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Broaden Up Your Reach!!

Combining 3 and 4 notes per string patterns to expand your fretboard territory.

3 notes per string scale patterns been popular among guitarists since the shred era; we have to admit it: they feel comfortable for both hands, and they're an invaluable tool for building chops and speed patterns. So we have to say that 3nps patterns are really, really helpful and are the cornerstone of modern electric guitar playing.

But that's not the whole story; everything can't be that good after all. Granted, 3nps patterns are helpful, but we tend to overlook some little details. If overused, they can turn your whole playing into boring, triplet-sounding sequences. And the worse: 3nps patterns can lock your hand in just one position, limiting your access to other freeboard areas.

Just think about this: An A major scale, 3 nps pattern. If you are familiar with the pattern, you'll instantly know you'll start your pattern on the 5th fret, 6th string. From that point, it's three notes on every string, from the low E to the high E string, from the 5th fret to the 10th fret (on the high E string, it's B, C# and D - that's 7th, 9th and 10th fret, respectively). See fig. 1 to see what I mean.

As you may already have seen, if we follow the pattern, we'll find our left hand locked in just a small section of the freeboard (from the 5th to the 10 fret, that's just 6 frets).

After realizing this little but important fact, I had to figure a way out of that physical rut by myself. It had to be an easy one, with no big changes that could affect my overall performance and technique in a significant way.

After watching Allan Holdsworth's and Brett Garsed's instructional videos, I tried the four notes per string patterns. Cool, those ones give you plenty of reach and really expand your fretboard horizons greatly (see fig. 2).

But we have to admit it: 4 nps patterns are for the physically gifted guitarists. In my case, I have small-sized hands and it's quite hard for me to play in that 4 notes per string fashion all the time without having my left hand go sore, since most of the single string patterns require difficult stretches.

I quickly became frustrated with the 4nps patterns. I knew it was a good way out of position ruts, but it was too hard for me to apply in the real world because of my physical limitations. And I still had to break out of the 3nps rut, but how could I do that? Soon a great idea came to me.

After all, not all the 4 nps single-string patterns were uncomfortable; there were some fragments that were really friendly to my left hand. So, with this in mind, I decided to experiment by combining the old 3nps scale patterns with some of the 4 nps scale fragments, the ones that felt most comfortable for my left hand.

The resulting hybrid pattern proved to be a great way of breaking out of the position rut of the 3nps scales: By just using 3nps ideas on one string and 4nps ideas on the next, I was able to cover a lot of ground on the fretboard; In fact, I nearly doubled my reach, going from 6 frets to 10 frets with this new hybrid pattern.

The following example helps to warm up the left hand and to make you more comfortable with the different 4nps sequences. It's just an ascending/descending 4nps pattern in the 5th fret. As you may have already seen, some of the sequences are really easy for the left hand (e.g. the first one on the 6th string), while others may prove to be a little more challenging.

Tip: When you play the fourth note in the sequence, lift the first finger from the string to make the stretch a whole lot easier.

This is another great example to wake up our left hand. The shapes shown in this one cover most of the single string patterns, even when they're not scale sequences: what we want to do with these shapes is to understand the basic left hand position for the 4nps single string patterns.

Practice this slowly, and make sure each note of the pattern rings clearly. Again, if the shapes are too much of a stretch for your left hand, just lift your first finger as you're reaching for the last note of the shape.

After this prelude, let's dive into the main stuff: Combining 3 and 4nps patterns to create some cool sequences, and to broaden our fretboard horizons.

3 and 4 Notes per string sequences >>