Single String Thing, Part 2

Let’s finish up our look at scale patterns on a single string by looking at some cool melodic sequences to play along the scale. Hopefully by now you’ve mapped out the A minor scale up and down each string, and learned the pattern for each string, one at a time. (For reference, you can print the handy Fretboard Maps PDF from the Resources page; for the A minor / C major scale we’re reviewing, use the top diagram “Natural notes”.)

The examples here will all take place on the high E string, but of course it is highly encouraged that you try them out on every string, using just the notes in the scale, and paying attention to how the patterns differ along each string.

If you haven’t worked on single string scale patterns before, it may seem a bit limiting at first. But by staying on one string, and within one scale (at least at first; of course you should apply these patterns and sequences in as many keys and scales as possible), forces you to work on several important techniques:

  1. Alternate picking — Obviously this is most logical and efficient way to go on one string. But legato is also handy to try!
  2. Position shifting — As you shift, pay close attention to which fingers you use to anchor the shifts, both ascending and descending. Take it slow and use a metronome, and strive to keep the shifts smooth, even, and locked in with the tempo.
  3. Theory — Going across the neck on multiple strings can force you to think about where and what the notes are on the next string. The linear nature of a single string radically simplifies that process. Notes, intervals, and scale patterns can be easier to internalize this way.

So let’s take a look at a few sequencing patterns that can be run through the scale. The first one is a four-note pattern that ascends the scale one step at a time, and uses shift slides to make it smooth and easy, rather than stretching the hand trying to play all four notes before shifting. Use the suggested fingering and shifting:

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Now let’s try the classic 1-2-3-1 / 2-3-4-2 / 3-4-5-3 / etc. sequencing pattern. Many players find this to be an easier way to play this type of sequence:

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It’s tempting (and easy) to play a fast sequencing run that simply ascends chromatically, and such runs are definitely part of a well-rounded practice diet. But try staying within the scale for these exercises, and pretty quickly you’ll hear how it lends a more structured, melodic, classical sound

The next exercise utilizes the classical pedal point technique, where a scale fragment or melody is played “against” a repeated stationary note, creating a very melodic effect. Again, be sure to try these types of figures ascending and descending, and see how to “reverse” the patterns when desired.

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The last exercise is a sequence found in the styles of many ’80s neoclassical shredders. It involves displacing the notes, ordering them in a different sequence, and then repeating that sequence through the scale.

Let’s take a simple 3-note sequence of notes such as A-B-C (1-2-3). Instead of just playing them in order, we’ll start the sequence with the third note, C, then go back down to A, come back up through B to C, then back down through B to end on A.

So the whole 6-note sequence goes C-A-B-C-B-A (or in numerical notation, 3-1-2-3-2-1). Here is the sequence broken down to a single-bar “cell”:

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It may be awkward at first, because you should be using just the 1-3-4 (index, ring, pinky) fingers to play the sequence at this particular position, but any chance to work on that 3-4 combination is a good thing. Like anything else, take it slow, use a metronome, play it clean and accurate before playing it fast.

Using the fretboard maps as reference, simply run that same 3-1-2-3-2-1 sequencing pattern up and down through the rest of the steps in the scale, as shown in the tab below.

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At faster speeds, this type of melodic displacement sounds really cool, and maybe even sounds a bit trickier than it actually is. These “impress the neighbors” runs are always fun to play, and become easier once you master the sequence and see how to move it through the scale.

Definitely get familiar with these patterns, develop some sequence ideas of your own, and run them through the entire pattern along the neck. Again, add sharps and flats as needed to try different keys, and go through the circle of fifths / fourths.

We’ll end this post with a quick variation on the 3-1-2-3-2-1 sequence we were just looking at. It simply goes from 5th position to 4th position — but of course the 4th fret on the E string is a G# note, not in the A minor / C major scale. The G# pushes the tonality to E major (E-G#-B triad), which harmonizes well against A minor. Simply play this bar over and over again until you get the hang of it. Listen to how the sequence “resolves” musically. Experiment and see where other sequences outside the scale can fit in and sound good.

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Use the 1-3-4 fingers for the A minor (5th position) part, and 1-2-4 for the E major (4th position) part, so you get to use all four fretting fingers. Just go back and forth between the two until both feel smooth and easy to play and shift between. It’s a great little exercise for picking and for ear training.

As you practice all these variations, in different keys and on different strings, be sure to keep some blank tab paper handy, and listen for interesting sequences to put together, so you can write them down as soon as you can. Good luck and have fun!

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