This month Shaun Baxter starts a new series that reveals an approach that can seriously extend your range on the fretboard.
Shaun Baxter shows how to move ‘cell shapes’ conveniently up and down the fingerboard.
piano players have it easy! notation is tailor-made for their instrument (the white notes visually representing all the ‘plain’ notes, and the black notes representing all the sharps and flats); furthermore, whatever they play can be shifted up, unchanged (same fingering) over many octaves, providing both physical and visual convenience when they play. The good news is that the latter approach can be used on the guitar if we divide it into string-pairs: ie, sixth-fifth, fourth-third, second-first.
The technique involves taking any musical entity (triad, arpeggio, Pentatonic scale, etc) and compressing the information into a single string-pair, so that the same shape or ’cell’ can be shifted up and down in octaves via the other string-pairs. This provides us with an easy means of taking an idea over three octaves - not as impressive as a piano player’s seven octaves, but very useful nonetheless.
For example, a minor pentatonic can be arranged on the sixth and fifth strings like so: So, that’s six possible configurations that can each be shifted up in octaves onto the other string-pairs without having to change shape. it’s the symmetry that’s important: because it’s consistent, the shapes are easy to remember - it’s a great way of organising notes on the fretboard.
Furthermore, each entity (in this case, a minor Pentatonic) can be played in different inversions depending on the starting note. For example, it’s possible to play five different inversions of a minor pentatonic by starting from a different note each time: A-C-D-E-G; C-D-e-G-a (a has been moved from the front to the end); D-E-G-A-C (A and C have been moved from the front to the end); E-G-A-C-D (a, C and D have been moved from the front to the end); and G-A-C-D-E (A,C, D and E have been moved from the front, etc).
and, like the original inversion, all of the others can be configured in the same six different ways on each string-pair (5-0, 4-1 etc).
Today we will look at playing two- and three-note entities across three octaves. Two-note entities (double-stops, intervals etc) can be configured as follows within each string-pair: 1-1, 0-2 and 2-0. Three-note entities (triads) can be configured: 1-2, 2-1, 3-0, and 0-3. Different ways of playing the same thing will provide us with different possibilities.
once you’ve worked through the examples in this lesson, strive to establish some useful shapes in each of the CaGeD patterns of the various scales that you know. establish the possible note-configurations (cells) for each musical entity (triads, arpeggios etc) and audition each one against a backing track (for context), making a note of your favourites and experimenting with employing them in the most musical ways. But remember this:
you don’t have to play something from the root of the underlying chord or scale that you are using. you can apply any formula from any mode of that scale (so, for a Mixolydian, you can use any mode of D Major).
you are not obliged to play all three octaves
It’s the symmetry that’s important: because it’s consistent, the resultant shapes are easy to see and remember. It’s a great way of organising notes on the fretboard.
each time, as this will severely limit your musical approach. instead, you might want to use just two ‘cells’ (or even one), but the idea might spring from the underlying ‘concept’ of three-octave cells. Work out the inversions too (three-note entities have three inversions, four-note entities have four, etc)
you may need to use tapping for some shapes when they are played lower down the neck, whereas you may be able to pick every note when playing higher up the neck (where the stretches are easier); so be prepared to adapt your approach accordingly.
Don’t just play fast ideas, or you’ll just sound the same all the time. The point of learning any new device is to use it expressively! .