B at the 7th fret of the top E string and then that same movement is repeated again while moving up the A Minor Harmonic Minor Scale, one note at a time. We call this a sequence, meaning a pattern that's shifted up the fretboard, one position at a time.

Here we see a similar concept to the one seen in the previous lick but this time vertically up the neck rather than horizontally. Using this time notes from the E Harmonic Minor Scale in its root position across all 6 strings, a 6 note pattern is played starting on the bottom E string before being repeated on the A string, then the D string, the G string, the B string and then finally the top E string finishing off on a huge screaming bend. This is a very useful lick as the same lick can be played in all the other 6 remaining Harmonic Minor positions. You can even apply it to all your other scales as well.

And in this final lick we see another classic Malmsteen style lick. Using purely all A Minor Arpeggio shapes, you begin playing a 5 string arpeggio shape starting at the 12th fret before shifting up the fretboard and playing the A Minor Arpeggio in another position this time using only 3 strings before shifting up again to a 3rd position of the A Minor Arpeggio, this time over 5 strings at the 17th fret.

So make sure you learn all these licks and apply them to your own playing and solos as well as apply them in different keys, different positions etc. In the meantime here is some recommended listening if you want to check out Yngwie Malmsteen's music more:

With Alcatrazz:

  • Live Sentence (1984)


  • Rising Force (1984)

  • Marching Out (1985)

  • Trilogy (1986)

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