The Whole-Neck, All-Stroke, All-Key, All-Form Scale Workout

My life is full of technique exercises. Books full of them are piled on shelves and tabletops in my office. I have filled notebooks with them. I am a believer in using technique drills for warming up prior to practicing and performing, or for over-rehearsing tricky passages.

So one day recently, I asked myself, If I could devise the most perfect possible warmup exercise, one that accomplished the most in a single pass, what would it be?

For me, such an exercise would have to contain the following:

  • Encourage alternate-picking (a weak spot for me, a mostly economy-picker).
  • Include all four possible string-crossings (up or down in direction, up or down to the next string).
  • Include all twelve keys.
  • Include all five forms in the CAGED system.
  • Require that I occasionally “roll” one finger across two strings.
  • Cover the neck.
  • Contain both scalewise motion and skips in thirds.

So here’s what I came up with. In the following graphic, the first five bars comprise a single iteration of a pattern that is to be repeated until you arrive at the 15th fret G on the first downbeat (one octave higher than the starting position).

This exercise addresses all the points I listed above, and it’s just long enough to get limber before a practice session or gig without being too long.

You might have noticed that I didn’t include in the list of requirements “must include all modes”. Variety in a technique exercise can be dangerous because it invites complication: Which other scales or modes would altogether represent the best possible number of variations on the drill without being repetitious? Should they always adhere to CAGED, or should I make sure to include some three note-per-string fingerings? I decided this is a right/left hand coordination exercise, not a fretboard navigation exercise. It isn’t meant to replace all other technique drills. But if you only could use one, I believe you could do worse than this.


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