How to Shred Four-Notes-Per-String

Push your hands to the limit with these four-notes-­per-string exercises.
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Have you ever watched one of your favorite guitar heroes toss off some lick that looked as insane as it sounded? Your idol may have been using four-notes-­per-string fingerings—the standard for all chops-meisters. This advanced technique not only sounds cool but also forces finger movements that will themselves amaze your audience. Allan Holdsworth and Shawn Lane were the pioneers of this approach, to be followed by Rusty Cooley, Terry Syrek, Don Lappin, Brett Garsed, and John Petrucci, among others who expanded the potential of four-notes-per-string patterns.

In the next 60 minutes, your hands will be pushed to the limit as you work up exercises in this style.

Before you begin this workout, stretch your body and your fingers. Keep in mind that you’ll also need a cool-down period after your practice session.

Once you’re feeling limber, you can get down to business. FIGURE 1 shows the G major scale (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#) in a four-notes-per-string pattern. The basic idea here is that each of the four notes on one string should be played by a different finger and in consecutive order.


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FIGURE 2 presents the G natural minor scale (G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F) in a four-notes-per-string pattern.


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Tackle each figure in this workout slowly at first, and be patient, as your fingers will need time to adjust to some of the stretches—especially the whole steps (two frets) that fall between your 2nd and 3rd and 3rd and 4th fingers. Make sure your fret-hand’s thumb is centered on the back of the neck; you may want to face it toward the headstock slightly. Then, lean your 1st finger over on its side, with the nail facing toward the headstock at a 45-degree angle. This will allow you to place all four of your fret-hand fingers in a comfortable arch. Also, it would be a good idea to visualize each subsequent four-note pattern, so that you can make a smooth transition from one position to the next.


Now let’s apply some intervallic and numeric sequences (repeated finger groupings) to some four-notes-per­-string exercises. Try not to let your head spin too much as you tackle FIGURE 3, a 16th-note run in which some backward­-moving 2nds ascend through the G natural minor scale.


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In FIGURE 4, the D Dorian mode (D-E-F-G­A-B-C) is played within a seven-fret span, with a 2-1-3-4 numeric sequence on each string. Think about this: If you played FIGURE 4 in consecutive order (1-2-3-4), you’d hit a bunch of repeated notes when switching strings. For example, the 6th string’s 15th-fret G would be directly preceded by the 5th string’s 1Oth-fret G. But here’s the cool thing about numeric sequences: With a non-linear numeric sequence, such as 2-1-3-4, you can avoid this undesirable repetition and at the same time come up with some awesome-sounding licks.


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Now, fasten your seat belt for the A Mixolydian (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G) lick in FIGURE 5. Played on a single string, this one has a 1-3-2-1-3-4 numeric sequence and is played in sextuplets (six 16th notes for every quarter note).


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Rusty Cooley is a four-notes-­per-string master. Some of the hallmarks of his style are legato, string skipping, and, as seen in FIGURE 6—which is based on the E symmetrical diminished (half-whole) scale (E-F-G-G#-A#-B-C#-D)—the use of septuplets (seven-note groups). To achieve the liquid legato effect necessary for these sequences, pick only the first note of each seven-note sequence, then use hammer-ons for the ascent and pull-offs for the descent. To play this one in squeaky-clean fashion, be mindful of finger placement. When hammering on for the ascending portions, keep your fingers on the string until you start the pull-offs. Then, after you pull off with your 4th finger, move it toward string 3 to prepare for the next descending/ascending portion of the lick.


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A similar legato approach is seen in the B natural minor (B-C#-D-E-F#-G-A) lick of FIGURE 7. Paradoxically, as the lick climbs into higher positions, it moves into lower registers.


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To change things up a bit, check out the chromatic madness in FIGURE 8. In this tricky descending 16th-note pattern, pick only the first note (with a downstroke) and the last note (with an upstroke) and strive for evenness throughout.


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Four-notes-per-string patterns can also involve pick-hand fingers. The remaining examples show some killer tapping licks courtesy of Berklee College of Music instructor and master tapper Don Lappin. Before you get started, it’d be a good idea to wrap an elastic ponytail holder around the 1st fret, to dampen the strings.

In FIGURE 9, the G major scale is revisited in an ascending legato lick. To get this party started, “ghost-hammer” (hammer on without picking) the 4th string’s 5th-fret G with your 1st finger, then hammer onto the 7th-­fret A with your 3rd finger. Next, tap the 9th­-fret B with your pick hand’s 1st finger, then tap the 10th-fret C with your 2nd finger. To help out your pick-hand hammer-ons, position your arm above the fretboard, as if you were playing with a pick. This will allow for better string contact and stronger legato technique, regardless of your tapping direction. Also, for playing a whole-step tap, use your 1st finger on the lower notes and your 3rd finger on the higher ones.


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FIGURE 10 is a tapping lick that runs through the A natural minor scale (A-B-C-D-E­ F-G), while the C Phrygian dominant (C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb) lick in FIGURE 11 has a Middle Eastern vibe. Note that in bar 1 of FIGURE 10, the four-notes-per-string sequence is broken on beat 4. Here, simply ghost-hammer your fret hand’s 1st finger onto the 1st string’s 13th-fret F. Similarly, in FIGURE 11, the pattern is broken in certain spots on the 3rd and 2nd strings. These disruptions keep your lines from sounding too mechanical, as they are likely to do if you start employing four-notes-per-string patterns less than judiciously in your solos.


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