In my last blog, I talked about some techniques and tips for increasing speed on the guitar. Now let’s put them to use in an exercise using the A Minor Pentatonic Scale to build blustering and bursting blues briskness into a blur…

We are going to start with the first three notes of the A Minor Pentatonic Scale played ascending and descending using alternate picking (first measure below). Repeat the phrase without stopping. Start slow and make sure you are playing clearly and synchronizing the picking hand with the fretting hand on each note. Play the scale evenly and SLOWLY and gradually start to increase your tempo, still keeping the rhythm even. Continue to increase your tempo until “the wheels fall off the bus” and you start getting sloppy.

At this point, don’t be concerned with playing to a metronome, we are focusing on building speed (eventually you will want to use the metronome… more on that later). Repeat this again, starting slowly and then gradually speed up until you start making errors.

The next step is to add a note to the scale and repeat the same idea (see above second measure). Once again, start slow and gradually increase your tempo, repeating the phrase with each note played evenly, until you can’t play evenly and precisely. Keep using alternate picking, you will notice that throughout this entire exercise you will always be using a down stroke on the 1st finger which is always playing the 5th fret.

From there, add another note in the scale to the phrase and repeat (see below first measure) and then one more note in the scale to finish the first half of the pattern played on the 6, 5, and 4 strings (see below second measure).

Once you do the first half (six notes) of the scale pattern, the next step is to do the same starting with the first three notes of the upper half of the scale played on the 3, 2, and 1 strings (see below first measure). As illustrated below, add a note each time until you have covered the six notes of the pattern on the 3, 2, and 1 strings. Once again, it is VERY important to play the notes evenly and precisely and to very gradually and slowly increase the tempo. Loop each measure until you cannot increase the tempo cleanly and repeat for each.

Once you build up some initial speed, you will want to practice to a metronome. Start with a tempo you can play with precisely, repeating the phrase at least 5 times without making a mistake, and then increase the metronome tempo by 5 bpm.

This is a great exercise for boosting your pentatonic shred capacity and for developing better string crossing. Next time we’ll look at playing some diatonic sequences for increasing the speed and accuracy of your fretting hand! If you are in the Orange County CA area, Hamrock Music Instruction is a great place for top quality private guitar lessons from a professional guitar teacher. Skype lessons are also available.

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About the Author

Mark Hamrock has been Orange County’s premier guitar and bass guru since 1995, teaching students how to excel in every genre including rock, blues, classical, metal, funk, and country. After studying rock guitar with Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Willie Nelson, Santana), classical guitar with David Tanenbaum, Scott Tennant, Ricardo Cobo, John Schneiderman, and Jazz with Alan Rowe (Stan Kenton Orchestra, Keith Jarret); Mark has gone on to tour extensively and perform in concerts featuring Jazz Legend Larry Carlton, Tim Reynolds (Dave Matthews Band), and Dave Mason with Traffic. He currently produces, composes, engineers, and teaches, and is working on developing a series of instructional books and videos for guitar and bass. In what little free time he has, Mark enjoys traveling, culinary arts, scuba diving, and entrepreneurial pursuits.