I’ve been a huge fan of 4NPS (four-note-per-string) scales ever since I first saw them on the Allan Holdsworth REH DVD back when it was a video cassette in the late 90s. If you’ve ever seen Holdsworth play, you’ll probably be aware of his huge hands and equally impressive reach on the fretboard. 4NPS scales were clearly a walk in the park for Holdsworth, but what about the rest of us mere mortals? The main attraction (at least for me) of 4NPS scales is that there are no box patterns to learn, or fall into, as most take more than 12 frets to complete themselves. This can mean some pretty tricky stretches but as ever with guitar, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. By the way, if you’re new to 4NPS scales, take a look at our primer here.
Check out the Harmonic Minor 4NPS scale in F below. If you were to assign one finger to each note, you’d have some tough stretches to incorporate which would slow you down and may even cause you an injury in the process.
The thing about 4NPS patterns is that as if you insert one slide per string, you’ll avoid all those big stretches. Look at the following diagram, it’s the same pattern but here you’re going to slide from the first to the second note on each string and hammer on the rest; you should only be picking once per string.
The pattern on every string then is pick-slide-hammer-hammer. By doing this, you reduce the 4NPS stretches to those you would do if it were just a 3NPS pattern. To come back down, simply reverse the pattern by using your fourth finger to do the slide; this is a little trickier but it’s worth persevering with as it exercises the weaker half of your fretting hand. Here’s a diagram to help you:
You can also reverse the pattern and keep the slide on the first two notes of each string as follows:
Exotic Practice Material
If you liked this exercise, you’re going to need some practice material, so here are four more 4NPS scales, of the exotic variety, for you to practice the above slide, hammer and pull-off combinations. Feel free to move them to other tonalities. I’ve started them here in F so that you can see how to access patterns you might not be able to stretch to without doing yourself an injury. Also, make sure you’ve got the fretting hand sequences memorized before you attempt these.
Hungarian Minor 4NPS
I love this scale as a great (and less obvious) alternative to the harmonic minor. Those stretches on the E and A strings are far less daunting using slides.
Phrygian Dominant 4NPS
If you can some speed up on this scale, you’ll get a sound that’s very reminiscent of Yngwie Malmsteen as he uses this scale a lot to execute runs similar to this one.
Lydian b7 4NPS
If you’re looking for something a little more ‘out there’ to play over a dominant 7th chord, then the Lydian b7 scale is an excellent choice.
Whole Tone 4NPS
You might want to use this one sparingly, but it does give you that Holdsworth outside sound. If you’re looking to take 4NPS scales further, check out our popular eBook, ‘Shred Guitar Mechanics: Fretboard Dexterity Through 4NPS Scales’.