Guitar Fitness The Key To Great Tone And Flency

A daily fitness program designed to get you in shape to tackle scales and arpeggios with ease!

Ultimate Guitar
Have you ever wondered why good musicians can make a simple major scale sound great, yet when you do it yourself it sounds unmusical even though your guitar is in tune and you're keeping reasonable time? Do you find that your muscles start to ache within no time at all when you adopt a good hand position in order to play a scale using the three-notes-per-string method? Do you find yourself abandoning difficult, mentally and physically exhausting technical practice in favour of familiar, easy-come old tunes? If so, then you may need to put music to one side for a while and concentrate solely on fitness, i.e. a daily routine that will get you in shape ready to tackle those awkward scales and arpeggios.

The following exercises use fragmented chromatic and diatonic scale patterns and fingering permutations which are designed to develop the muscles needed for fluent movement around the fretboard. With strength comes flexibility; with flexibility comes relaxed movement. Only when you have acquired strength and agility will your phrases start to sound musical. This is because you will have better control over dynamics and tone production. True musicians can make almost anything sound great because they have a good command of these elements.

Chromatic Permutation Exercise

You're probably familiar with the chromatic warm-up at the 5th fret. But have you considered playing all the fingering permutations? There are 24 permutations using the first, second, third and fourth fingers playing the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th frets respectively. Remember to maintain the same fingering for ascending and descending. Keep correct hand position throughout.
|----------------5-6-7-8- and so on up to the high E string
Descend using the same fingering:
|---------------- and so on down to the low E string.
Using the same principle demonstrated for Perm.1, go through all of the following perms.

P1. 5678 P2. 5687 P3. 5768 P4. 5786 P5. 5867 P6. 5876
P7. 6578 P8. 6587 P9. 6758 P10. 6785 P11. 6857 P12. 6875
I'm sure you can work out the remaining 12 perms.

Diatonic Permutation Exercises

Remember that this isn't about memorizing scales. It's about developing muscles. So instead of practicing scales in all positions, just practice the basic elements. If you analyze a three-notes-per-string major scale, you'll find there are only three essential fragments;

1. Tone tone
2. Semitone tone
3. Tone semitone
A Major Scale:
|---------------Tone semitone>--7-9-10-|
|---------Tone semitone>-7-9-10--------|
This rule applies to ALL major scales in ALL positions (provided it's three notes at a time).

Tone Permutation Exercise

(use first second and fourth fingers to cover the 5th, 7th and 9th frets)
|------------------ and so on up to the high e string.
Use same fingering when descending:
|------------5-7-9- and so on down to the low E string.

Now apply the fingering permutation principle.

P1. 579 P2. 597 P3. 759 P4. 795 P5. 957 P6. 975

Semitone Tone Permutation Exercise

(use first, second and fourth finger to cover 5th, 6th and 8th frets respectively)

Do the same as the above exercise with the following permutations.

P1. 568 P2. 586 P3. 658 P4. 685 P5. 856 P6. 865

Tone Semitone Permutation Exercise

(use first, third and fourth fingers to cover 5th, 7th and 8th frets respectively)

P1. 578 P2. 587 P3. 758 P4. 785 P5. 857 P6. 875

The tone semitone exercise can also be played using first, second and third fingers to cover 5th, 7th, and 8th frets respectively. This is a useful stretching exercise.

Arpeggiated Exercises

The above chromatic and diatonic scale exercises can be spread across adjacent strings to create arpeggiated exercises. As with the major scale, most arpeggios contain basic elements which appear in the following examples.

Arpeggiated Tone Exercise

(use same fingering as scale exercise)
P1. Ascending
P1. Descending

Now apply the arpeggiated principle to ALL the previously described scale exercises.

