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Q&A - Jumping strings without getting lost

Hey David,

I'm moving along with the IFR method and really seeing and hearing more than I was before I started your video course. I am having some difficulty keeping my place when I skip strings. I've studied scales for a long time and can play the major scale ( all modes ) in many different fingerings all over the neck, but I would play lines from memorized scale patterns and never really sound like I'm playing music. I don't want to fall back into just memorizing scale patterns with very little substance as far as music goes. I play jazz-based music and want to be able to play over the changes, and sometimes I get lost and resort back to muscle memory with scale patterns.

I know it takes time to break old habits, but what would you recommend I focus on so I don't get lost as much, and develop an effortless flow with the scale degrees and more awareness of where I am on the tonal map?


David's response:

Hi Greg,

Thanks for writing. It's a good question and a good point to clarify, because you're at sort of a pivotal moment and there's a choice here that's very important to make correctly. You need to resist the temptation to go back to using those memorized scale drawings. That's only going to defeat the purpose of your learning. It's kind of like getting stuck on a math problem in school, and you feel the temptation to just skip to the back of the book to check the answer. Obviously that would defeat your entire purpose, because the answer itself is of no value. The whole point is the thought process, the exercise of thinking through the problem for yourself. This is where the learning and growth happens.

This is exactly what's happening to you on the fretboard. You're anxious to know where a particular note is located a couple of strings away, and so you're tempted to "check the answer" by consulting one of your old memorized scale drawings. But just like in the example from the math class, the location of that note you're seeking DOES NOT MATTER. The whole value of the exercise is this moment of uncertainty when you have to calmly think through what you know about music and the guitar to see for yourself where that note must be.

A good way to think about this is something I think I mentioned in the class notes to one of the first classes in the video course. The idea is that you shouldn't think of this moment of uncertainty as a barrier to the exercise. This moment of uncertainty IS the exercise!

Another important thing to realize is that this whole sensation of "getting lost" when you move to a new string isn't even real. You can't possibly be more lost today than you were the first day you began practicing IFR. When you first tried moving around the fretboard using the Mobility concept and the IFR Tonal Map, you must have been very slow and clumsy. You probably got yourself into many situations that you had to puzzle over for a minute. But here's the interesting observation: at that moment you never would have described your situation as "getting lost". You would have simply been working on something new. So this whole idea that you're somehow "getting lost" is really just a value judgment on your part. You're assuming that you should be able to do all of this more quickly than you're currently able to do it, and so by rushing yourself you get into situations where you suddenly realize that you don't remember what you're doing, and so you have this feeling of "getting lost".

Here's my point. Just let go of all of these thoughts. Go back to the simplest thing you know how to do (maybe it's the Cloud or maybe it's Mobility Half Steps), and meditate on that. Practice that and enjoy it deeply, trusting that this is like watering the roots of your future guitar ability. It's important that the foundation of your house be strong. If you are clear about the first principles, then you can very quickly develop an awesome control over the entire fretboard. But you can't rush it. You have to really trust in the process so that you can ENJOY going back and practicing the essentials. Then once that's perfectly clear in your mind, you can stretch out SLOWLY from that place and take it to the next level (maybe it's the IFR Tonal Map). But again, at first you're not going to be doing huge jumps across multiple strings, because you can't yet see that far. So just enjoy doing what you CAN do, and realize that every day that you practice in this way, your mind is naturally going to be learning to see larger and larger territories on the fretboard. Remember, the fretboard isn't all that big. It's not going to be long before you can see where those other notes are. And then what? What are you going to do with that knowledge?

The much more important learning taking place right now is the MUSICAL learning. If I were you, I wouldn't be worried about how quickly I'll be able to jump to other strings. I would be worried about learning all of the beautiful little musical lessons that are contained within any set of notes, because ultimately these lessons are the only thing of value that you will have to share with an audience someday.

So in a nutshell, it sounds like you're exactly where you need to be right now. I think you just need to slow down and regain your perspective. The world is full of guitar players who can fly all over the fretboard but who feel no creative fulfillment when they play, because they're not actually making music. Don't let your own internal clock be affected by how quickly those other guitar players might be learning to play their scales. We're doing something else, and it's going to lead you to a place that's much more beautiful and fascinating.

I hope some of these ideas can get you back into feeling great about your practicing. If you want to discuss it further, please feel free to write more.