The amazing thing about a seemingly simply technique like string skipping is that it can go from easy and simplistic all the way up to incredibly complicated and advanced.
In this guide, I’ll be walking you through the basics of string skipping so that you’ll be well on your way to exploring more interesting and complex ideas. Are you ready?
String Skipping Exercise 1. Chicken Pickin’
Let’s start with the absolute basics. Here’s a string skipping exercise in the key of C using the third and first strings. The root note is always on the first string, while the major or minor third is always on the third string.
So, in essence, the first two notes you play outline an E minor chord. G is the minor third, while E is the root note of the chord.
Continue up the fretboard in much the same way, remembering to swap out your index finger for your ring finger on the first string depending on whether or not you’re playing a major third or minor third. I tend to keep my middle finger on the third string the whole time while alternating between my index and ring finger as the shapes alternate.
Don’t forget to practice this exercise backwards too!
2. Octave Octane
The only thing we can do now is up the ante, right? The first example was pretty basic. This one also isn’t that hard, but what makes it a little more challenging is the fact you’re playing the fourth and first strings, skipping over the third and second entirely.
This exercise is effectively in the key of F, though you don’t start on the root of the scale. But in essence, you’ll be playing the major scale up the fretboard using octaves. An octave, as you know, is comprised of two notes that are the same musical pitch but at a different frequency. So the first couple of notes you play are both E, and from there it moves on to F, G, A, and so forth.
Octaves can be used in a variety of musical situations, and you don’t necessarily have to play them the way shown here, as there are many different ways of executing octaves. For the purpose of this exercise, however, I hope that you’ll follow the tab exactly.
Although not shown here, don’t forget that you can also practice this exercise backwards too.
3. Perfecting Your Fifths Is Another String Skipping Exercise Worth Doing
I think you’re probably beginning to see where this is going. We’ve done an exercise where we skipped over the second string. We’ve done another exercise where we’ve skipped over the second and third strings. Now it’s time to try an exercise in which we skip over the second, third, and fourth strings.
This is where things can get a little trickier, because most guitarists don’t make this kind of wide skip without the necessity to do so. But that’s also what makes this such a great exercise.
This example is in the key of A. It involves playing the major scale on the fifth string and first string, usually on the same fret. As with earlier examples, I use my middle finger on the lower string (the fifth), while using my index or ring finger on the first string. In terms of intervals, the first is on the fifth string, and the perfect fifth (or 10th) is on the first string.
Since there is no D# in the key of A, we have to compensate a little when we get to G# in the scale by playing the 11th fret on the fifth, and the 10th fret on the first. Other than that, there isn’t much need to think about where your fingers need to go.
4. Spider Stepping
You guessed it – in this exercise, we’re going to be skipping over every string in between the first and sixth strings (meaning the second, third, fourth, and fifth strings).
To make things interesting, I made this a chromatic scale exercise instead of a major scale exercise. But once you get used to the pattern, you shouldn’t find it to be too over-the-top.
The easiest way to perform this example is by alternating your index finger and middle finger. More specifically, you would begin with your index finger on the sixth string, and your middle finger on the first string. Then, without moving to different frets, you would move your index finger to the first string, and your middle finger to the sixth string. Then you would repeat this same pattern up the fretboard, remembering to move up a fret every time you complete a single iteration of the pattern.
You can take this exercise as far up on the neck as you wish to go. You can always play it in reverse too.
5. Skip Along
The final exercise is still pattern-oriented, but a little more adventurous compared to the last four examples.
It is in the key of E, and yes, we are using the major scale again. But we aren’t just playing thirds, fifths or octaves this time – we’re using all of those intervals!
In this example, the sequence goes like this: octave, third (or 10th, if you will), fifth, repeat. You’ll never be skipping more than two strings at a time, but this is still trickier than it looks (it also sounds pretty interesting).
I would like to say that this is the be-all end-all of string skipping techniques, but there’s so much more you can do. We’ve covered just enough to open you up to the potential.
As you can probably see, there are a lot of interesting possibilities with string skipping. And in case there’s any doubt, guitarists like Eric Johnson are well-known for their fluidity and ability to play amazing melodies and licks using this technique, so don’t underestimate the value of exercises like these.
You should now be ready to come up with ideas of your own. Try creating several custom string skipping exercises that challenge you to work on your weak spots and bring your playing to the next level.