A lot of guitarists are like horses when it comes to seeing the fretboard. They tend to play vertically in boxes within the space of 5 or so frets while the other 17 frets gather dust, so much so that your average pawn shop guitar will usually come complete with a worn-away fretboard between the 5th and 8th frets, and the 12th and 17th frets. So what can you do to remove the blinkers and venture up the dusty end of the fretboard with confidence?
Instead of the horse view of the fretboard, what you really want is the Union Jack view as show below.
The Keys to the Lamborghini
If you watch players like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and especially Mike Stern you’ll notice that their playing is far more horizontal than vertical, freeing them from the horse box. Mike Stern even demonstrates the technique in this video, check it out:
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what Mike demonstrates in the video.
If you’ve learned (or are in the process of learning) your scale shapes by using the CAGED or 3NPS systems, then you may be feeling a little trapped in those box shapes. The problem with these shapes is that there’s an over-emphasis on vertical movement. When soloing on guitar we ideally want to able to move not only vertically, but horizontally and diagonally in order to freely roam around the fretboard.
As Mike mentions in the video, Mick Goodrick talks about this in his book, ‘The Advancing Guitarist’. It deals with the concept of playing up and down one string i.e. playing horizontally. Although you probably wouldn’t play an entire solo on one string, the mental benefits of this exercise are extremely powerful as what you’re really doing is joining up the patterns by creating mental pathways between them.
Try improvising on the B string in the key of C Major. Use the diagram to help you.
Now try the same on the E string.
Here’s the D string pattern just for good measure.
- Play up and down one string
- Play up and down two adjacent strings
- Play up and down two strings that are one string apart
- Repeat the exercise in a variety of other keys.
Use hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and bends.
Try incorporating this exercise into your practice routine and you should see some interesting results in matter of days.