Tag Archives: fretboard

How to practice your scales and why – String sets

When you first learn scales you start with positions, but once you play in positions you need to work on being free to change and move around on the neck. In this lesson I am going to cover some exercises that help you develop not only your overview of the notes but also your knowledge of the scale and the structures that are found in it.

Why you want to shift position while playing

The first way we learn scales is in a position, but for a lot of melodies it is a lot easier to shift position while playing, so we need to work on practicing scales so that we can make the position shift and keep the overview of the scales.

To demonstrate how some things are easier to play and phrase well when you move around on the neck I have made two ways to play a line in example 1.

The first one is using the same sort of triad shape for the whole line and can easily be picked with a repeating right hand figure as well. The same lick  played in a position is much more difficult to execute and the phrasing does not in the same way flow by itself.

The approach and some basic exercises

I already made a lesson on how you can practice your scales in positions and learn not only the visual shape but also the name of the notes and the notes in the scale. You can check out this lesson here: How to practice your scales and why – Positions

I assume that you know your positions. If you don’t know the notes in each of the major scales then you can practice it with these exercises. You need to know some theory to have the overview, but without that theory the overview of the neck is also a bit useless.

I am going to use a similar approach here. It is important that you learn the notes on the neck, but it is equally important that you build a knowledge of what notes are in the scales and when you improvise and compose with the scale you also need a strong knowledge of the structures it contains like triads and diatonic 7th chords.

The first exercise is to play the scale on one string. This is something that is not about technique or speed, it is about knowing the notes so that you can find the notes on the neck and  that you know what notes are in the scale.


So this is an exercise that you should work through slowly and on all strings, you probably need it more to check how easy it is and don’t worry about playing it at high speeds etc.

The second exercise is to start to connect the different positions that you use. In this lesson I am assuming that you already know the positions and have some sort of overview of the scales in terms of the notes.

The exercise is really simple, we just play a 6 note chunk of a position and then we shift that up the strings. In example 3  I have written out that exercise on the D and G strings.

I guess this exercise is not something you have to work out and learn by heart, it’s more about practising to think ahead and keeping enough overview to see what you have to play in the next position.

Diatonic triads and arpeggios along the neck

So if you can already connect the positions and know the notes of the scale. Then we can start making exercises where you use your overview to learn moving arppegios up a string set.

You should notice that I on purpose decided not to name the arpeggios in my example, you should be able to recognize them and it is a useful exercise to just go over them and figure out what notes are played and what arpeggio they form.

The first exercise is to play the diatonic triads of the C major scale. I start on the F major triad because that is the lowest one on this string set. I then just move up through the scale and play the diatonic triads. Playing this sort of exercise should  help you develop a practical knowledge of the diatonic triads and the order of the diatonic triads.

If we take the triads from example 4 and add a 7th then we have this exercise shown in example 5.

If you can describe the way you play an arpeggio with the number of notes per string. That would mean that example 5 here above is a 1-1-2.

You can play other versions as well, here is a 2-1-1 on the A D and G strings.

And finally there is a 1-2-1 fingering on the top string set.

You can of course also explore 1-1-1-1 and 2-2 or even more exotic things like 3-1, they are all interesting to try out and see what might work for you!

I hope you can use the information and exercises I went over here to work on getting a better knowledge of the scale and more freedom in your playing so that you can take advantage of some of the thing that work really well on guitar and are easier to play and phrase.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

How to practice your scales and why – String sets

If you want to learn how I put arppegios, chords and reharmonizations together then check out this WebStore Lesson:

There will never be another you – Reharmonization Solo

I also made a video demonstrating how some of the exercises can be used in lines:

If you want to download a pdf of these lines you can do so hear:

3 licks changing positions

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you want to hear.

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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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