Recently I’ve begun looking for new ideas and exercises to improve my technical ability on the guitar. I’ve always felt that my technical facility on the instrument could be improved. Whether it’s been right hand picking technique, left hand accuracy, or keeping fingers close to the frets, there is rarely a time where I don’t notice something that might be keeping me from being able to pull off whatever it is I am trying to play on the guitar. Of course this is an endless hole to go down and there will never be a time where I reach technical perfection but nevertheless I think it is important to strive to always improve ourselves as musicians so that the music can flow through us as easily as possible.
The exercise i’ll share today deals with the chromatic scale. It’s simple but this exercise helps cover a lot of common issues that get in the way of our playing. There are two parts to this:
1. Single string chromatic scales:
Starting on your high E string, play the first 5 notes of the chromatic scale before moving your hand to your next position (position 5: first finger on 5th fret) and carry this up the neck of the guitar and back down. You can do this all the way up or end earlier. In the recording I ended on G# (16th fret) before coming back down.
The big things to remember when doing this are: A) be accurate. If this means taking the tempo down then always do so. The purpose of this exercise is to smoothen out your playing and the only way to do that is to be really accurate with your left hand. A thing to look out for is the sound of the first finger sliding into the note as you’ve moved your hand to the next position. We want to minimize that as much as possible. B) Picking consistency. What I’ve found is that it’s a tendency for us to pick a bit louder on the first note that we play after we’ve moved our hand (so the note on the 5th, 9th, and 13th fret, A, C#, and F) as well as the last note we play before we move our hand (4th fret, 8th, 12th – G#, C, and E). Ideally we don’t want to hear any change in sound so that the line sounds as smooth as possible. To perfect this, you’ll have to practice slow. There’s no getting around it.
2. Full Chromatic scale up and down the neck of the guitar – all strings:
Starting on the 5th fret of your low E string play a full chromatic scale (4 notes per string) and at the high E string play 5 notes ascending and 4 descending so that your now playing a chromatic scale one semitone higher. Do the same at the low E string this time and carry that pattern all the way up the neck of the guitar.
Similar to the first exercise, this one requires accuracy. It’s really easy to get sloppy playing chromatic scales on the guitar. The hardest part of this exercise is the focus and concentration it requires. Although the recording is played fast, when I practice this I try to play fairly slow with a metronome. I focus on trying to keep my left hand fingers as close to the string as possible to maximize my efficiency – I want my fingers to have to do the least amount of work possible. The big culprit tends to be the pinky. It will fly off the fretboard the moment it comes off a fret and hover pretty high in the air. For anyone looking to play faster, smoother lines this exercise is critical to your success. You can only get so far without paying attention to small details like our fingers hovering a little to high off the frets of the guitar and eventually it will be the difference between you playing at the level you are currently at and you reaching that next stage.
To summarize: These exercises are done to improve dexterity, endurance/athleticism, fluidity, left hand technique, and right hand picking technique.