Have you been playing the same scales for years, giving you the same old sound? What if you could play those scales in an entirely new way and create a completely different effect? If you haven’t tried cross-string scales or what I also have heard called legato scales, you should give them a try.
When I was studying classical guitar in college one of the graduate students performed the same piece I was currently playing but he had a very different sound to it than I did. I asked him afterward what it was he was doing and he described a technique I now refer to as cross-string scales. All of his scaler lines cascaded with notes ringing together and I loved the sound of it. He told me he was just imitating the way harpsichords sounded when playing the same lines; after all he was playing a harpsichord piece transcribed for guitar.
Much Later in my career I decided to study country guitar, or more specifically a style referred to as chick’n pick’n. This style of guitar playing would occasionally use the same technique, albeit in a totally different genre, but creating a similar effect. Again I found this sound unique and interesting. It was a breath of fresh air to me.
You can also find jazz players that have used this technique. Chet Atkins is a classic example. Very recently, one of my fellow Atlantans and a jazz guitar player told me he had watched one of my videos on cross string scales and they were a new revelation to him. He was finding great ways to incorporate them into his playing.
What Are Cross String Scales?
So let”s get to the meat of what cross string scales are. Because cross string scales tend to work better starting on a higher note and descending, we’ll look at them that way for now. Instead of playing your typical scale in a standard fingering, such as this G major scale:
A G Major cross string scale is fingered using open strings like this:
The trick here is not just to get used to the new fingering but to let the strings ring together as much as possible. When you are playing across the strings let the previous strings ring. Pay particular attention to when you are placing a new finger down. Make sure you are not touching or muting any other strings, especially the open strings. It may prove difficult at first to not unintentionally mute notes with your finger. It shouldn’t sound like this:
Let’s try another example. Here is a typical A Major Scale:
Now try this A major cross string scale.
You should be seeing and hearing the difference at this point. Some scales are going to work better than others. Scales that have the notes E, B, G, and D in them work best. Unless of course you are using an altered tuning…which would lead to another discussion all together. Let’s look at an E Major cross string scale.
If you’re interested in more information I included a section on cross stringing scales in The Guitarist’s Scale Book. I also have country solos that use cross stringing scales in The Country Licks and Solos Book with DVD and CD . Both of these would help you put this concept into your playing.
Let me know in your comments whether you have questions, or what other information you would like on this topic. Finally, be creative and find ways to make these scales work in your style of guitar playing. Once you get the hang of them, cross string scales are fun to throw in and they add a little ear twist to your sound.