Last updated on July 19, 2019
Our latest eBook, ‘Shred Guitar Mechanics: Fretboard Dexterity through 4NPS Scales’, is the product of extensive research into the benefits of learning four-note-per-string (4NPS) scales on guitar, especially as regards shred playing or fast dexterous playing in any style. I’d always been intrigued by 4NPS scales since the first time I watched Allan Holdsworth’s REH video where he recommends learning scales this way. He doesn’t actually justify this recommendation in the video, but when you do begin to explore 4NPS scales, the benefits become more obvious.
Take a look at a 4NPS pattern, here’s one for F Lydian;
The first thing you notice is that there are no boxes or individual shapes to learn as the pattern spans much of the guitar neck and almost four octaves. It feels clunky and awkward at first, but at the same time it changes your perspective. If you’re not used to big stretches, you might want to start this pattern further up the neck for now.
You could also start it on the F at the 8th fret of the A string as follows:
Notice how this pattern sits on top of the previous one and is easier to play. The 4NPS system really comes into its own up at the dusty end of the fretboard as the reduced fret size dramatically increases your potential for speed.
4NPS Means Movement
You’ll also notice that 4NPS scale patterns are in no way static; they imply horizontal and diagonal movement, unlike vertical CAGED or 3NPS patterns. This constant movement makes your playing infinitely more dynamic as you’re forced to move around fretboard.
The Next Note, Next Finger Rule
To apply the 4NPS concept to your playing, not the actual patterns per se, you must respect the next note, next finger rule. This means that if you play consecutive notes on a string, these notes must be played using consecutive fingers i.e. there should be no unused fingers or trailing pinkies such as in the 3NPS or CAGED patterns.
What you’ll find is that as you expand your hand reach on the fretboard, your ‘fretboard vision’ (the picture of the fretboard in your mind) expands too as the 4NPS concept will always force you to go outside of any 3NPS or CAGED scale pattern. This is where you break out of the optical illusion created by 3NPS or CAGED patterns.
Notice the difference between the position of your hand in the 4NPS position and when playing 3NPS and CAGED patterns. You may need to adjust your stance and your strap a little, but these initial discomforts will soon pass.
4NPS Scales as Guide Patterns
What you can also do is bring the 4NPS patterns in as a guide to movement on the fretboard. When you apply the 4NPS concept over 3NPS or CAGED scale shapes, you’ll hit a lot of repeating notes, or the same notes on adjacent strings, or you move your hand in much the same way as you did before. 4NPS patterns come into their own when they’re used in conjunction with horizontal and diagonal movement on the fretboard. Using the 4NPS patterns as a guide will help you avoid repeating notes, although these can be used to great effect in some situations. By all means ‘see’ the 3NPS or CAGED patterns but use the 4NPS patterns as a guide to movement and you should start to break down that optical illusion.
The Breaking Out Myth
It’s somewhat of a paradox but we seem to learn scale patterns in order to later forget them, or spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to ‘break out of them’. There are two ways you can go about this; you can either learn 4NPS patterns which bypass the whole scale patterns idea to start with, or find the reason why you feel you need to break out of a scale box. All scale boxes contain the exact same notes, so if you’re not making music in one you’re not likely to make music in another, and there you have your answer.
Either way I’d recommend checking out, ‘Shred Guitar Mechanics: Fretboard Dexterity through 4NPS Scales‘, even if you’re not a shred guitarist because the insight is priceless.