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Three-Note-Per-String Variables

Break out of your ruts with three-note-per-string variables

Welcome back, guitar fanatics! This month we’re going to talk about a cool way to bust out of those undesirable ruts we all encounter from time to time. This is a concept that is still in the development phase; I call it Three-Note-Per-String Variables. The three-note-per-string variable concept takes you through the six variations of three notes per string: 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-3-1, 2-1-3, 3-2-1, 3-1-2. These numbers refer to the directions of your fingers in relationship to the three notes you will play in a scale as you ascend and descend through a single position. Make sense?

Let’s take a look at each example. A quick note: I’m just going to use an A Major scale, which consists of the notes A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A

Example 1. 1-2-3

Example 2. 1-3-2

Example 3. 2-3-1

Example 4. 2-1-3

Example 5. 3-2-1

Example 6. 3-1-2

Now for the technique: feel free to explore legato, alternate picking, economy picking and string skipping. Also, be sure to try applying these to a more liner approach and be creative; the three-note-per-string variables will give you a more intervallic sound. Play them slow and scoop into some of the notes using your whammy bar like Holdsworth or Malmsteen. These will also help you to come up with more original sounding ideas, because it’s breaking you out of the normal ascending and descending traps. As a bonus, you will develop stronger finger independence because of the initial shock your fingers will encounter. So explore the possibilities and have fun.

Rusty Cooley
Rusty Cooley has been playing and teaching for over 20 years, and has recorded as a solo artist, with his band Outworld, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. He has six instructional DVDs and a signature model 7-string guitar, the RC7 by Dean Guitars. Visit Rusty online at