This is the fifth and final installment in our series on rapidly improving our dexterity, strength, stamina, power, and musicality of our fingers to improve our guitar playing.
So far we’ve gone over four easy, fast, and powerful exercises, and if you’ve been playing along each week and spending a few minutes practicing them each day, you’ve probably noticed some dramatic improvements in your guitar playing already.
What now? Are we going to go through every combination of those four fingers? Nope. It’s not necessary. See the video below:
This week I’m going to ask you to spend the next few minutes trying different combinations and see which ones are the most difficult. Chances are some will be easy for you at this point. That’s great! But we’re interested in the tough ones. We’re going to smooth out those wrinkles and so you can turn yourself into a fantastic and mellifluous guitar player.
Go through different combinations of fingers until you find one that is particularly difficult. Write it down, and practice that one this week.
Don’t think this is a “week off”. On the contrary, this week is more important than any of the others we’ve done so far. Why? Because this exercise involved diagnosing what you need to work on yourself, and setting about working it out for yourself. If you can do that, you can do anything with the guitar, and you’re guaranteed to become an awesome guitar player.
Just in case you’re curious, here are all the combinations of fingers you can do. There are only 24 and you’ve already done 4 of them. You can also repeat some fingers if you like for an even better finger workout.
This week’s pattern will be 4-2-3-1. As with the past three exercises, we’ll start on the 6th string, then go up to the 5th string, then up to the 4th string, etc., until we end on the 1st string. Then we’ll go in reverse, starting on the 1st string and playing the pattern backwards (1-3-2-4) on each string in the opposite direction.
I highly recommend using a metronome if you haven’t started yet. Once you can play the exercise for this week completely (playing all four notes in order), set the metronome on the lowest it will go, and play along. If it seems like the metronome is out to get you, remember that it only has one job: keep accurate time. Be patient and keep going, and you’ll be rewarded with some monstrous talent and beautiful sense of rhythm and musicality.
By now, you’re probably getting the gist of these exercises. Intellectually they’re not too hard to understand, which is fine because they aren’t intellectual exercises. These are all about creating new neural circuits in the brain to better control our finger movements.
The first exercise was 1-2-3-4 up and then in reverse. Week two was 2-1-4-3. This week will be 3-2-4-1. Simply follow along in the same vein. If you’re just jumping in now, you might want to simply follow the video and the guitar tabs linked above.
Every time you practice one of these exercises, your playing will get better and better, until you can rocket through these motions without thinking about them. (That’s a good place to be!)
So now you already know how to play the Am pentatonic scale in the first position. You’re golden, right? Well…
It’s true that just learning the 1st position will open up a world of new playing and jamming opportunities to you, but pretty soon you and your listeners might notice that your playing sounds repetitive. Learning more than one scale position will add all kinds of new dimensions to your playing—and it’s really not difficult to do at all. It just takes a little bit of focus and time.
Yet another great thing about pentatonic scales is that there are only 5 positions. You’ve already learned one last week, and after this week you’ll know 2 out of 5. Nearly half!
Once you have learned these 5 positions, you can connect them easily and play the A minor pentatonic scale up and down the entire neck! Not only that, you can shift any of the scale positions you’ve learned up or down to quickly play in different keys.
(But wait, there’s more….) The Am pentatonic scale is actually the SAME as the C major pentatonic scale. So when we get to the major pentatonic scales later, you’ll already know all the positions and notes… you’ll just apply them differently, and I’ll show you how to do it.
Actually, after learning these 5 simple positions, you’ll be able to play 5 different scales in any key, up and down the entire fretboard. In short, these 5 positions have a lot of bang for the buck.
Rather than learning them all at once, it’s much easier to learn one positions well, and then move on to the next one, and then then next, etc. This will help you really solidify your understanding and muscle memory of these scales, and will prevent the dreaded feelings of frustration from being overwhelming by too much new information too soon. (This is precisely why I’m doing one scale position per week, rather than all five at once.)
So all you have to do for now, is learn this one scale this week. Play it up and down a few times, and then see about playing the notes out of order. We’ll come back to this scale positions later and show you how to use it as another linchpin in your soloing, improvising, and lead playing.