Updated: Sep 11, 2020
The number one question that I receive about blues guitar playing is "How do you solo using the whole fretboard?" In this post, we are going to map out a comprehensive five-step approach that is naturally going to coordinate the eyes, ears and fingers into one great fretboard navigating machine!
First, let us create some clarity using the following points before I share this basic five-step approach to master the fretboard:
1) The minor-pentatonic-blues-scale is typically organized into five shapes / positions.
2) If I had to make a playing career out of just one position, position number one would definitely be my first choice.
3) Next, if I could choose only one extra position to add to position one, it would be position two for the way it extends into the upper range (especially when you bring bending into the mix).
4) As we leave position one, each of the four remaining positions offer both an extended range as well as access to certain note combinations, in each position, that are more easily played compared to other positions.
5) With that said, a player usually chooses to change positions on the guitar neck when A) the current position does not offer the range that is needed and B) the current position does not contain the physical organization of notes required to play a passage/lick/riff with ease.
6) In this way, the choice of "which scale position to play" in is going to be based upon musical factors. Once an actual musical reason to change scale positions has been identified, how to do so is going to follow a logical course and therefore make a lot more sense. Compare this to a scenario where a player feels they should change positions solely based upon "not wanting to look like a beginner". For a natural example of how musical factors affect position choice, check out the following instrumental called Struttin' With The Blues. The opening riff for this song is simply a lot easier to play in position four than any other position, and open position one is the only place to play the last four measures of this twelve bar blues.
7) So, we change positions with musical factors in mind, and one great way to open-a-door to this ability is to improvise solos that crawl around the the entire neck as you are creating. A natural way to get started with this kind of exploratory activity is to start playing in position one and then move up into position two (or down into position five) just by one note before coming right back to position one again. This kind of back-and-forth connection between one position and its upper and lower neighbors is a great first step toward being able to move freely and creatively about neck. Remember to move up and down the neck always in musically interesting ways.
A Five-Step Approach To Becoming A Fretboard Navigating Machine!
The five-step approach that I am going to outline for you is the same as what I have created for students to follow on Nate's Blues Guitar Site.
The goal is to coordinate our eyes, ears and fingers so that our musical brain can then create freely using the full-range of the guitar's fretboard. I recommend that you follow the following approach in order to maximize your practice time and in order to really go-for-and -achieve full-potential!
1) On Nate's Blues Guitar Site, players begin by playing each position in ascending and descending quarter, eighth, triplet, and sixteenth note rhythms.
[On the site, for reference, I have guitar tab and standard notation along with up-close, slow-tempo videos to follow for each exercise.]
This is going to train our eyes, ears and fingers to stay within the scale and to stay in time when making music. Final analysis: Play each scale position in ascending and descending quarter note, eighth note, triplet, and sixteenth note patterns.
2) Next, players learn three-blues-licks to play in all five positions. This trains the eyes, ears and fingers to find that classic blues sound, including common bends, in multiple places within each scale position. This allows the player's brain to know how to get the blues sound in every position over the entire guitar neck so that they can then be free to create. Final analysis: Find one-to-three easy-to-play blues licks that you can find and play within each scale position - be sure to explore all octave possibilities and to use octave displacement as needed.
3) In this category I created a simple-and-clear path to walk smoothly from position one all the way to position five and then back again. This simple and clear path creates an easy to navigate highway system for the eyes, ears and fingers to reference unconsciously while improvising. This is just one more of many-simple-ways to build an unconscious roadmap of how to get to-and-from licks, riffs, phrases and ideas in musical ways that are going to make "getting there" just as interesting and just as worthwhile as the actual "destination". Final analysis: Create and practice a simple line that takes you from pattern one-to-five and then back-again for the great reference-and-guide your musical brain needs in order to create and express freely over the entire guitar neck.
4) In this portion of the program, I provide a legitimate playing example that covers all five positions going from pattern one all the way to pattern one (an octave higher) and then back again using eight well-formed phrases (see video example below). This composition moves musically and naturally the way a player does while improvising so that the student's brain can then learn something important about practical navigation, based upon musical factors, as well as some truly classic blues licks along the way! Final analysis: Learn and/or create and practice a solo that uses all five patterns in both ascending and descending fashion so that your musical brain can then learn from a professional-level example of how to navigate the entire guitar neck based upon musical factors.
5) The fifth step, along with other musical-related exercises, is to let loose and improvise in a band setting (or over a backing track) to find out just how "free to use the entire guitar-neck" you are becoming. Be sure to avoid overthinking, just have fun being creative to see and hear where, musically and on the neck, your ideas take you. Then, go back to step one of the list and build yet another layer of conscious-and-unconscious understanding as you have fun going through and practicing each step. Maybe you are going to get through the list in one day, or maybe you are going to get through the list over the course of a week. Either way, you are going to be making small, medium and/or large improvements along the way, even when you do not yet know that you are. On my site, I have a section called, "Let's Jam Together." (See last listing on the photo below) This is a great place to get into the loose-improv spirit as you and I (pre-recorded on my side) trade choruses of the blues together!
The Easy Way To Do This and Make Improvements!
If you just want to jump right into practicing this five-step approach without having to build all of the exercises yourself, you can become a member of Nate's Blues Guitar Site and just just get started! I have Guitar Tab, Standard Notation and Close-Up, Slow-Tempo Videos of the exercises that allow players to simply follow along. Plus, this is true for the above (above,above) five-pattern guitar solo example as well!
Group Classes and Private Lessons!
If you would like to be walked through content that is on Nate's Blues Guitar Site, you can become part of our group Blues Guitar Classes that we have online and/or make sure you are on track using private online lessons (Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Teams). Feel free to email me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for being a great part of the blues!