Developing control in your fret and picking hands is an important part of playing guitar.
Often it goes overlooked, even though it can become a source for problems in your guitar playing.
Getting your left and right hands to work together can be tricky - but not impossible. There are exercises you can do as a warm up that will help you develop control of your hands and fingers.
With the simple exercise in this lesson, you will be able to develop the control to play the different scales, arpeggios, and patterns that come up in your music.
What Does Chromatic Mean?
In this case, chromatic is a reference to the chromatic scale. The chromatic scale is made up of twelve notes, each one half step (or one fret on the guitar) above or below the next note.
This exercise is not exactly a chromatic scale, but it is a chromatic finger pattern.
Because of the tuning of the guitar we end up with four chromatic notes and then a whole step as you move to the next string.
The one exception is between the third and second strings: that string change is a half step. Don’t worry about the theory too much - this exercise is about getting your fingers working together.
Position Chromatic Drills
For your right hand, keep your fingers to a four fret grid.
In the example above, you can see that:
This is the “grid” that our exercise works with. While there are many combinations of these four fingers we could use, we are going to focus on playing this as if it were a scale.
That means you would play fingers 1, 2, 3, 4 in order moving from the lowest string to highest string. You would also play fingers 4, 3, 2, 1 in order moving from highest string to lowest string.
Play through the example below. It is shown in both TAB and musical notation.
You can see that this exercise gets all of you fret hand fingers working. This helps you develop control over all four fingers.
Play The Exercise In Multiple Positions
Repeat this exercise with the first finger starting at each fret until you reach the 12th fret, or your guitar prevents you from playing any higher - whichever comes first.
This is called playing in positions. In this case, a position is defined as the fret that your first finger is signed up with. If your first finger is at the third fret, you are playing in the third position.
Depending on who your teacher is and what skills you are developing, the definition of what a position is may change slightly. That being said, the definition I have just given you will work well for most situations.
Once you are comfortable with the fret hand pattern, start thinking about your picking hand. In order for this exercise to benefit both hands, you have to pay attention to your picking hand as well.
If you are using a pick, there are really only two logical options for this exercise: alternate picking, and what I will call reverse alternate picking.
For alternate picking, pick down on the first note, up on the second note, and so on. Every note should have the opposite picking direction from the note before it.
Reverse alternate picking:
Reverse alternate picking is simply a mirror image of alternate picking. You start with a down pick, and then an up pick.
These two styles of picking will help you develop consistency in your picking hand.
Classical right hand patterns:
If you are working on developing your classical right hand technique, you won’t be using a pick at all. You will be using the classical finger style pima system, where:
P = thumb
i = index
m = middle
a = ring
The following examples show different common picking options for classical finger style playing.
With this pattern, you simply alternate your index and middle fingers. Check out the reversed pattern below.
Some classical players prefer to alternate the index and ring fingers for playing single note exercises. This will work well for you if your index and ring fingers are close to the same length.
This pattern is a mirror image of the previous example, playing with the ring finger first, and the index finger second.
Our final two examples alternate between all 3 picking hand fingers - index, middle, and ring. This is a complicated pattern, so start slow.
The final pattern is a mirror image of the previous pattern. Start slow, and get used to how it feels.
Why So Many Picking Options?
You don’t have to practice every single picking option to become good at picking. Whether you choose to use a pick or your fingers, choose one combination first and get comfortable with it.
While it is important to get used to different picking hand patterns, don’t feel like you need to learn them all at once. Only add new combinations after you are comfortable with what you have been working on.
Each new pattern you learn will provide you with different options in your playing, and add a level of security and confidence to your picking hand.
Single String Chromatic Drills
Another way you can practice your chromatic drills is by playing them on a single string, instead of in a single position.
Playing chromatic drills along a single string will help you develop control in your picking and fret hands, and get you playing all over the guitar neck at the same time.
Practicing this exercise will help you develop you fret hand shifts - moving into a new position along with continuing to develop your fret hand and picking hand coordination.
The Chromatic Scale
One big difference in the single string chromatic drill is that you are actually playing a chromatic scale.
Where the position chromatic drill skips a half step when moving between strings, the single string drill gets you playing every fret, creating a chromatic scale.
Single String Finger Pattern
You will still use the four finger grid. Use the same finger pattern as in the position drill (1234). After you play your fourth finger, shift your hand so that your first finger lands one fret above where your fourth finger just played.
Continue until you have played three or four different positions. Then, shift your fourth finger up one fret, and repeat the pattern on the way down the neck. (4321)
Check out the example below.
You can see in both examples the outlined note shows you where to play the second finger twice in a row.
This helps to facilitate repeats and direction changes when playing the exercise. Look at the playing example below.
This example shows the drill on the first string, on a guitar that is comfortable to play up to the 12th fret.
If your guitar has a cutaway or you can reach another position, just add another shift before you head on your way back down the neck.
Repeat this exercise on each string. As a general rule, I like to play up and down each string twice.
Chromatic Drill Practice Ideas
I’m not a big fan of playing warm ups just for the sake of warming up. I like to use them to help me develop a skill I am working on, so I can get more out of my practice time.
Here are some ideas for practicing your chromatic drills:
If you use your imagination, there is a lot you can work on when you use these exercises as a template.
Things To Think About
If you practice them regularly, these chromatic exercises and the picking patterns that go with them will help you build control into your playing.
While they are important, don’t try to make them a replacement for playing actual music. Use these exercises for a few minutes at the beginning of a practice session or in between other things you are playing.
Keep practicing, and these exercise will help you improve your playing over time.