Building Rediculous Speed With Moving Chromatic Exercises

This lesson will show you ways to build speed and dexterity while improving your left and right hand techniques. Here I show you chromatic exercises that I practice on a daily basis.

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Ultimate Guitar
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Chromatic exercises can seem tedious and boring at times. Most people seem to just look at Chromatic exercises once or twice in their life and think, "this doesn't sound very cool", or, "this isn't metal" or whatever else. The first time I saw the Chromatic Scale I played it a tiny bit and went, "egh... Whatever".

It wasn't until about a year ago when I saw Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) giving a lesson on speed exercises using the Chromatic Scale that I began to take it seriously. Try looking for some YouTube videos on this subject as well.

Below are a few things I, personally, practice daily. Remember that it's okay to start slow and work your way up. It can also be good to use some distortion when playing through these exercises. It helps to keep everything sounding really cool and keeps you from getting too bored. You'll notice that the faster you play the cooler it will all sound! Also, try to palm-mute these exercises for a tighter sound.
|-----------------------------------------6-7-8-9-| 
|---------------------------------6-7-8-9---------| <--You'll notice that we
|-------------------------5-6-7-8-----------------| move up a fret here.
|-----------------5-6-7-8-------------------------|
|---------5-6-7-8---------------------------------|
|-5-6-7-8-----------------------------------------|
Once you reach the end of this run go ahead and play it in reverse:
|-9-8-7-6-----------------------------------------|
|---------9-8-7-6---------------------------------|
|-----------------8-7-6-5-------------------------|
|---------------------------------8-7-6-5---------|
|-----------------------------------------8-7-6-5-|
|-------------------------8-7-6-5-----------------| original 4 frets here.
I'll play this quite a few times just to get warmed up. Start slow, use alternate picking (D-U-D-U) all the way through both ways. It's not necessary to switch your alternating picking when playing it in reverse. Just play whatever way feels quickest and easiest to you. Personally, my own alternate picking varies as I play. Sometimes I switch on reverse. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I switch my alternating in the middle of the exercise! My right hand kind of does whatever it wants depending on how fast I'm trying to play! Everyone is different, so don't be afraid to just play your own way!

Now let's do a real Chromatic Scale exercise: E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E
|-------------------------------------------------0-1-2-3-4-|E F F# G G#
|---------------------------------------0-1-2-3-4-----------|B C C# D D#
|-------------------------------0-1-2-3---------------------|G G# A A#
|---------------------0-1-2-3-4-----------------------------|D D# E F F#
|-----------0-1-2-3-4---------------------------------------|A A# B C C#
|-0-1-2-3-4-------------------------------------------------|E F F# G G#
That's what a true Chromatic run sounds like, but that's boring! So, let's turn it into a standard scale using a half-half-half-whole-half-half-whole structure. This makes the scale a bit more fun and gets you moving around the neck a bit. Note that this leaves out a few notes ( A, A#, D# and E ).
|-----------------------------------------7-8-9-10-|
|---------------------------------6-7-8-9----------|
|-----------------3-4-5-6--------------------------|
|---------2-3-4-5----------------------------------|
|-1-2-3-4------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------4-5-6-7------------------|
Or you can practice a Chromatic scale that is much more common and has every note. I play this one as well, but it only contains A A# D# and E in the last 2 strings.
|-----------------------------------------5-6-7-8-|
|---------------------------------4-5-6-7---------|
|-----------------3-4-5-6-------------------------|
|---------2-3-4-5---------------------------------|
|-1-2-3-4-----------------------------------------|
|-------------------------4-5-6-7-----------------| on the G string.
Well, this is all still pretty boring, huh?

It's gonna take a little practice, but try to play through these as FAST as you can! When you're first starting out people will tell you that it's really important to be as accurate as possible... This is true, but!, it's also important to be consistent and to actually finish a scale or song or whatever!

What I mean is, if you were in a foot race with someone and you accidentally fell on your face, would you get up and go all the way back to the starting line and start over? No! And I know that playing guitar is not a race, but it is important to know how to keep going after you screw up and just finish what you started. Trust me, you'll feel really good about what you're doing if you can actually just finish it! Once you've accomplished finishing a scale or song then you become more familiar with what the scale or song feels like under your fret-hand. Just keep playing over and over, finishing each time, and the speed and accuracy will come with the constant practice!

Now, on to some more exercises!

Remember the very first set of exercises in this lesson? That's where the fun starts to come in when doing Chromatic exercises!

