The following is adapted and excerpted from my book, The GuitArchitect’s Positional Exploration (available at guitarchitecture.org).
As a static exercise, the 1-2-3-4 chromatic lick that people are often taught at their first guitar lesson:
- Most people learn to play it with poor technique and
- (the important thing): It isn’t very musical.
Practicing it in a straight ascending and descending form ad nauseam isn’t going to help you with a lot of long term musical goals. But that isn’t to say the pattern is useless. There are hundreds of ways you can modify and adapt any pattern on the guitar to make it useful for you.
Today, I’ll show you a variation I call “the spider” (because it seems to crawl over the fretboard in what is, for many people, an unfamiliar way). In addition to posing some technical challenges, it also assists with visualizing octaves and may even help you navigate your way around the fingerboard a little better.
Step 1: Take the initial 1-2-3-4 pattern and move it to a comfortable position (like the 8th position):
(Performance tip: Try to leave your fret hand fingers on the strings after playing and lifting them off only when you need to play another note.)
Step 2: Take the first two notes of the pattern and repeat them at the octave:
Step 3: Repeat the first two notes of the pattern on the high E string and follow them with the second two notes:
Step 4: Play the last two notes of the pattern descending by octave:
The whole pattern looks like this:
Try playing it ascending by ½ step:
and descending by ½ step.
When playing this, pay close attention to The 3 T’s of performance:
In any practice or performance situation, try to focus on tone and (hand) tension and ask yourself the following questions as you’re playing:
- Can you hear every note clearly?
- Are they equal in volume and tone?
- How does it feel to play them?
- Are your hands relaxed (picking and fretting)?
- If you practice with too much tension, you will play with too much tension, and it will undermine your ability to execute.
- If you feel pain in your hands or forearms stop playing immediately!
While rhythmic variation is encouraged, playing in time (i.e. with a time keeping device like a metronome, recording or a drum sequence) is really essential in optimizing performance.
Finally, here’s a variation to get you started. In this example, I’ve taken the split pattern approach and applied it positionally rather than only in octaves.
Try any of these as a 5 minute warm up or as a way to experiment seeing how to move patterns around the fingerboard! Finding your own inroads to guitar playing are the lessons that will stick with you the longest. So with any approach – be patient, be thorough, take the things from it that work for you and most of all – have fun !!