I first saw this on Allan Holdsworth’s REH DVD where he recommends learning scales using four notes per string instead of three. While this is doable up at the dusty end of the fretboard, there are some big old stretches down at the nut. This is no problem for Allan as he has huge hands; you could always cheat by using slides, but I think the essence of this idea is to maintain that four-note-per-string relationship, especially as this system avoids any boxes with one position spanning a massive 16 frets or so depending on the scale. I have to admit, I do like this idea and it does help you see the fretboard in a whole new way. Let’s check it out.
If you haven’t tried out these scale patterns before, then your first reaction will probably be one of discomfort; but before you go running back to the 3NPS or CAGED patterns, give the 4NPS patterns a chance. Even if you don’t like them, they’ll do wonders for your horizontal and diagonal playing, and are a fantastic technical stretching exercise which forces you to use your fourth finger.
Here’s the major scale in F using four notes per string. As you can see it goes right from the F on the first fret of the low E string right up to the A on the 17th fret of the high E string.
Start really slow; don’t rush through the scale as you won’t be able to execute it properly when you gain speed. Your brain will probably start looking for some kind of box pattern to cling to, but play through the initial discomfort.
Here’s an F Natural Minor/Aeolian scale 4NPS pattern, again starting on the low F.
For some of the bigger stretches you may find you need to shuffle your first and second fingers up the fretboard when playing the fourth note on a string, especially if you have smaller hands.
Here’s the Harmonic Minor 4NPS pattern:
You’ll probably have to do a little ‘jump’ to make that stretch from Db on the A string to the E. If you stick rigidly to the quota of four notes per string, you should be able to come up with some interesting sounding stuff, or at least stuff that doesn’t sound like what you would normally play.
Here’s the Melodic Minor 4NPS pattern:
As you’ll probably know there’s only one note different between this scale and the harmonic minor, and also the major scale itself.
Here’s one more scale which actually feels more comfortable when played in this way, the Diminished Scale:
If you’re into Allan Holdsworth’s playing, these ideas should give you a glimpse into how he maneuvers around the fretboard, as well as the possibilities when you start to play four notes on a string. You’ll see the difference if you play these patterns with your normal hand position i.e. three notes on a string, then open your hand out to play four. Even if you don’t think you’ll incorporate them into your playing, they make for a great all-round technical exercise.
Feel free to download the handy PDF below with these scale patterns to print out and practice with, and if you want to take 4NPS scales further, check out our eBook, 'Shred Guitar Mechanics: Fretboard Dexterity through 4NPS Scales'.