Pattern Visualization for Guitar

Pattern Visualization as a Core Structure

This morning I’m thinking about how I use pattern visualization as a core structure to base guitar playing around. Please note that I don’t mean this is the ONLY structure or concept to utilize, not by any means, but it is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.

We’ll begin with a few “mathematical” patterns that have the same fingering/fret positions on every string and that include open notes on every string.


The “Map”

In order to develop fluency with any pattern is to get the “map” of it firmly implanted so that anything played while using it is controlled by the “picture” of it rather than how it sounds. A good way to start the process of implanting the “0-1-2” pattern as shown above is to play it in ascending, then descending order…



A powerful ability to develop is the awareness of the conceptualization of the sequencing being used to play the pattern. Mastery of a particular sequential concept as a road map through one pattern opens the door to using the same concept on ANY pattern. In this case the sequential concept is “Linear Up & Down.” For more on applying a sequential concept to other patterns, check out Mathematical Patterns.

My experience with many, many students over many years of teaching has shown that at first people have a tendency to begin to remember how to play a pattern in sequence as a result of beginning with the ascending and descending sequence, which seems to be the simplest and most effective way to begin. Over time, as other sequences and concepts are applied, the map gradually becomes more and more readily accessible in larger “chunks” and finally as a whole until, in the end it becomes second nature to see it in your mind and move about freely within it.


Playing and sequencing 3 note patterns that include open notes:

Since our focus here is to explore how we can use 3 note patterns that include open notes, let’s look at another pattern that has a mathematical basis, using a particular sequence of note positions that is consistent across all the strings. We can call it “0-2-3,” with the numbers in the name being based on the fret locations.


The numbers in the graphic are fingering numbers, which are optional. However, if circumstances dictate, 0-2-3 could be used for fingerings as well. Fingerings are always dependent on logic and ergonomics.

Don’t Go By What You Hear

It’s wierd, I know, but for this stuff part of the point is to have a rock solid visualization of the fretboard and pattern note positions to develop your ability to stay on track with the notes, sequences, conceptualization and all intellectually. The long term goal is to combine this skill with your ear and all other skills to have a complete toolbox from which to balance every aspect in whichever ways best suit whatever situation you are involved in at any given point in time. This can come in particularly handy when using different tunings or other unique ways of using your instrument and complex musical concepts.

I can hardly overstate the giant benefit of using what you might call a “mathmatical” or “geographical” or geometric” approach (whatever works for you) inherent in this way of thinking is that once understood conceptually this process will transfer nicely to any pattern, scale, note sequence, chord shape, and so on, in any tuning, on any string instrument.

Another Conceptual Sequence

Now that we have established the “map” of a couple of patterns and familiarized with how to play them in a simple linear up and down, let’s return to the 0-1-2 pattern and approach it with a new conceptual sequence.

In the first step we established what the pattern we wanted to play “looked like”, and we applied a sequential concept to that pattern map that was simply to start on the lowest note and play “sequentially ascending and then descending.” That’s always a good way to begin with a new pattern. How about we add a little twist to the sequential concept we used first. Let’s add “skip a note.”

Skip a Note

There are now three concepts being combined. 1) The pattern “map.” 2) The “sequentially ascending and descending” idea. 3) The “skip a note” concept.

One way to understand this is to reference the notes of the pattern with sequential numbers, with “1” meaning the first note of the pattern (low E), “2” meaning the 2nd note (F – 1st fret of E string) and so on. Skipping a note from each note in succession can now be described as 1 through 12 when ascending and then the numbers can be reversed when descending. Alternatively the numbers could be kept consistent whether ascending (1-12) or descending (12-1). Whichever works better.

For example, a “1-3” pattern (note positions a whole-step apart on the same frets on every string) numbered with this sequential number system showing the order of notes looks like this in ascending order:


…and like this when the numbers are reversed  in descending order:


For any new pattern simply use the same numbering system to map the “Skip a Note” concept, or whatever sequential concept you wish to use (such as “3 in a row” from each note) onto the pattern you’re using.

Goals and Follow Up

There are a number of goals that can be elaborated on regarding the concepts and information in this post. One of the most important is to develop your ability to use Visual Sequencing in a variety of ways and then be able to transfer each sequential concept to any pattern(s) you encounter.

Stay tuned. More to come soon…

Revised on Thanksgiving morning, 2017. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY!



About Kit

Website facilitator, musician, composer and guitar, bass and ukulele instructor.
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