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Fretboard Travels
By Alex Jasperse - 06/23/2007 - 06:36 PM EDT

Several years ago, I taught guitar to a group of absolute beginners at my high school. Most of them didn’t know what anything on the guitar was called, where they were supposed to put their fingers or what their names were. The only reason they were there was because this was the only course they could take… and pass. And it was one best and worst learning experiences of my life.

According to the master plan, I was supposed to work alongside my music teacher and ‘teach’ this group of twenty people as much as we could. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it didn’t work out that way. For the most part, I was handed the task of figuring out some way to teach this group on my own. Everything about it was complicated in one-way or another, but there was one overriding dilemma that had to be solved: how do teach all of them how to conquer the fretboard at the same time?

If you’ve ever picked up the guitar before and spent a few minutes reading a guitar magazine or website, you’ve probably come across the words “guitar workout” in one form or another. And, as it suggests, it’s designed to improve your playing abilities with a number of warm up exercises, which if followed precisely, will lead to a deeper understanding of all-things ‘guitar’. The following are three simple exercises that will dramatically improve your playing ability so you can spend more time making music, and less time worrying about where your fingers should be.

#1 follow the fretboard road

If you take a look at the tab below, you’ll notice an ascending (1-2-3-4) and descending (5-4-3-2) pattern. This famous exercise forces you to use all four of your fingers on the fretboard, while making sure that your picking hand stays busy with a constant up-down-up-down motion. Continue both of the patterns up to the 12th fret and back, and feel free to mix and match ascending and descending lines to add some variation.



If you’ve never tried this exercise before, you’ll immediately notice how hard it is to move your four fingers one after another. You'll have to make a conscious effort to keep your wrist as straight as possible behind the fretboard because your wrist and fingers will naturally slant either towards or from your body. Not only does this exercise require you to readjust how you position your wrist behind the fretboard, but it will also help you gain more control over telling each finger what to do.

#2 a detour along the way…

This exercise is almost the same as the one above, except that it rearranges the linear pattern by a little bit.



#3 get together

If you thought that your fingers couldn’t be spread apart any wider, then these chords may come as a surprise. These diagonal chord patterns should be cleanly strummed, and as you gain more control, gradually work this pattern up and down the neck.

At the fourth bar, you’ll notice that the pattern is inverted. Try it out, and once you feel comfortable with both of these patterns, switch between the two while warming up.  

Alright, so back to my story: within the first two weeks of having the students play these three simple exercises for no more than ten minutes each morning, there was an immediate acceleration in their playing abilities. Granted, their musical learning abilities were still limited when it came to understanding the rules of music, but the overall practice time it shaved off of learning how to finger a C, G or D chord was dramatic. They could immediately tell their fingers where to go – without having to look at the fretboard every millisecond – and play what they wanted. Mind you, that soon proved to be a bad idea – but that’s another story.

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