5. Shapes and figures

There’s nothing wrong with having a good grasp of theory, especially when you’re able to apply your knowledge to your guitar playing without sounding to “schooled”. But from time to time it’s good to give your knowledge of scales and chords a rest and go for a different approach. One approach I often use is something I like to call “the shapes and figures” approach. You just look at the fretboard like a pattern of horizontal and vertical lines, a bit like a chessboard. Now you start to envision different shapes and figures you can play, without wondering what notes are involved or whether it’s theoretically correct. The results may surprise you, they often sound very outlandish and awkward, and that might just be the thing you’re looking for.

In this example I’ve created a very simple pattern (reminiscent of the letter X) and play it over the fretboard from the high strings to the low and back again. It’s also a great warm up exercise, but first of all it sounds really cool. When you try to incorporate these figures into your soloing, be sure that the chords in the background aren’t voiced too explicit or change to quick, because otherwise the result may sound completely out of tune. Best-case scenario would probably be a simple one-note drone.

E ----------16---12----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B ------14------------14-----------------16---12----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
G -12----------------------16--------14------------14----------------16---12----------------------------------------------------
D --------------------------------12---------------------16-------14--------------14-----------------16---12--------------------
A -------------------------------------------------------------12------------------------16------14--------------14---------------
E ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------12-------------------------16-------

E ----------------------------------------------------------------------------16---12----------------------------------------------
B ---------------------------------------------16---12------------------14------------14---------14------------------------------
G -------------16---12------------------14--------------14--------12-----------------------16-----------------------------------
D -------14---------------14-------12------------------------16-------------------------------------------------------------------
A -12--------------------------16--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------