Increase Picking-Hand Strength and Produce Great-Sounding Sequences

(Image credit: Cindy Moorhead)

I love playing guitar. I love practicing guitar. Some people find practicing scales and exercises boring; I find it meditative.

However, it’s good to mix things up a bit.

In this lesson, I’m going to show you a pentatonic scale workout that helps you get the five positions of the pentatonic scale memorized and under your fingers, increases left-hand strength, delivers some great-sounding sequences and even includes some string skipping.

We’ll use the A minor pentatonic scale at the fifth position as our example in this lesson, but you’ll want to make sure you can perform this routine in all five positions.

This workout starts with playing the A minor pentatonic scale ascending and descending (EXAMPLE 1), using consistent alternate picking.

After this “establishes” the fingering for your left hand, the workout continues with a two-string sequence, where you ascend four notes, go back one note and start again, ascending four notes.

This continues across the fretboard until you run out of strings. At this point, you simply turn the sequence around (Don’t repeat the top C note) and play the two-string sequence in reverse—from the high C note, you descend four notes, go back one note, descend another four, etc. (EXAMPLE 2).

The third part of this workout is a sequence that ascends in six-note groups (three strings' worth of pentatonic scale), then back a string, start on D (fifth string) and ascend another six notes (three strings). Continue this pattern until you start the sequence on the G string, at which point you simply turn the pattern around (Don’t repeat the top note C), then perform the sequence in reverse: from the high C note, you descend six notes (three strings), go back a string, start the six-note pattern on the G note (second string) and continue back in the same fashion (EXAMPLE 3).

The fourth and final part of this pentatonic work out involves string skipping. This starts by playing the two notes on the low E string, skip the A string, play the two notes on the D string, go back to the A string and play the two notes on it, then skip the D string, and play the two notes on the G string. This pattern continues, gets turned around just like before and then works its way back in reverse (EXAMPLE 4).

These sequences tend to be a very user-friendly for guitarists, as they start on the first note of each string, as they travel across the six strings. I like to string these four examples together, playing then back to back, without stopping. I find this forces me to think ahead, be able to change gears and mix things up in my regular playing more easily.

Once you're able to play these four elements back to back without any problems, try it with the other four pentatonic positions. Use a metronome to gauge your progress, and push yourself to play these at a faster tempo once they become comfortable.

Guitarist Adrian Galysh is a solo artist and education coordinator for Guitar Center Studios. He's the author of the book Progressive Guitar Warmups and Exercises. For more information, visit him at

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