Last month we saw how guitar patterns can be converted from a simplistic representation of a scale to a stepping-stone to the exploration of much vaster horizons of the guitar. We saw how starting from the widely known pentatonic box in A we can trace its origins back to the minor and major scales. In this sense, pretty much anything you know on the guitar can be used as a starting point for further exploration.
Today we'll pick up from where we left off. Assuming we have done our homework, we are now familiar with the major, minor, and pentatonic scales in A. We have moved from one single box that has been used to death by generations of guitar players to the somewhat more exclusive knowledge of the whole fret-board for each of these scales. Before we continue, please note that the scales we are using today are simple references, and what follows can be applied to any musical concept, although we'll emphasize scales. So depending on your level, feel free to replace A major with C# half-diminished, F Lydian dominant, or whatever makes you happy.
Now, learning more patterns of the same scale does not automatically make you more fluent with it or more knowledgeable. You might have moved away from the first limitation, which was the one box, just to fall into more boxes. So now instead of mindlessly moving up and down a pattern, you move up and down 5 or 6. In the beginning this will give you the false impression of having improved musically, simply because your finger mechanics will produce slight variations due to the actual notes you are playing in each position. The euphoria is usually short-lived, and you realize that the problem is not necessarily in how many patterns you know, but rather how you approach them and what you make of them. Ideally, when you reach a very high level of mastery of the instrument (that no doubt many of you have already achieved, considering the records you put out on this website!) you will not even think of patterns and simply flow from one note to the next solely for their intrinsic musical value.
One reason that breaking out of the old patterns is so difficult is that they tend to give us a certain level of comfort; after all, you can learn one, memorize where the root is, and you can just move it up and down the neck and not have to learn the same scale in all 12 tonalities.
Today, I will suggest a few exercises that will certainly be less about comfort and more about musicality. This can be quite frustrating and confusing, but stick with it and the results will come. When they do, you'll never want to go back to the old "mechanics", guaranteed.
The first exercise will give the power back to your ears and take it away from your fingers. Have you ever felt that you are producing notes but not actually playing? That is because fingers move faster than the untrained ears. The symptoms are usually scalar runs of varying speeds that recur so often that your playing becomes defined by them. There is no reason for playing the same solo on every song you attempt to improvise on. So take away the power from your fingers and give it back to your ears. Use only 3 strings of any given position. For example, play on the top 3 strings, frets 4-5-7, 5-6-8, 5-7-8. This gives you a bit more than an octave (from B to the next C), plenty to write the best melody but not enough to enter hyperspeed mindless doodling. Record a simple progression in C major, loop it for about an hour, and then play non-stop using only these 9 notes on those 9 frets. Should you find yourself reverting back to your old ways, don't worry about it, it will fade away. Just don't stop until the hour is up (you can do more if you'd like).
The next exercise is quite obvious, and yet 90% of the guitarists I know are not at all proficient with it. Chose a scale, it can be anything, depending on your current level, and play it only on one string. For example, play E major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#) on the first string only. Start with one octave and then move up to the highest available fret. Now record a progression in E major, loop it for (you guessed it) one hour and improvise only using the first string. Again don't worry if you feel you are doing the same thing over and over. After 20 minutes of going up and down the string, you will start to go crazy unless you figure out ways to be creative. Don't forget to use your arsenal of expressive techniques such as vibratos, bendings, slides, whammy bar antics, harmonics, etc. Now use the same progression and improvise on each of the remaining strings (one hour each).
These two exercises should keep you busy for a while. You can apply them to any scale or arpeggio. Also, check out this week's video on YouTube. as it gives you another idea for breaking out of set patterns. It will force you to see the notes for what they are and will break most of your known schemes.
It's amazing how vast the fret-board is and how limitless the options are. Don't get overwhelmed and most importantly don't have expectations. Let your ear grow at its own pace, and your musicality will blossom. Plant the seed, tend to it with devotion, and be patient. You'll still need to water it every day though, so make a commitment and see it through.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to write to me and leave any requests or questions for future articles or videos at my contact information in the sidebar, or on the YouTube channel.
Andre Tonelli is a guitarist, composer, producer, and teacher renowned around the world. His music has been heard by millions, either performed live, on radio stations worldwide, or at other events.
His latest CD is entitled "Power World Fantastic", an all instrumental guitarfest.
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