Why This Is A Very Useful Exercise

If we arpeggiate P6 of the tone semitone scale fragment (note the bracketed section)
Now arpeggiate P6 of the semitone tone scale fragment (note the bracketed section)
Now put them together and we get a C shaped major arpeggio (F major triad):
Now let's take out the bracketed section of the P6 semitone tone arpeggio:
And the bracketed section of P6 of the tone tone arpeggio:
Now put them together and we get the C shaped minor arpeggio (F minor triad):

Note: the second fragment has been moved down a semitone but it's the same pattern.
There are thousands of arpeggios all over the fretboard but they all use a lot of the same shapes that are found in these exercises. That's the beauty of boiling everything down into its basic elements and then just practicing those elements at the mid-point of the fretboard. It will stand you in great stead when you come to play scales and arpeggios anywhere on the guitar. Again, this is about getting shape! You can, of course, arpeggiate the chromatic fragments using the same system as described for the diatonic scale. But be aware that doing so will create a much longer and more challenging set of exercises.

Rolling Technique

Some arpeggios will contain elements that won't appear in any of the previously described exercises.
Example of E shaped arpeggio at 5th fret (A major triad)
The bracketed elements are not covered by either the chromatic or diatonic exercises as they have two notes played consecutively on the same fret. To play these sections at speed requires a technique known as rolling. Justin Sandercoe explains this technique far better than I could on a well-known video site.

After you've found out how to roll, here's an exercise designed to develop the technique:
Example 1:
|-------------------------------- and so on up to high e string.
Descending use same fingering:
|--------5-6-7-8----------------- and so on down to low E string.
Example 2:
|-------------------------------- and so on up to high e string.
|--------6-5-8-7----------------- and so on down to low E string.


Don't expect too much too soon. Stay focused. Will you still be playing guitar in 10 years time? If so then why not set yourself a goal of 10,000 hours of disciplined technical development. That way if you have done 2 hours a day for a few weeks and you don't see any notable results you can remind yourself that you have only covered about 50 or so hours out of 10.000! Stick at it. Work real hard to get through that initial pain barrier. Go to bed with a dull ache in your arm. But if you experience any bright, sharp shooting pain then STOP and rest up for a day or two. Use stretching and massaging before during and after exercising. If you don't feel the benefit of stretching then you're not pushing yourself hard enough! You should have a day off now and again anyway just to recuperate. If after a month or so you try some old tunes and you haven't improved at all (in fact you may feel you've gone backwards) don't panic! This is because these old tunes used an old weak technique. A technique that you won't have been using for these exercises. Namely playing at an angle with your thumb resting on the top of the neck comfortable but it won't developed true strength half as well as correct hand position over a prolonged period of time. Create your own exercises. When you find a weakness, analyze it and developed an exercise that homes in on it and turns it into a strength.

Work hard! Work smart!

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Honestly I don't know how spreading your 3rd and 4th makes any sense... I mean... really. Maybe it's just preference.
    Methinks you speak wisdom. Your article is now a regular part of my routine.
    Holy shit dude. thats a ****ing lesson right there. well written. so true. write more lessons bro. i learn a lot from you. keep it up
    Wow, this is an awesome lesson! I'm gonna use it aswell on my daily routine. Keep it up!
    Wow. This was EXTREMELY well written. The exercises themselves have been used time and time again, but different combinations/permutations of fingerings and frets is something new. VERY nice job. 10/10.
    great job, chris! you gave me something to work out, even though i basically don't know how to read guitar tabs. i know some guitar theories though, and with your article, i think i have a pretty good chance to improve my skills. by the way, please don't hesitate to post something cool like this stuff. thanks!
    Very nicely done! But there's just one little problem. You don't tell me how to place my hand correctly. There's no point of doing this if I'm doing it wrong.
    this is such a good lesson that i think i should make a routine for playing this lesson over every day for an hour! great stuff, thanks so much!
    Thanks for this. It's been very useful, and now forms the core of my daily practise sessions. Also passed it on to a friend who has literally just started playing. He doesn't even know any open chords yet!
    ILL BisCuiT
    if i feel tightness in my elbow when i am picking fast does that mean i am using wrong technique?
    That was extremely excellent. I don't know what else there is for me to say. Excellent job.
    chris flatley wrote: for some reason the tab that shows the A major scale has been half deleted. it was supposed to show the 3 notes p/s method breaks up into 3 elements. hopefully you got the idea anyway.
    PM PiCSeL about it, he will fix it for you.