Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Not the easiest for beginners, this article examines one of the more advanced challenges I like to pose students. Too tough for you? Try this easy one here ... How Good is Your Technique?
The hidden stretching of guitar playing!
When you think of stretches on guitar, it's probable that images of large hands spanning huge distances on the fretboard spring to mind. I've come across many such challenges over the years, and not having the largest of hands myself it was good to find over time that in many cases, alternative fingerings and approaches were available.
For the naturally untalented (like me)!
In other instances, learning how to extract the maximum from my own fretting hand due to an improving understanding of technique, brought previously unplayable patterns into view. Certain things nonetheless remain, and will always be off-limits for me, purely as a result of my not having been born with above-average sized hands although there's not much I can do about that!
In this blog post, we'll be looking at the other sort of stretch that's not so obvious, but is probably much more important than that discussed above, because there's something we can do about it.
The Double Chromatic
A few minutes to learn - a lifetime to never master!
(presented in glorious Taplature!)
I came up with this pattern back in 2010 in an effort to highlight the hidden stretches involved in so many guitar playing situations with an elegant test. There's no requirement for what's usually considered "stretch" here, but plenty of demand for the hidden sort, inside your fretting hand. Not the most melodic of compositions, it's demonstrated in the video below from (1:40).
Getting to grips with it
While this pattern is new to you, most of the issues will be on the mental side of things. It's common to find problems simply in lifting and dropping the pairs of fingers in the way this pattern requires. It may not look like much, but this is an exceptionally complex challenge and there are many ways to break it down to get it into your mind and fingers more quickly. Even so, it's likely to be very very slow to begin with.
Once learned, I'd expect the problems waiting for you and blocking you from increasing your maximum speed to be due to the physical limitations of your fretting hand, and what I'd view as a lack of stretch within. The tensions and sensations you feel in your hand when trying to go faster will be those you've probably encountered many times before, and have maybe made efforts to avoid.
Finally taking on and beating old enemies!
When working on a pattern like this, you'll be dealing directly with the long-time barriers within the infrastructure of your hand which you're bound to have encountered many times before as feeling at the least "awkward" or maybe even painful! When you eventually begin investigating them you'll learn a lot about your hand not only in relation to this test, but in relation to countless other related patterns and pieces of music too!
Start asking questions! If you were building a machine to perform this pattern, how would you like it to function? How do your hand's movements compare to that ideal? Most importantly ... What can you do to improve those movements?
Benchmarking (measuring) your progress is vital!
As always, it's essential to monitor progress in this sort of investigation, to provide feedback as to whether the work you're putting in is actually paying off. Start off your benchmarking (measuring) folder today with a free copy of my book "BPM" sent to all subscribers to this blog. It contains a sheet featuring the double chromatic patterns demonstrated in the video above, as well as other similar printouts for all other investigations covered in this blog. When you measure regularly, you'll see the slightest of improvements quite clearly; if you don't, you're reduced to guesswork!
Start focusing today ... start improving today!
By way of example, here's my record of my own progress with this pattern (and a quick look at the backwards version) since devising it many years ago. (Last updated 18th October 2017, managed 75bpm ascending and 50bpm descending) Please excuse the water stain! I'm not sure when it appeared but at least it landed kindly! Notice that in 2010, despite having played guitar for 25 years by that point, the best I could manage was a miserly 25bpm (I'm no great natural talent on guitar but I'm a stubborn sod!) Patience and persistence will be needed to keep you moving forward!
This benchmark is taken from my own practice folder, discussed for anyone interested here.
Improve at this ... improve at everything!
You only get one fretting hand ... it's up to you to make the most of yours. The extra strength, stretch and control required to improve at the double chromatic are available for anything and everything else you play on guitar! Investigating and working on the tougher stuff is a great way to improve easier things without ever even practising them!
Under the bonnet!
My view is that we are never able to completely remove the tensions in our hand when executing complex patterns like these, especially as we approach our top speeds. However, what we are able to do over time is to gradually reduce the amount of tension at a given speed. This then enables us to execute the same pattern to a higher speed before the tension becomes problematic enough to introduce mistakes. Think of it like a car. If your vehicle starts rattling at 40mph, it won't be very comfortable to drive at 50mph and may start falling apart at 60mph.
In a better car that doesn't begin rattling until 80mph, then if you don't need to drive above 70mph you'll never even be aware of the problem! We're trying to tune up our hand until the issues presented cease to be a problem at the speeds at which we want to use it.
Tune up your fretting hand!
I believe we reduce the tension by increasing our stretch in the part of the hand relating to the problem. Our fingers are tied together to some extent, and although we can't see the ties that bind we can certainly feel the effects of them. If we can lengthen the "ropes" constricting them, our fingers will function more independently, relevant movements will become easier and therefore our top speed will become higher as the proof we are better!
How to progress with harder challenges like this?
Regarding how we do that, stay tuned. I'll be offering some ideas of my own that have worked for me and others in the upcoming episodes of this series.