Last updated on October 3, 2019
Earlier this month we looked at 4NPS (four-note-per-string) scales as used by the likes of Allan Holdsworth in this article. There’s an interesting correlation between 3NPS and 4NPS patterns, in particular the fingering, which is good to realize early on so that you can decide whether you want to develop it or not. Early scale-learning habits are hard to break, and most players (and teachers) never notice this little detail, but it’s an incredibly useful bit of information.
Let me show you what I mean, check out this 3NPS pattern in F down at the nut, grab your guitar and play it without reading the next paragraph!
I’ll bet that you played it with the following fingering from low to high: 1-2-4, 1-2-4, 1-2-4, 1-2-4, 1-3-4, 1-3-4.
If you study your hand while you play this scale, you’ll notice that on the first four strings the third finger becomes trapped or does nothing, and on the B and E strings the second finger is just there in mid-air.
You should (if you wanted to develop shred-master type fretboard spans) play this pattern with the following fingering from low to high:
1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3
This way you free up the fourth and second fingers respectively as you play the pattern. This might be a bit of a stretch down at the nut, but the further up the fretboard you go, the more relevant this becomes, and the more possibilities are opened up. I don’t watch too many shred guitar videos but I have noticed that Shawn Lane did this, as did Jason Becker, and of course the legendary Allan Holdsworth, and even Eddie Van Halen. It’s quite recognizable as it’s a different hand position/grip to when you play 3NPS scales the ‘standard’ way.
(This is also featured in our new eBook, Shred Guitar Mechanics: Fretboard Dexterity through 4NPS Scales’, check it out here)
Four on the Fretboard
If you’ve been playing 3NPS scales for a while, then you probably won’t be thrilled at the idea of changing your entire fingering system—you don’t have to learn any new patterns of course—you just have to alter your fingering.
The best way to do this is actually not to practice 3NPS patterns with your first three fingers as your pinky is just dangling there. Instead, use the 4NPS patterns as a technical exercise and you’ll find that with a little practice each day, it starts to creep into your 3NPS playing in a relatively short space of time.
4NPS Scale Patterns
The previous article contains the 4NPS patterns starting on the low E string with an accompanying PDF version, but there are also a bunch of 4NPS patterns that start on the A string to try out: