Chromatic Patterns Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the 24 possible combinations for all four fingers, and paired them up as ascending and descending symmetrical patterns for easier memorization and practice. The idea with these sorts of exercises is to develop maximum independence in the fingers on the fretting hand.

So now we’ve taken the ascending and descending parts of our #1 fingering set, and worked on those pieces separately. The next logical step would be to combine the two, right? Let’s do it!


Now reverse the combination, ascending with the descending pattern, then descending with the ascending pattern.

Another way to combine the mirrored patterns, rather than running one all the way up and the other all the way back down (or vice versa), is to alternate them one right after the other, all the way up and back. The cells and loops are the same for both sets of combinations, but the runs will change as seen below:

Let’s review the process of breaking down exercises into cells, loops, and runs:
• Practice the pattern cell a few times to get the rhythm and feel of the fingering pattern.
• Play the loop, gradually raising the tempo until you can no longer play it perfectly.
• Play the run as you did the loop, comparing maximum tempos for each to identify possible mechanical areas to work on.
• Play the full exercise, from the 1st to 12th fret and back down, on each string.

Some observations on the process:
• For the full exercise, feel free to adjust the range up the neck to a more comfortable area, if need be. The range should span an entire octave (12 frets).
• Use standard alternate picking (down-up-down-up) until you are satisfied that you have mastered the exercise. Then try reversing the picking motion (starting with an upstroke).
• Try fretting-hand techniques such as legato (hammer-ons/pull-offs).
• Try picking-hand techniques such as palm-muting.
• When working on ascending/descending fingering pairs, spend just enough time on the individual pieces to learn them, then move on to working them in combination. That’s where the greatest benefit to your technique will occur the most quickly.

Again, keep track of your maximum tempos as you work on these exercises and their component pieces. This will help you pinpoint areas in your technique to focus on, and will also allow you to track your progress.

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.

Melodic Warm-up Exercise

Here’s a cool 16-bar run I’ve been using a lot lately for a warmup exercise. It focuses on a couple of important techniques, gets your hands moving quickly, and gives your ears something to listen to besides straight scales and chromatics. Let’s break it down into two sections.

First things first:  the entire piece is in sextuplets, in 6/8 time. As always, every note should be alternate-picked until you feel like you’ve mastered the progression at a decent tempo, at which point you can and should experiment with the usual dynamics (especially palm-muting and legato). Usually with a warmup piece you don’t really worry so much about using a metronome and keeping strict tempo, but for this piece it would probably help to use one at first, again to the point that you feel comfortable with the progression and techniques.

The piece breaks down into two main sections, six and ten bars respectively. Let’s break down the first six-bar section:

Bars 1-4


This is a six-note motif, with the root note descending chromatically against a repeated C-D-D#-D-C line, until bar 4, where the 5-note line played against the root becomes C-D-C-F#-C and the picking scheme changes substantially from having that F# note played on the D string instead of the G string. Take that 4th bar slowly at first, until the slight difference in picking sequence feels comfortable.

Bars 5-6 (see above)

One of my favorite melodic maneuvers, ascending triads using chromatic inversions. This sequence essentially functions as the melodic “bridge” between the two main sections. Check the chord implications throughout the piece, and use them for ideas for your own study pieces, progressions, or songs.

Bars 7-10


The rest of the piece is string skipping, so if you’re not comfortable with that technique, you should be fluent with it after mastering this short piece. Bars 7 and 9 are identical, and 8 and 10 are symmetrical, as diminished triads repeat every three frets, and are musically enharmonic. That’s why in bar 10 the arpeggio is shown as C#° (A#°/G°/E°), as it is technically all four of those things, because of the symmetrical nature of the diminished scale.

Bars 11-16

mw03 mw04

The string-skipping progression continues chromatically in bars 11-12, before heading into a “classical” cycle-of-fifths (E-B-D-A-C-G) progression in bars 13-15, before resolving on the B in the final bar. The stretches in bar 12 are wide, and a simple alternative to that is shown below. It can be either alternate or sweep picked; obviously, I would suggest you try both.


As always, get the progression comfortable under your fingers, increase the tempo, try various guitar dynamics, and especially throw in some melodic and harmonic changes of your own. As long as it sounds good, warms up your hands and ears, and gets you working on specific techniques, it’s good. Have fun!

More Riffs for Technique

A great way to build technical chops and musicality, and get a break from running the same old scales and patterns over and over, is to take a song or riff that can be used to highlight a certain technique, and use it as warm-up material. Let’s take a look at a few quick and easy riffs from classic (if lesser-known) songs, that will build finger independence and picking technique.

The first example is very similar to the melodic riff from the beginning and end to Rush’s ’70s epic Xanadu.


Probably the first thing you’ll notice here is that it’s in a 7/8 time signature. If you haven’t played much outside of 4/4 or 3/4, this is a good opportunity to try out a fairly simple odd time signature. It’s as simple as counting out a beat.

In 4/4 time, you would count “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” to play a single bar, with each counted beat being a 16th note. For the above 7/8 bar, you simply drop the last “4-and”.

So, “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and”, repeat. It takes a little bit of getting used to, like anything else, but time signatures such as 7/8, 9/8, or 5/4, where a single beat is added or removed, are easier to adjust to.

(Using the above counting example, you would count out a 9/8 beat as “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5-and“. Stick with nailing the feel for 7/8 for now.)

The next thing you’ll see is that the riff is simply the same 7-note pattern played twice, and because of the odd number, in strict down-up alternate picking, the picking pattern for the second time is exactly reversed from the first. So the first note, E (9th fret, G string) is played with a downstroke the first time, an upstroke the second time. This is a really handy riff for practicing “inside” and “outside” picking, for adjacent and skipped strings.

Finally, all four fretting fingers are used to play the riff (which is a sequenced E major scale), and in patterns you may not have practiced before.

So in one mighty little riff, you get to work on:

  • Odd time signature
  • Inside and outside picking
  • String skipping
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Finger independence

Pretty cool.

The next riff is similar to the late-’80 Yngwie Malmsteen song, Déja Vu.

MR02a MR02b

The first two bars of the riff are played four times, before shifting to the third bar. The best way to go about learning this riff is one bar at a time, putting the first two together before moving on to the third bar. Make sure you can play the first two bars together, repeated in a continuous loop (at least 4-5 times without stopping) at a modest tempo (at least 96-100 bpm) before working on the third bar.

The riff and song are in F#m, a good key for rock and metal playing. The first bar is simply a four-note ascending sequence, moving up the F#m scale (F# G# A B C# D E) one step at a time. Before getting to the E (7th degree) in the scale, the second bar of the riff shifts to a nice descending pedal-point sequence, which requires a tricky shift toward the end of the bar. Take it slow, work it up to speed, and pair it up with the first bar, before moving on to the third bar off the riff, which is an extended F#m arpeggio.

Notice that the suggested picking for the third bar mostly involves sweep picking. The fingering is only a suggestion, try different fingers, depending on where and how you decide to shift as you go through the arpeggio. The main thing, as far as the picking and fretting suggestions go, is to keep it sounding smooth and effortless.

It will take some doing to get any or all of this riff up to the tempo that Malmsteen plays in the original song, but the primary goal is just to highlight some specific techniques:

  • Alternate picking
  • Sweep picking
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Pedal point
  • Position shifting
  • Arpeggios

The final riff we’ll look at is similar to one of the main riffs from Dream Theater’s The Root of All Evil. John Petrucci is a master of fast, tricky, melodically sequenced riffs, and this is actually one of his simpler ones.


Simple is frequently more effective than complex, as far as writing songs and riffs goes, and this riff is a good example of that principle. And yet every finger is utilized, and there’s some position shifting, and the beats on which you cross from one string to the other may be a bit unpredictable at first. Melodically, Petrucci incorporates chromatic notes to nice effect.

  • Alternate picking
  • Position shifting
  • Finger independence
  • Chromatics

Have fun with these riffs, and try to think of others from songs you enjoy, that help pinpoint specifics techniques you want to work on.

1-2-3-4 Go

Let’s take a look at a simple but effective exercise that will develop kick-ass alternate-picking chops for you, and synchronize your picking and fretting hands like you won’t believe.

The cool thing about this exercise is how simple the premise is, and that it can be plugged into just about any scale formation you like — chromatic, major, minor, etc. For this post, we’re going to use our old faithful basic pentatonic box. The only rule is strict alternate picking, you can start with a downstroke or an upstroke. Of course, you should definitely use a metronome.


Easy enough, right? Okay, now let’s play through the scale again — but this time, play each note twice.


Play the entire pattern, and observe throughout how your picking motion changes from playing each note once to playing each note twice.

You can see where this is going now, but let’s throw in rhythmic variations to keep it interesting. Play the sextuplet figure shown below:


Now play the same thing in a “straight four” rhythm. Notice how it affects your sense of picking and rhythm, even though it’s the exact same sequence of notes.


Let’s move on to playing each note four times.


Finally, the same 4-note figure played in triplet/sextuplet rhythm. Check it out:


The possibilities for this idea are practically infinite — you can (and should!) do this with all five pentatonic boxes, as well as any scale, any pattern, any melodic sequence, any number of strings. You can of course keep going in terms of numbers, repeating each note five, six, seven times or more.

Pay close attention to how your picking motion changes, from odd numbers of notes to even numbers, and at points where you go from one string to another. Refining the picking and string-crossing motions are the most important part of developing a solid alternate-picking technique.

Here’s the printable PDF for all parts of this exercise:


Refer back through the various scale and pattern exercises here if you need ideas to work through. At the very least, you can work through major, minor, harmonic minor, and chromatic scales, in all the various positions and string combinations (3-note-per-string; 4-note-per-string; single-string; etc.). Melodic sequencing patterns, string skipping, and arpeggios are also fair game.

Definitely use the metronome to keep your rhythm tight (especially for the 3-on-4 and 4-on-3 variations) and track your tempo and progress. Work toward minimizing picking-hand motion and distance moved for alternate picking and string crossing. As simple as the idea is, you can see how applying it everywhere and anywhere will keep you busy for some time. Have fun!

6 Essential Pentatonic Licks and Sequences

Let’s take a look at some more melodic phrases and patterns from the pentatonic minor scale. These are based on the first two of the five A minor boxes, and you should definitely work the patterns across all the boxes, on all strings, in as many keys as you can think of. Check out the Pentatonic cheat sheet from the Resources page for reference on all five boxes (in A minor).

The first two boxes, with the b5 note (blues scale):

Box1   Box2

The first pattern is a classic 2-finger, 2-string riff, fretted with just the index and pinky fingers. Check out the tab below:


Try out both picking suggestions, straight down-up alternate picking and with some legato thrown in, for a smoother sound.

For even more legato, try the variation below:


As always with legato, try to keep a smooth, even tone and consistent volume for all the notes in the phrase. The picking directions are suggestions; if another way works better for you, stick with that.

Here’s another cool 2-string phrase, which might be easier to play at higher speeds; again trying alternate picking and legato variations:


This is a good phrase to get maximum legato with:


Two-finger phrases are ideal, since they’re easy to play fast, and simple to move around the fretboard. This repeating sequence is based in the middle of the first box, and incorporates the flatted fifth “blue note” (Eb):


Phrases with 3 and 6 notes sound really cool played in groups of four. Try the above phrase as a quick four-on-the-floor sequence:



Now try it an octave higher, which puts the phrase on the B and high E strings, and moves up to the 2nd pentatonic box:


Melodic sequences are fun to play and sound cool when played at a fast tempo, but it’s important to apply parts of those sequences into actual melodic phrases that really sing in a solo. Check out the tab below, which throws in some nice chromatic phrasing with the sequence, ending up in the first pentatonic box:


The final lick has more chromatic notes thrown in the mix than the previous example, and again moves from the second box to the first. Dig in on the closing notes for added emphasis.


It’s great to have an arsenal of licks that use multiple positions, and navigate around the neck. Again, refer to the cheat sheet on the Resources page, and work through all five boxes, and come up with phrases of your own that weave through two, three, or all five boxes.

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Patterns: Stretch Type Thing

Before we move on to symmetrical/chromatic patterns that utilize three and four fingers, let’s add to the patterns we looked at previously, which involved all the combinations of two fingers.

You might be wondering why we don’t just go straight to working out various combinations of all four fretting fingers. It’s a valid question, and the main reason for it is because beginning with the simplest, most fundamental motions possible allows you to more quickly identify and isolate any mechanical issues that you may have with either hand, including synchronization.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to sequence these patterns, and starting with basic two-finger ideas makes the concept easier to learn and apply to more complex melodic ideas (such as scales).

In the meantime, check out these “stretch” variations of those patterns, where an extra fret or even two might be inserted into the pattern. Neck diagrams are shown below:

2fs01 2fs02

Notice the fret markings under each diagram; it is recommended that you try each pattern at the 7th fret at least. You may want to start even higher up the neck, at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down. These larger stretches will feel uncomfortable and difficult at first. If you feel any actual pain or acute discomfort, stop right away and give your hand a rest, and try the pattern at a more comfortable location.

Once you have the stretch patterns down, make sure to go back through all the basic ascending and descending tabs from before, and apply the new stretch fingerings. Again, take it slow at first and don’t strain anything. Have fun!

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Chromatic Patterns

Following up from last week’s diagram of the chromatic scale, let’s take a look at some basic patterns derived from it. There are six possible two-finger combinations, diagrammed below:



This is where the terminology can be somewhat tricky if taken literally; while we’re referring to the above fingering combinations and patterns as “chromatic”, they really aren’t. “Chromatic” means a descending or ascending sequence of semi-tones (half-steps). These are two-finger patterns that replicate on every string, which is symmetrical, rather than truly chromatic. But “chromatic” is also commonly used to refer to patterns which are atonal, or not derived from any clear scale or key.

As always, these are just names for things, and you should feel free to call them whatever works for you. For our purposes here, “symmetrical” and “chromatic” can be used more or less interchangeably to refer to these patterns.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the basic 1-2 pattern being worked across the strings and back in several variations (see tab below):


Use strict down-up alternate picking until you’re comfortable with each pattern, then reverse the picking sequence (start with an upstroke). Check out the triplet/sextuplet variation below:


It sounds pretty cool at higher speeds. As with any new exercise or pattern, take it slowly, use a metronome and work your way up to speed.

Finally, be sure to try out the pattern with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It may take a bit of practice to work in the alternating pick directions from one string to the next, but it’s an efficient way to develop the picking hand.


Keeping in mind that these tabs are highlighting just one of the 6 possible 2-finger combinations in just a couple of positions, there’s a ton of useful practice material to be mined just from these simple patterns. Use the neck diagrams at the top of the post for reference, and work through all the above tab variations with the other possible finger combinations.

Next week, we’ll combine some of these fingerings into more challenging patterns, and we’ll also show you how to sequence these patterns to produce more interesting musical ideas. See you then!

Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale

The Back to Basics series will profile fundamental concepts and patterns, in order to provide “building block” ideas for players of all levels.

The chromatic scale encompasses all 12 notes of the octave. (For guitarists especially, the term is also used to refer to exercises which are not based on any particular tonal or scalar root, and incorporate patterns of some or all of the fret-hand fingers.)

Since all of the fingers come into play, the chromatic scale is ideal for warm-up patterns. Musically, since by definition all possible combinations are included, short chromatic patterns can also be useful for connecting scalar or modal ideas to one another.

There are two common ways to play the full chromatic scale:  in open position, from the open low E (6th string) to A on the 1st string (2 octaves + perfect 4th), or in any position, with a small shift on most strings, ascending and descending. (See corresponding diagrams and tabs.)


Chrom5 Chrom5Tab

Continue reading “Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale”

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