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Picking Etude- The Moto Perpetuo / Perpetual Motion


Hi there...
Believe it or not, this article again is kinda related to my articles about alternate picking... hard to believe after I spent like a month on writing stuff about that topic for IbreatheMusic. Ok, let's leave the sarcasm behind here.

This article should be interesting for everyone interested in learning a nice sounding etude. The one I wanna show to you, the "Moto Perpetuo" ( aka. "Perpetual Motion" ) by Niccolo Paganini is a very nice and difficult piece of music. It can be a great exercise etude for you, or maybe something to write a jazz arrangement for, or whatever.

But I would like to approach it as a picking exercise for now. I definitely recommend to check out and work your way through my "Art of Picking" and "Break It All Down!" articles... they will introduce you to the basic mechanics of picking, show you exercises, tell you what to look out for etc.

OK, but now, let's get to the piece...

What about it ?

Well, I was introduced to this piece by one of my guitar teachers when I was like 11 or 12. He showed it to me and made sure I play through it slowly and accurately, avoiding noises and wrong notes. Guess what? I liked the sound of it, the melodic content, but it was booooooooring to play through that one.

Well, a few weeks later I got my hands onto a copy of "Street Lethal", the first album by Racer X. You might say that that album changed my view of the guitar (just like the first Van Halen-album had done a while before that), and sure motivated me to work on my technique.

That album is filled with absolutely amazing guitar-playing (shredding) by the young Paul Gilbert.
Well, while I was kneeling in front of my stereo, listening to the album with my mouth wide open (practically drooling), the song "Y.R.O." (which by the way is an abbreviation of "Yngwie Rip Off"... go figure and keep in mind Paul's weird sense of humor ) came on.

It is an instrumental, starting with a cool headbanger-riff. Next, there are some cool licks, and all of a sudden... the band stops, only a hihat-rhythm remains, and over that, Paul starts to play the first part of the "Moto Perpetuo" at about lightspeed... and VERY accurately on top of it. I was blown away, and decided to work on it.

Well, I worked on it for quite a while, and certainly didn't get it up to the speed PG played it at, but it sure was a GREAT exercise to apply the picking-stuff I was working on.

What I liked about it was that it featured lots of little segments with difficult parts, focussing on different aspects of alternate picking, so you really had to "zoom in" on those and practise them separately before advancing to playing the whole thing.

Also, since the whole thing (we're actually talking about the first part here) is in 16th notes, it was kinda easy to nail it without having to focus on note lengths or something... it was even kinda easy to sight-read the whole thing.

History Lesson- The first shredder?!?

Now, Niccolo Paganini is quite popular among guitarists. I don't wanna get too much into his whole biography (refer to the web for that, there are bunches of great resources about NP), just some quick stuff.

Many consider Niccolo Paganini the best violinist who ever lived, and he sure influenced the violin quite a bit. He came up with and perfected a lot of violin-techniques, and also wrote some of the most difficult violin-pieces ever.

Niccolo Paganini

Also, Paganini has been a very flamboyant performer and mysterious person, and that added to his amazing playing technique (on both violin and guitar!) kinda makes me think of him as the godfather of all guitar-shredders.

Guitarists have been fascinated by him for quite a while. I mean, especially for shredders, the movie "Crossroads" and the famous guitar duel at the end (which was played by Steve Vai) is one of the coolest shred-solos ever.

The most popular part of this (the legendary "Eugene's Trick Bag", which also can be heard on Steve's new CD "The Elusive Light & Sound, Part 1") was Steve's take on one of Niccolo's "24 Caprices"... Steve actually quoted the first bars of that one.

Yngwie Malmsteen claims that Paganini was one of his most important influences, and many of his licks seem to be reminiscent of stuff from the 24 Caprices.

And many other "neoclassical" players took up their chops a notch or two by working on guitar arrangements of those Caprices.

Those pieces work very well on guitar, and there are some wonderful licks, sequences and exercises to be found in them. (I once bought sheet music of "The 24 Caprices" for solo violin, and arranged some of them for guitar. If you wanna hear an incredible version of those for classical guitar, check out Eliot Fisk's arrangement of "The 24 Caprices", Bmg/Musicmasters - #67092 , 1992... available at Amazon.com )

But back to our "Perpetual Motion"-etude... this is a popular piece by Paganini, and I have heard many versions of it (i.e. played on guitar, sax, violin, flute...).

I also have seen many different arrangements for guitar, incl. different TABs, all showing the piece played in different positions etc. If you are interested in doing your own arrangement of this piece or any other classical piece, for that matter, try to hunt down sheet music for it (there are a bunch available on the web), and get to work... work out your arrangement, fingerings etc. A very interesting process.

OK... let's make up some guidelines to work on this, and then let's see the TAB of it...

Working on it... >>