Break Free of “Position” Playing – Part 2

how to break free part 2This is Part 2 on how to break free of “position” playing on guitar.  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here. Here’s a quick recap. Part 1 was all about becoming intentional about breaking through that stuck feeling created by relying solely on positions and patterns.  To do that, I suggested ignoring positions and patterns altogether, limiting yourself to 1 and 2 strings, and playing much more vertically on the guitar.

These techniques helped me immensely and I almost immediately started seeing improvements. I began caring much less about about what position, scale pattern, or fingering I was using.  A great start.  To take this concept to the next level, we’ll be reintroducing scale patterns in a way that works for you and not against you.

Ground Rules

Yes, we are going to use specific scale patterns now, but a few of the same ground rules apply.

  • Only focus on ONE  key/sound at a time
  • Think and play vertically
  • Continue using your ear to help guide your fingers, not just the visual patterns (remember this is done by truly understanding the anatomy of the sound your working on).
  • Experiment, have fun, and make music!  Try what I suggest below, and then see what you can come up.  Call a buddy and start playing music.  This stuff will start seeping into your playing over time.

How to Break Free: 3 Strings, 1 Octave

  1. Embrace visual.  The goal of these steps is to use the visual nature of the guitar to our advantage – shapes and patterns.  The difference is that now you aren’t relying on them solely.  Having a solid understanding of the sound/key you’re working on and using your ear first makes all the difference.  For me, once that is in place, adding the visual element back in the mix glues it all together.
  2. One-octave scales.  Use patterns, but start small.  Start with one-octave scales.  No more.  The 5 common CAGED patterns are a good place to start. (though I hate that name… more on that later).  Go here if don’t know what those are.  Take those patterns and extract one-octave segments from each.
  3. Use 3-string sets.  In Part 1 we had a 1 and 2 string limit.  Here our limit is 3 strings.  There are four 3-string sets [EAD, ADG, DGB, and GBE].5 patterns
  4. Review your patterns.  It’s likely you’ve never practiced patterns in this way, so take a minute and review.  Here’s G major on strings GBE up the fretboard (see colorful diagram).
  5. Exercise A.  One 3-string set up and down the fretboard.  Start in lowest position.  Play one octave low to high.  Move to next scale pattern and scale degree.  Play one octave high to low.  Example: G to G (low to high), then A to A (hight to low), B to B (low to high), etc.  Practice on all four sets of 3-string sets.  Note:  Every 4th time you’ll use the same scale pattern.[youtube id=”w4lLpDQl5yc”]
  6. Exercise B.  Two 3-String sets up and down the fretboard.  Here we are connecting two 1-octave patterns (located in different positions) together.  Start in lowest position.  Play one octave up.  Move to next scale pattern AND next string set.  Play another octave up.  Then come down the same way.  Move to next scale degree and repeat.  Like before, play up and down the entire fretboard.[youtube id=”YZ1mDJ2HWb0″]
  7. Exercise C.  Start in highest position.  Play one octave.  Switch positions.  Play back down.  Switch positions.  Play up the octave… etc.  You’ll be playing the exact same 8 notes in 5 or 6 different locations on the neck.  Then repeat the process starting on the 2nd scale degree.  Then the 3rd, 4th, etc…[youtube id=”jUTPSU_D02Y”]

Wrap Up

These 3 exercises have been immensely helpful in my own personal practice.  They’ve helped me breakdown the fretboard into small manageable chucks instead of being overwhelmed by the whole fretboard.  There are literally endless ways you could work on this.  These are just the most obvious and helpful ones I’ve found.  Give them a try and see how they work for you.  And definitely try and come up with your own.  Here are few suggestions on other stuff to experiment with these 3 exercises.

  • 3-per-string patterns
  • 2-per-string patterns
  • arpeggios
  • go up the scale using one sound, come down with another.
  • different time signatures, rhythmic groupings
  • add slurs and bends
  • could you add harmonics in there some how?

Are there any concepts/ideas that have been helpful to you in playing expressively across the whole fretboard?


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