When guitarists think of melodic and harmonic freedom, they often think of being able to blaze up and down the neck, shifting freely from position to position. But you might be surprised by just how much you can come up with creatively when you restrict your fretting hand to a single position on the neck. This approach really forces you to be creative in one spot by rearranging your fingers in various ways.
Take, for instance, the scale outline in Ex. 1. What if these were the only 12 fretted pitches you were allowed to play? Of course, if you stick to scalar motion, you’ll run out of ideas sooner than if you find ways to play more than one note at once, or jump between them using wide melodic leaps. I love putting one pitch against another to see which interval results. Ex. 1’s notes yield lots of interesting harmonies, including fifths and sixths [Ex. 2]; fifths, fourths, and tritones
[Ex. 3]; and seconds [Ex. 4]. Take a few moments to explore different ways of playing these intervals.
The cool thing about experimenting with stuff like this is that it soon branches out from being an exercise to becoming an actual vehicle for improvisation and composition. If you have a cool guitar sound dialed in—perhaps a phaser or a chorus with a little stereo delay—and you “set the mood” by, say, turning the lights down low, it won’t be long before you create some truly compelling licks. One direction you can take with our 12-note pattern is to throw in some open strings against the fretted pitches [Ex. 5]. Let the all the notes ring for as long as possible, and just soak in the sound.