Chromatic Patterns

This next series of posts is designed to create maximum independence in your fretting hand fingers, by getting you familiar with all the possible combinations and creating patterns. These are commonly referred to as “chromatic” but are not technically using the entire chromatic scale in most cases. Whatever you want to call them, working these patterns into your practice routine will have an effect on your technique very quickly.

The usual mathematical model of showing all possible combinations of using all four fretting fingers once each in a sequence looks like this:

1. 1-2-3-4
2. 1-2-4-3
3. 1-3-2-4
4. 1-3-4-2
5. 1-4-2-3
6. 1-4-3-2
7. 2-1-3-4
8. 2-1-4-3
9. 2-3-1-4
10. 2-3-4-1
11. 2-4-1-3
12. 2-4-3-1
13. 3-1-2-4
14. 3-1-4-2
15. 3-2-1-4
16. 3-2-4-1
17. 3-4-1-2
18. 3-4-2-1
19. 4-1-2-3
20. 4-1-3-2
21. 4-2-1-3
22. 4-2-3-1
23. 4-3-1-2
24. 4-3-2-1

The table is handy, but not very easy to memorize for practicing. As you practice fingerings across multiple strings and up and down the neck, you’ll see that half of the patterns are mirror images of each other. So you can simplify the number of patterns by pairing them up and organizing them like this:

Ascending Descending
1.    1 – 2 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
2.    1 – 2 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 2 – 1
3.    1 – 3 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 3 – 1
4.    1 – 3 – 4 – 2 2 – 4 – 3 – 1
5.    1 – 4 – 2 – 3 3 – 2 – 4 – 1
6.    1 – 4 – 3 – 2 2 – 3 – 4 – 1
7.    2 – 1 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 1 – 2
8.    2 – 1 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 1 – 2
9.    2 – 3 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 3 – 2
10. 2 – 4 – 1 – 3 3 – 1 – 4 – 2
11. 3 – 1 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 1 – 3
12. 3 – 2 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 2 – 3

Sample exercises and patterns corresponding to the first pair of fingerings are provided, so you can plug all the other pairs in accordingly. Run them across all strings, up and down the neck, forward and backward. Stick with standard down-up-down-up alternate picking until you get comfortable with all the pairs, then try up-down-up-down and legato (hammer-ons and pull-offs). Refer to the main chart of symmetrical ascending/descending patterns for additional practice.

Remember: the point of these chromatic-style practice patterns is to promote finger independence, and to facilitate moving patterns across strings and up and down the neck. They are not intended to be musical, but can definitely have musical uses. Use your imagination, mix and match patterns and timings, develop your own variations – and most of all, have fun with it.

To introduce ideas and patterns for exercises and how to apply them, we’ll use the following terms to describe the basic elements:

  • Cell – refers to the pattern at its most basic level, usually within a single position.
  • Loop – playing the pattern repeatedly in position.
  • Run – moving the pattern up and back several (at least 4) positions or strings, and back.

These are the building blocks for all the exercises presented in this series of posts. When learning any new piece or exercise, it’s always best to take it a segment at a time, then put it all together.

Single-String Patterns
Let’s take a look at patterns that occur on one string. We can then move them up and down the neck, and then across the neck on the other strings. We’ll start with the first pair of fingerings in the table on page 7. The cell for the ascending fingering [1-2-3-4] looks like this:

The cell itself is the 1-2-3-4 16th-note combination; the quarter note after the phrase is primarily a place-holder, but also allows you to get the hang of the fingering, and bring it up to speed. Now try moving on to the loop:

Play this one at a comfortable tempo, to where it’s a continuous, seamless flow of notes. Gradually raise the tempo until you can no longer play it perfectly. Make a note of this maximum tempo. Now we’re going to move the pattern up and back a few positions on the neck:

As with the loop, play the run at a manageable rate of speed, gradually raising the tempo until it is no longer perfect. Now take a look at that final tempo, and compare it to what you ended with for the loop. Ideally, the “maximum run tempo” should be equal to the “maximum loop tempo,” but if it is less than that, then exercises that address position-shifting should be an emphasis of your warm-up and practice routines. (This principle will also apply to string-crossing.)

For the full exercise, run the pattern from the 1st position up to the 12th and back on the low E (6th) string. Then do the same thing on the other five strings.

Now, let’s look at the descending part of our #1 fingering pair, starting with the cell:

Now the loop:

And finally the run:

As with the ascending pattern, run this up and back, from 1st to 12th frets, on each string.
Hopefully the “cell/loop/run” format outlined here serves as a useful template for you in breaking exercises and drills down into more manageable chunks, working on those chunks at comfortable tempos, and then putting them all together into one coherent piece.

In the next post, we’ll go over some ideas on combining ascending and descending patterns.

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