Let’s face it, improvisation of any kind on guitar is hard but if you work at it, you’ll be rewarded. Guitarists are notorious for diving in at the deep end when it comes to learning to improvise, thinking they have to learn hundreds of patterns and permutations to be able to solo like a boss. It’s more often the case that too much information leads to a fragmented approach, when the thing to do would be to reduce the amount of information to the level of, ‘just enough to be dangerous’, which is what we’ll look at in this post.
For a scale, or an arpeggio, just enough information to be dangerous is a movable one-octave pattern like the one below.
This is a Mixolydian Scale starting on F. What we can do is move it across the fretboard as follows:
Bear in mind that the second pattern is the same as the first one, it’s just warped by the fretboard because of the major third interval between the G and B strings (you wouldn’t have this problem if you tuned in fourths).
We can keep adding to this pattern as follows:
The third pattern doesn’t complete itself (unless you continue up the E string), but we can still put the notes to good use.
So, all we did was take the same 3NPS Mixolydian Scale pattern and start it from the available F notes on the E, D and B strings. You could treat this as one mega-pattern or three little ones.
We can also do the same starting on the F at the 8th fret of the A string.
Again, the second pattern is warped by the fretboard, so the notes on the B and E strings shift up one fret but it’s really the same pattern.
If you look at both these patterns, we’re actually covering a large proportion of the fretboard simply by linking up one base pattern. Compare this to having to learn seven 3NPS patterns (when it should be a maximum of 3) or 5 CAGED shapes to accomplish pretty much the same thing with the bonus that with these smaller patterns, you’re going to feel much less lost on the fretboard.
Making the Most of a One-Octave Pattern
The 3NPS patterns I’ve given you here are great for legato playing, but what if you’re not into that kind of thing? Here’s the great thing: once you know the pattern, you can change up the fingering so suit your soloing style. I mean, just because they’re 3NPS patterns, it doesn’t mean you have to play them that way, so experiment with different fingerings along with slides and bends – you’d be doing the exact same thing if I’d presented you with CAGED Mixolydian patterns.
This works with any scale, even pentatonics, so here are a few more starter diagrams for you to practice with. Remember to move them around the fretboard, making the necessary adjustments when the top B and/or E strings are involved as we did above. Have fun with these!