I have a few questions regarding the following lick:

It runs for about 8 bars and starts at 53 seconds into the video (it is a time marked lick so will start playing automatically at the correct position).

1) What is the time signature of the backing track (I am assuming 4/4)?

2) What is the BPM of the track (Is it 80 or 160 perhaps?)

3) I can't get my head around how the beat is being subdivided for this lick. It appears that the first part of the lick (6 notes cycling 3 times) is spread across two beats which means 9 notes per beat, same for the next position of the lick, and then transferring to 6 notes per beat for the remainder of the run.

Is this correct? Doesn't seem right for some reason. Maybe the track is actually 240bpm (??) and then he is playing triplets or soemthing?

Really appreciate any help on this one. It is probably a bit easier if you own the DVD as he goes through the actual lick, but he doesn't go through the beat subdivision or how to play it acrosss the track so it will lock in with the beat.

Thanks for any assistance.


3 Answers 3


The problem with 6/4 is that it implies a metric grouping in the bass and drums of 3+3 or 6 on its own. I notice that you are defining your tempo as q.=160 when you do this, however. That part is actually correct, and you should make your metric decision based on how you hear the tempo.

The 160 bpm that you are hearing are occurring four to the bar. You can hear this with the cymbal hits in the drums. The only thing that makes this not be 4/4 is that the rhythm and drums are subdividing each big beat into three instead of two. We call this kind of subdivision complex time, and to avoid writing 4/4 with tons of triplets, we use the complex equivalent time signature of 12/8. It's perfectly legitimate to write a tempo mark of q.=160 in 12/8 time, since the dotted quarter is the value of your primary beat.

I'm going to provide two examples now of the lead, notated in either time signature choice. I find that 4/4 is FAR easier to conceptualize of what's actually happening from the perspective of the lead. 12/8 is more useful for the rhythm and drums, but is far more confusing for the lead. 4/4 example

12/8 example

  • Wow! Thanks so much for adding all of this analysis. I have only had a quick look and realised I will need to come back and go through this slowly to let it all sink in. Will make another comment against your other answer. Sep 27, 2012 at 12:09

1) The time signature is 4/4.

2) The tempo seems to be 160.

3) I would say that in my opinion the notes are sixteenth triplets.

  • Thanks so much for the answer. I think I am still confused though. How many bars are in the ascending part of the run? I think it is 4 bars. If that is the case, then the first position of the lick takes one bar. In that bar, 18 notes are played. If this was 3/4 time that would fit perfectly, but it doesn't seem to fit. I think I am getting confused on this whole thing. Sep 19, 2012 at 13:00
  • In the first run there are 8 bars of 4/4 at 160 bmp (until the final bend at 1:05). Basically a triplet is made to put ternary notes in binary bars (3 triplets fill 2 'normal' notes), I guess that's why you get that 3/4 impression. But I'm not sure about how many notes are used in a bar on that run. The main point is that Malmsteen-like licks tend to use a lot of triplets or sextolets.
    – Whiskas
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:22
  • Thanks Whiskas. I think I may have made a break through on this and wanted to check my understanding. I think that this tune may actually be in 6/4 time. The drum beat seems to conform to this measure, it fits with the bpm being played, and it also fits the notes being played per bar. That is, in the first bar of that lick he plays 18 notes. 18 notes fit perfectly as triplets in this time signature. You can play 3 notes per beat for 6 beats in the bar and everything fits throughout the entire run (and the rest of the tune too). It also seems to have a 6/4 feel (I think). What r your thoughts? Sep 20, 2012 at 2:27
  • The drum clearly hits @ 160 bmp. Then is it 6/4 or 4/4, I guess it's just a matter of feeling, for me 6/4 isn't necessary here. I'll personnaly stick with sixteenth triplets @ 160 bmp using 4/4. If you count 3 notes per beat that means eighth triplets, which is too slow even @ 240 bmp (look at his right hand). I counted 12 notes for 2 beats (it may not be right though) and it fits well with my results. Maybe I'm entirely wrong, but that's my thoughts :)
    – Whiskas
    Sep 20, 2012 at 13:37
  • I'd say the time signature is 4/4 shuffle (with 160 quarter note bpm:s), or 12/8 (with 160 dotted quarter note bpm:s). Sep 20, 2012 at 21:16

With assistance from everyone here I think I have this worked out now.

160bpm as dotted quarter note, 6/4 time signature, 3 notes per beat (so 6 beats per bar, meaning 18 notes per bar).

Links to guitar pro files and pdf as follows:

Guitar Pro file - www.db.tt/9hne3CPS

PDF - www.db.tt/veM8hJG3

Hope this helps someone else.

  • Unfortunately, 6/4 really can't be applied to the rhythm guitar and drums. Your meter has to come from that, NOT whatever the rhythmic grouping of the melody is. You're really close, though. I'm firing up Sibelius now; will submit an answer shortly.
    – NReilingh
    Sep 26, 2012 at 3:14
  • To my ear, it sounds like the rhythm guitar is playing for 6 beats. The first strum is for two beats, and then there are 4 palm-muted notes. Wouldn't this indicate 6/4 time? Am I hearing it wrong or understanding the notation incorrectly? Thanks so much for all your help @NReilingh Sep 27, 2012 at 12:12
  • The drums alone eliminate 6/4 as a possibility since they are playing four to the bar. That leaves 4/4 and 12/8 as possibilities, for the reasons described in my answer. In 12/8, the rhythm guitar/bass is playing q e e e e q e e e e
    – NReilingh
    Sep 27, 2012 at 13:39
  • There are places where the drums will play 6 even cymbal bell hits per bar (1:17-1:27), but this is an example of hemiola taking place over the underlying 4-to-the-bar meter. There are LOTS of interesting rhythmic options when you're playing in 12/8; you have to be careful not to be distracted by the surface level stuff.
    – NReilingh
    Sep 27, 2012 at 13:45
  • Brilliant! Thanks so much for all your effort here. Realised I have a LOT to learn about time signatures e.t.c. Do you have any recommended resources @NReilingh for getting on top of all this stuff? Any books or websites that go from the basics to super advanced? Thanks again. Sep 28, 2012 at 0:02

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