By Sean McGowan

A great way to break out of old scale and arpeggio patterns is by tackling one string at a time. To make it easy, start by working only within the key of C major. The first exercise will be to play all of the notes in a C-major scale up and down one string, as shown in Example 1. Although most guitarists practice scale patterns by starting and ending on the root, you want to develop awareness of all of the notes in the scale, so this exercise starts with the lowest note in the scale that is available on each string.

Begin with a low E on the sixth string, the third note of the C major scale, and go up to the 15th-fret G. Continue by working up and down each individual string, from open position all the way up to the 15th fret. Try doing these exercises with just one or two fingers.

In this way, you’ll be removing any reliance on muscle memory and be learning the notes of the fretboard by sight and by ear. You might also find it helpful to say the names of the notes as you play them. Practice this exercise with a metronome until you can play and recite the notes of the scale in time with the click.


Let’s use this single-string approach to play triad arpeggios. Using one finger, move up and down each string, playing only the notes of a C-major triad (C, E, and G) as shown in Example 2. Stick to the key of C for now, but once you’re comfortable, try the same exercise in other keys. You can even use this approach to play double stops on two strings (Example 3), or triads and inversions on three strings (Example 4).


This lesson is excerpted from Sean McGowan’s The Acoustic Jazz Guitarist, available at