Here's one of my favorite ways of playing in Chromatic:
|-----------------------------------------6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-|
|---------------------------------6-7-8-9------------------|
|-------------------------5-6-7-8--------------------------|
|-----------------5-6-7-8----------------------------------|
|---------5-6-7-8------------------------------------------|
|-5-6-7-8--------------------------------------------------|

|-----------------------------------------|
|10-9-8-7---------------------------------|
|---------9-8-7-6-------------------------|
|-----------------9-8-7-6-----------------|
|-------------------------9-8-7-6---------|
|---------------------------------9-8-7-6-|
Did you notice how we moved up a fret and then finished a fret higher than where we started? Of course you did! But, that's not the end of it! When you get back down to the low-E string, go ahead and move up another fret and start over. Move up another fret again when you reach the high-E string. Play this out until you reach the end of the neck and then go ahead and descend the entire neck in reverse.

I'll play the exercise above in many different configurations. Sometimes I might only move up a fret when I reach the low-E string. Another thing I'll do is this:
|-----------------------------------------9-8-7-6-7-8-9-10-|
|---------------------------------9-8-7-6------------------|
|-------------------------8-7-6-5--------------------------|
|-----------------8-7-6-5----------------------------------|
|---------8-7-6-5------------------------------------------|
|-8-7-6-5--------------------------------------------------|

|-----------------------------------------|
|7-8-9-10---------------------------------|
|---------6-7-8-9-------------------------|
|-----------------6-7-8-9-----------------|
|-------------------------6-7-8-9---------|
|---------------------------------6-7-8-9-|
Now that sounds pretty cool! Again, go ahead and move up a fret each time you reach the top and bottom of each run until you reach the end of the neck. Once you reach the end you can go back down the neck doing everything in reverse of how you ascended. Remember, try playing these as fast as possible! And keep that distortion going strong too!

After practicing some of the scales above I'm sure you'll see how you can come up with different variations to keep everything interesting and sounding cool. Here's another variation that I play often:
|---------------------------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------|
|---------3-4-5-6-7-6-5-4-----------------5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-|
|-3-4-5-6-----------------7-6-5-4-5-6-7-8-----------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------|

|------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------|
|-----------------7-8-9-10-11-10-9-8-|
|9-8-7-6-7-8-9-10--------------------|
|------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------|
Just as stated before, keep going up the neck until you reach the end. Then, go back down the neck doing the same pattern in reverse. You can also ascend the neck by doing descending notes like we saw in the lesson before this. Try descending the neck using ascending notes as well!

Here is another of my daily exercises based on the structure of the first exercise. We alternate between the B and G strings so we have to remember to move up a fret going from G to B and then back down a fret from B to G. This is basically the same exercise as above but it requires some quick fret-hand movements to keep it accurate. Start slow and work your way up to speed. Or, you can do like I do and just head full speed into this one!
|----------------------------------------------------------|
|---------4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-----------------6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-|
|-3-4-5-6-----------------7-6-5-4-5-6-7-8------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------|

--------------------------------------|
-----------------8-9-10-11-12-11-10-9-|
9-8-7-6-7-8-9-10----------------------|
--------------------------------------|
--------------------------------------|
--------------------------------------|
Now that's fun! Gobs of distortion, blazing alternate picking, and a blatant disregard for the peace and quiet in your neighborhood makes this a bitchin' lick!

Well, I can't really show you much more without being completely redundant so I'll leave you with this: practice, practice, practice! These Chromatic exercises can seem tedious at first... Some of you might even disregard them for now... But when you really discipline yourself to just play them and really push yourself to be able to haul ass through these, you'll see how much fun they can be and you'll notice how accurate both of hands, and maybe even your ears, have gotten!

Just keep finding ways to change these scales around and new ways of moving them up and down the neck. Email me or comment here with any questions.

