Across the Fretboard

This lesson will try to give you a strategy and a way to make exercises that should give you more freedom to move freely over the neck of the guitar when you improvise. How long the road to achieve that is depends on how far you are with knowing the notes of the neck, the scales or the chords.

What you need to know in advance

So since I can’t start completely from scratch and I chose to focus more on how you connect the positions and get more of an overview of what notes and arpeggios are found in each one of them there are a few things that you need to know first that I won’t spend too much time on.

The neck covered in major, harmonic minor and melodic minor: fingering positions. That can be caged or 3 notes per string or strict positions. This is a physical or visual way to approach the scales.

Know the notes of the scales and the diatonic chords: So you need to know each note in each fingering and you need to know that in all keys, you also need to know what chords there are on what degree of the scale. Here are a few ways to check and/or get this better:

Try to play the scale on each string. So you need to know for each string what are the notes of this scale on that string and you need to know what the notes are and where they are found on that string.

Across the Fretboard ex 1

Try to play diatonic arps in one position one for each string.

Across the Fretboard ex 2

Try to play triads on a set of strings. This exercise is letting you practice the notes at one of the frets and also what arpeggios are found in the scale for each one of these notes. It is also a welcome change from just playing all the diatonic arpeggios.

Another good exercise that helps getting an overview of the arpeggios and the notes in the scale and in the different positions is to play triads (or any other arpeggio type) on one set of strings up the neck.

Across the Fretboard ex 3

Make sure to do this exercise in a tempo where you can see each arpeggio in one of the scale fingerings you have so that you can add up the visual information of the triad and the scale. Seeing shapes within the scale positions is a very useful thing!

If you would like me to make more lessons on some of the above subjects you should let me know!

 Technical exercises

If you want to improvise then it can be very useful to practice open ended exercises, so exercises that use things you already know but you need to fit them in on the spot and make choices while playing.

Practicing scales and scale exercises from the lowest to the highest note of the instrument like this can be such an exercise if you try not to learn a certain pattern by heart.

Across the Fretboard ex 4

You’ll notice I don’t play ascending and descending the same. To me it is important to keep pushing yourself to find new ways to move in the scale, so I deliberately try to avoid this. At the same time you can probably also see that I am moving from one position to the next along the way using different bits of the position before moving on. That tends to be the most effecient way to play like this.

Here’s a how I’d suggest you approach this: Practice all keys, each key from the lowest to the highest note on the neck. For each key do another scale exercise, 3rds, diatonic triads 7th chords, shell voicings etc etc. Keep you brain and ear working while playing don’t just run up and down the scale. Make sure to change the other exercise (3rds, arps etc) for each scale so that you don’t just repeat the same exercise. The thing that you practice is to have the overview of the neck not only the arpeggios and the key.

Here’s an example of how you might play the Bb major scale in 3rds

Across the Fretboard ex 5

One way I often extend these exercises is to practice the scales or arps through a progression so a Coltrane cycle or a II Valt I progression. This will help you get even closer to the point where you improvise across the neck.

Improvising exercises

The main idea here is to take something you’re improvising on and force yourself to move around, essentially it can be anything, a chord, a turnaround or a whole  song.

In the beginning you might have to start out rubato or keeping it very simple, just to get used to it, but as you progress you should be able to play quite fluently in time while improvising and moving position in the phrases and in between while still sounding coherent.

Exercise 1: Try to move up and down the neck while improvising on a Bbmaj7 chord. You’ll probably find out if you have spots that you don’t know well enough and you are practicing trying to make melodies that are making sense and are in several positions.

Exercise 2: Try to move up and down the neck while improvising on a Gmaj7, E7alt Am7 D7alt turnaround. This is the same as exercise 1, only now you also have to know some melodic minor scales and another chord sound in the key (in this case the 2nd degree, Am7)

I have spend quite a lot of time on especially exercise 2 since it also is a good way to come up with  new melodies for me. Once I started working on it like this is was very fast getting a lot easier to play in most positions on any progression and still make sense.

You can download the examples here:

Across the Fretboard

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