practice makes the master
There are way too many disconnected ways to navigate the guitar fretboard, which makes it hard for anyone to make progress. Having had a guitar in my hands for upwards of 50 years, I can tell you that trying to memorize and connect every type of scale will simply ruin your timing and crush any hope of making progress quickly. It's no way to live. And it's not playing. You have to think too much and it kills the feel. Nevertheless, there's an easier way I believe.
The secret is to visualize simple patterns on the fretboard, and then to master connecting them. A pattern can be just a few notes pulled from a scale or any combination of notes that make up a sweet line.
The following approach has been my go to approach, and it allows me to play fluidly all over the fingerboard in a variety of styles.
Keep in mind that if you don't already know these patterns, they are worth their weight in gold. My explanations will be simple.
This technique will enable you to play to any of our backing tracks while developing your own signature sound. We know this because this is exactly how we play to them. Any good backing track will do. Ours are designed not to throw you while providing a rich and rewarding playing experience. Nothing like bringing a little joy to the practice session.
In the spirit of peace and enlightened playing ... this is our gift.
This first scale pattern is absolutely critical to know hands down. The position shown is the C major scale. It's moveable, meaning its the major scale of any root note indicated in red. The pattern shows the 7th position (when the index finger is on 7th fret). In the 2nd position, it would be the key of G major. In the 10th position, it would be the key of Eb Major. For all future reference, we're going to refer to it as "the major scale pattern".
try it on this track
In the 7th position, it is also an extension of the A minor pentatonic scale, and it is the perfect mate for the classic Am pentatonic shape that sits above it in the 5th position. See pattern number 1 in the diagram below and play it in the 5th position. That would be the key of A minor also. You may already know it well. But do you know all of the other minor pentatonic patterns and how to interchange them fluidly with the major shape? Probably not, it takes some focus at first, then your skills will explode exponentially.
We can't underestimate the importance of naturally connecting these shapes. They don't take long to learn, and learning them while playing to backing tracks is enormous fun. It is the best live performance training you can receive because you are playing with other artists who are doing nothing more than digging into a groove thats easy to work with and let go on.
The next thing to realize about the major shape ... is that it is both G major and E minor in the 2nd position, and Eb major as well as C minor in the 10th position. The only difference is where you find the root note. It doesn't have to be any more complicated that that. This one scale gives you a lot of power all over the fingerboard. Later on you will see that it is also a "mode". In the 7th position, it's the C Ionian mode. See the mode reference at the bottom of the page.
The most important thing to keep in your mind is that learning this method does not limit you to this method. This framework allows you to play anything all over the keyboard. Once you know the basic visualizations, by simply extending to a note outside of the framework you will reach into new territory to explore. Think of it as an adventure, not a chore.
What's cool about the C pattern shown above is that it sits square in the middle of the fingerboard. This gives you room above it and below it to find other patterns to easily connect to. Playing to our A minor tracks gives you hours of quality time while getting to know your instrument better. The key signatures we favor are strong guitar keys, and the flatted keys (F, Eb, C minor, etc) are conducive to horn as well.
The other patterns we use ... are the five shapes of the minor pentatonic scale. Most of the arrangements on this site are conducive to minor pentatonic scale playing. Practicing these patterns to these backing tracks will make you a better player, period. These minor pentatonic shapes are also the major pentatonic shapes if you play them in a different position. Explaining that now will be confusing, and we won't be exploring major pentatonic music in this body of work.
If you don't know the minor pentatonic shapes, see the following diagram:
Pattern 1 in the 3rd position as shown is G minor. In the 5th position it's A minor ... in the 8th position, C minor. Move the adjoining patterns to move the key the same way.
You should know these by heart. They are the easiest path to playing soulful, jazzy blues. You see, once you have the framework, you will never be lost again. And as you learn new patterns and shapes, you will learn how to play new and exciting lines. And as you build new and exciting lines, your vocabulary will grow giving you the ability to be more fluent on your instrument. It's a domino effect and you have to start at the beginning by visualizing the framework, one pattern at a time. Look for your own shapes inside the pattern. Use some repetition, and never forget to pause on a good landing note.
Blues and Pentatonics are closely related. As you become more confident, start to integrate the following patterns.
First try the major scale in the 2nd position. That would be G Major. With the E in the bass, it becomes E minor. Great for E minor blues. Compare it to the E Blues pattern shown below in the 3rd position. This shows you how to mix up the pentatonic and blues notes in that position, in that key. You now have command and efficiency in that position. And alot to experiment with. Stretch for a different note to land on. Take it slow and listen for the keepers.
What makes the blues tricky is that sometimes you are playing against a minor blues - which is perfect for minor pentatonic playing. Yet other times you are up against a dominant 7th chord - which makes other tones available to you. Here is a scale to keep in mind as you continue to advance.
The different patterns allow your fingers to reach for different notes without disrupting the fluidity of the muscle memory you've already acquired. This is one of the easiest ways to advance your skills quickly because it is a very direct approach that doesn't need much more explanation. Theory, numbers, letters and fingerings give way to a more liberated experience with your instrument. You simply play within the structure as you learn it a few notes at a time, then expand a little further once you know a pattern or shape well.
Remember - all of music is made up from the only 12 notes that exist. Meaning there are countless note combinations within every pattern. So if you just play, play, play and search for combinations of notes that excite you, you will be well on your way to creating your signature sound and getting immense pleasure from your musical efforts and accomplishments.
Listen to your favorite melody line in your head. If it's a vocal line, there's a chance that it actually doesn't have all too many notes. Find it on the fingerboard, you might just gain a new skill by trying.
For more guidance on guitar playing - look here.
All the best,
here's a play along track - use the long 1 minute intro to find your way around - move each pattern down 2 frets for A minor
here's a play along track for these patterns try a single string approach - try including open strings