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    jetman666
    i covered that with the last statement. "Just keep finding ways to change these scales around and new ways of moving them up and down the neck." i just didn't see the need to go that in-depth. it's almost an insult to the intelligence of the reader... i appreciate you bringing it up though... if people didn't know what i meant they can see your suggestion and start trying new things!
    Seraph92
    While playing with distortion is cool, practicing with distortion is generally not a good idea. Distortion can hide mistakes so if you're wanting to clean up your chops, then I would recommend playing clean for a while.
    Tominator_1991
    personally i think you should try and encourage timing rather than AS FAST AS YOU CAN. just a thought
    michaelgroves
    thanks for this lesson. Its easy to learn and crucial for you to become a decent guitar player. Thanks!
    jetman666
    sorry so late getting back to you ian3fingers... you should be alternate picking on these (just in case you aren't) but as far as how hard to pick (also called "attack" which also includes your angle of picking as well) will depend on a few things: how low and/or loose is the action (string height/tension from the fretboard on your guitar)? how heavy (as in how hard would you normally pick if you weren't thinking about it) is your pick hand? how well do the pickups work on your guitar? how well does the amp work? what gauge are your picks? (personally i use the green Dunlop Tortex medium picks.) you might find that your attack differs between guitars which is a direct result of the different characteristics (mostly the action) between two different guitars. i would suspect the guitar of being the problem if you've been applying this lesson (or any other lessons for that matter) for a while and you still find yourself attacking pretty hard to get the sound right. have your guitar professionally adjusted or just buy a new one (ibanez guitars typically have excellent action and can be had on craigslist for less than $200).
    ian3fingers
    sorry guys but lame question time, but how hard are you striking the strings. i started pounding them and get really tense to try and find speed. And then i though to myself 'let the f.....g amp do the work, and started chilling and hitting the strings very lightly and doubled my speed (from dog slow to slow) Anybody got advice on how hard to pluck, bang or thrash!!!
    jetman666
    @ Barbarian_2: if descending then your fourth finger will go to the 8th fret... using any finger twice on the same string defeats the purpose of this particular exercise (which is to improve each individual finger's dexterity, speed, and accuracy).
    Barbarian_2
    |-9-8-7-6-----| |-----9-8-7-6-----| |-----8-7-6-5-----| |-----8-7-6-5-----| |-----8-7-6-5-----| |-----8-7-6-5-| In this, how will the finger positioning be? When i get back from the 2nd to the 3rd string, will my 3rd finger or the 4th finger go on the 8th fret. If it is the third, then my 2nd will go on 7th fret and again on 6th fret right?
    deftools
    this one is my fav: E-----6-8-7-9-10-8-9-7 B-----6-8-7-9----- G-----5-7- 6-8----- D-----5-7-6-8----- A-----5-7-6-8----- E-5-7-6-8- ---- E----- B-10-8-9-7----- G-----9-7-8-6----- D-----9 -7-8-6----- A-----9-7-8-6----- E-----9-7-8-6-- Its a slight variation on jetmans pattern, great for a warm up and getting better at knowing you way around the neck blindy.
    bistro84
    this deffinitly helped get my rusty knuckles flowing again. thanks for the ideas, I used my imagination and made it fun.
    Natethegreat
    you never had anything like 1-3-2-4 or 1-4-3-2 or 1-2-4-3 or really just anything like that doing that can really help get your fingers loose and relaxed you can come up with endless combonations
    jetman666
    check out my other lesson: Beginning Arpeggios: 3-String Exercises this one will help you build speed in a different sense and prepare you for moving into more difficult techniques.
    jetman666
    thanx for the positive feedback guys! i have to say also that the premise of this exercise also applies to anything else you play. as in, the ideas of making sure you play songs or riffs from start to finish without restarting. it's important to know what the whole thing sounds like all together. this helps you learn things faster (at least it does for me...). and try to play things at the speed they're meant to be played at as soon as you possibly can; even if you screw a few parts up. i should be posting another lesson soon so keep an eye out! it usually takes UG over a month to approve lessons, so...
    demonichild
    there is a nice chromatic lesson that Mick Thompson did during an interview. It helps out for moving a fair distance when playing. |-----| |-----| |-----| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 -| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-1-2- 3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-----| |-----| |-----| When you start playing the '5-6-7-8' you slide your first finger that played the first fret UP to the 5th fret then repete on the other strings. Its good for shredders Oh and very nice lesson
    Lost&FoundBox
    Im fairly new to playin (four months) but im coming along pretty quickly i can already play a few intros and songs but im slower then crap!! I think this could help me out alot speed wise! Great lesson thanks alot!
    Slaptop
    Try playing them the same way up and down, if you play 1 2 3 4 on the way up, any 4 in a row will do, then play 1 2 3 4 on the way back down instead of the typical 4 3 2 1, it really makes a difference in training your fingers
    Prowler901
    Good stuff. I'm looking forward to trying this out tonight during my practice. Thanks.
    jetman666
    keeping the distortion on helps keep chromatics from getting too boring. i haven't really found a logical use for chromatics on the clean channel anyway... they sound kinda 'blah' to me! although it is important to be able to play without mistakes- part of this lesson encourages letting mistakes happen and moving past them. it's okay to screw up as long as your still interested enough in what you're practicing to continue playing it. thanx for the positive feedback! it took UG 2 months to approve this lesson and i'd forgotten about it until today! i have to give thanx to DETHKLOK for bringing me back to UG! i only got on to look for some tabs!
    Chokenhold
    I think this is great! Hopefully this will help me (I think so).. Thank you very much for this lesson!
    Dynamight
    Distortion hides some mistakes but helps you avoid others. It's easier to hear unwanted string noises with distortion on, thereby learning to mute them faster.
    demonichild
    Gahh that ****ed up :|
    |-----| |-----| |-----| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6- 7-8-| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-| |-----1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-1 -2-3-4-5-6-7-8-----| |-----| |-----| |-----|
    Ad0sTheMan
    This is all very nice, but you should practice this using a METRONOME! gradually raising your speed. This will give you better timing, accuracy while playing really fast. Check out John petrucci's Lessons in "Rock Discipline"