Breaking out of limiting scale patterns

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The secret to memorizing a map

The fretboard can be compared to a city with it's roads and locations: If you try to find your way around the whole city at once, you have to refer to the map at every crossing and corner. But if you live in one part of the city for a couple of months, you get to know that neighborhood so well, that you can find your way in the dark. And if you then move to another part of the city, the same thing happens. If you keep moving you'll eventually be able to find your way around the entire city instantly. Because you have developed a complete map of the city in your head. A map that resembles an image of the city. So you no longer just see the city, you see your inner map aswell. No matter where you are, you know exactly what's behind the next corner.

Playing with a blindfold

This is exactly what happens when you develop instant fretboard vision. You not only see the naked fretboard but you see the scale patterns on top of it as well. your inner map is complete and you navigate effortlessly. Or rather you fingers do. Because you no longer have to look at the fretboard in order to play. You can close your eyes and rely on the inner map completely, while your fingers do all the work. I struggled with this for a very long time, until I realised the simple strategies I'm about to share with you. The pleasure of playing goes up 1000 % when you learn to do this effortlessly. It is such an amazing feeling of freedom.

Turning a lot into a little

If you look at the fretboard and see two and three notes per scale patterns, you see Paris. But if you see four notes per string patterns, you see a small village. And this is our goal: To simplify as much as possible in order to diminish the size of the challenge. As you progress through these articles, the whole fretboard challenge will become smaller and smaller.

Attacking the core of the problem

But instead of jumping right into learning all seven four notes per string patterns let's act a little more intelligently. Let's turn the learning process upside down. Traditionally we learn all the scale patterns there is, and then we try to go from one to the other, in order to develop some kind of horizontal freedom. But as you probably know by now, that's not an effective strategy. Instead, let's integrate the scale patterns first and then learn them all second. Let's go right to the core of our goal right away. When you master horizontal playing, vertical playing is going to be quite easy. (By vertical I mean moving across the strings and by horizontally I mean moving up or down the fretboard)

The first radical step towards instant fretboard vision

Step 1 on our journey is to create total freedom on only two strings. Playing on only two strings makes us have a horisontal focus and this forces our brain out of the vertical mode. When you master the "exercise" in this article you master all the patterns of the fretboard. This is the biggest and most important thing to master because it's the foundation for everything else. When you master the top two strings it's really quite easy to master the middle two and the bottom two: It's the same patterns in the same sequence. So know that you are taking a huge jump forward here! Practice one scale pattern first until you master it completely. This means being able to play through it with all the licks, sequences and tricks you know, and being able to do it with your eyes closed! Mastery means it's effortless. It means you could do it in front of 100.000 people, while shaking with fear...

Remember the rules? Here they are again:

1. Stay in the key of C-Major/A-Minor and

2. Follow the step by step process. - Don't move one before you truly master one thing!

Start by mastering this pattern:

This shouldn't take you long actually. Be sure to play all sorts of strange licks in that pattern, so you know you can really go from any note in the pattern to any other note. close your eyes as soon as you can, and let your memory do the work. When you close your eyes, you tell your brain to rely on the map in your brain, instead of your external vision - this will greatly speed up the learning process.

Then forget about that pattern completely
- and focus on mastering this instead:

Don't try to combine both patterns yet. Be sure to master this pattern completely before going on to integrating them with each other. When you can play this second pattern with your eyes closed and it's effortless, then move on to playing in both patterns: (Again it shouldn't take that long)

The rewards of acting intelligently

If you really are committed to developing instant fretboard vision, then don't move on before you master what you are practicing at the moment. I know I sound like an idiot repeating myself like this, but this is the very key of mastery. If you are reading this, you must be a very ambitious guitar shredder and with ambition comes a natural urge to get to your destination as fast as possible. But that impatience can take on two forms: You either bite of too much - or you chew and swallow everything before you take the next bite. You must counter attack this urge to do the wrong thing and keep focusing on the step you take right at this moment. Be impatient by all means! But be intelligent.

The only measure of your intelligence is whether you act intelligent or not. And what is an intelligent action? It's an action that moves you closer to what you want. And what is a stupid action? It's an action that moves you further away from what you want. So become very intelligent right now and decide to master every little pattern before you move on to the next. - Trust me, I know the price of acting stupidly. I've been a true master of that in the past.

Integrate and move on

OK, enough ranting and raving about that. When you are bored sick with these two patterns and you can play effortlessly across both of them - then move on to the next one:

When you master that, integrate it with the previous pattern. And follow this sequence of learning a new pattern then integrating it with the previous one. An important note: When you reach pattern number seven be sure to integrate that with the first pattern, so that you have a complete circle:

You can find all the four note per string patterns in the "Resources" section on this website.

When you've practiced all the seven patterns, then start over again! Return to the first pattern at the 5th fret and follow the exact same process again. Because your brain is pretty good at remembering things for the short term, and pretty good at disposing of information you haven't used in a while - you will have forgotten a great deal of the first patterns when you return to them. Expect it! Don't be frustrated when this happens, it's part of the game. Don't work against your brain, work with it. Play the game and win.

Simply repeat the process of going from the first to the last pattern until you haven't forgotten a thing when you return. When you can get up in the morning and play the patterns as well as you could the night before, then move on to the next step:

Integrate all the patterns into one

This means doing two things:

1. Improvise while doing crazy position shifts around the neck. Jump from the 5th to the 15th fret, then to the 10th fret and so on. There's an example of that in the video. There's no structure to this kind of practice, just play and have fun jumping around the neck. And make sure that you cover all of the neck and all positions. Do this until you can clearly se all the notes laid out on those two strings across the neck. There has to be no question in your mind as to where the notes are. Important: When ever you attempt to make a shift that fails - practice that shift until you master it. Then move on to something else and repeat the process.

2. Then close your eyes and do the same! If this is insanely hard for you to do, spend some more time on step one. When you shift from one position to another play a note, and while the note rings, slide it up or down the fretboard. This will give you a chance to use your ears instead of your eyes, to determine whether or not you hit a note within the scale or outside it. If you don't know where you are - then don't open your eyes, instead figure out in what pattern you are by guessing until you get it right.  (It's not going to sound very pretty but who cares?) Don't slide too far in the beginning then expand as you become more comfortable with it.

Other ways to practice this:

1. Bring a note book with you and draw up the notes on the fretboard with a pencil when ever you have 5 minutes. Do this as often as you can throughout the day. Start drawing in a different place on the neck every time you do it. See how fast you can complete all the patterns.

2. Visualize yourself playing and improvising on these two strings. When ever you have a chance to do it, close your eyes and visualize the patterns on the fretboard. Switch between positions in your mind.

Speed up the process

Remember, the more times you forget a little and then re-learn it again, you drive the information even deeper into your brain. So the more times you can forget and relearn the faster it becomes second nature to you. And re-learning can take five minutes! so try to put as many practice sessions in during the day. Even when you're at work or in school, take 2-5 minutes several times a day to either visualize or draw these patterns.

What ever licks you are practicing at the moment, decide to practice them on these two strings and in these patterns. Order a note book right away if you don't have one and start drawing up the patterns several times a day. Make sure your alarm clock reminds you to visualize at least 4 times a day. Go for it! When you master this part, the rest will be quite fun and enjoyable :)