10 Up The Neck Travelling Licks

10 Up The Neck Travelling Licks

Picture of Marcel Ardans

Marcel Ardans

I know this is a big hurdle for bluegrass guitar players. We learn our first fiddle tune melodies, our first licks, our first runs and our first breaks in first position. So how do we demystify the rest of the neck so we can ascend and descend it freely? The good news is you probably don’t need to memorize every note on the fretboard. In fact, most guitar players are visualizing much smaller frameworks as they travel the neck. 

This article is by no means a complete list or methodology to how your favorite players might travel the neck. Rather these licks were plucked from the Jazz and Grass account on Instagram that I help run which promises a new guitar lick everyday. I spent the month of February only posting licks that travel the neck and I’ve selected some of my favorite for this post. 

10. Pentatonic Shapes

This descending lick relies heavily on the pentatonic boxes. But not the big 6 string shapes you’re used to looking at. I’m only thinking about the notes on the E and B strings until I get back down the neck.

A closer analysis will reveal some other unique qualities though. First of all this is a pattern, definitely a variation of the classic bluegrass back stepping pattern that you’ve heard in tunes like Blackberry Blossom. But this time, much more pentatonic and with a slightly different ‘step’. The first measure descends through shapes five and four of the pentatonic scale with no ornamentation. The second measure passes through shape three into shape two but features an added note. Sixth fret on the high E string here is a Bb. Or rather, the minor third in the key of G. A very common blue note in bluegrass language and one that we’ll see again before the lick is over. Measure three finishes off shape two of the pentatonic and once again utilizes the flatted third this time leading to the major third ending in the fourth measure with our open G string.

The pentatonic shapes can be used for descending in lots of ways. Watch my video Descending The Neck Like Tony Rice for more info.

9. SLides

Like the last entry in this list, this lick is mostly pentatonic with the addition of the minor third. But this time with a heavier focus on slides.

Guitarists use slides to switch position regularly. Start this lick with your middle finger on second fret. after the first slide your index finger will be ready for the first chromatic passage. This sets up your ring finger for the slide in the second measure and eventually your pinky sliding into measure three. In fact, the only finger you don’t slide with in this lick is your index finger. Probably the finger you’re most used to sliding with. Something to think about…

8. Escape Notes

Escape notes are something I’ve talked about so many times in my YouTube videos. My first video was actually on that subject. The idea is simple, use an open string even though a fretted alternative is available. 

Let’s look at our lick, the first open string is the open E at the end of the first measure. Fifth fret on the B string is the same note but instead I used the open E string to free up my fretting hand. Continuing into measure two, I have two open E strings. Both could have been fretted on the B string but that would have made the lick, arguably, more difficult. That measure ends with an open B string, rather than fourth fret on the G string which was readily available. All of those open strings made my neck travelling much easier.

Check out my video on Pat Flynn from New Grass Revival for some crazy escape note licks.

7. Chromatic Descending

This lick I can’t help using all the time. I got it from Roy Curry, who uses it as an ascending lick. I used that version in my arrangement of Bill Cheatham (snag the tab here).

Basically, if you move a repeated pattern chromatically, ascending or descending, your brain will accept it with a strong resolution. Here, I’ll prove it with another example…

6. Chromatic Descending 2

This one is a little more cleverly structured. See the repeated pattern at the end of the first measure into the beginning of the second measure? That’s where the gold is and guess what! It uses an escape note on the high E string over and over again. The ending is pentatonic with our old friend the minor third making an appearance.

5. Big Dipper Shapes

Dipper shapes are a big country guitar secret. I should have put them in my 10 Must Know Country Telecaster Licks article but you can’t always do everything right.

Here’s the breakdown, pentatonic scales are five notes. The notes are: 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. To make a diaganol scale we can put 1, 2 and 3 on one string and then 5 and 6 on the next. Rinse repeat. So starting in the middle of measure one, we have frets 3, 5 and 7 on the low E string. Followed by frets 5 and 7 on the A string. That’s one dipper. Looking forward you can see three notes on the D string and two notes on the G string, the pattern continues.

You know what, this is kind of hard to explain in text. Just watch my video about it.

4. Crosspicking

Crosspicking and a well placed escape note can open a lot of doors along the fretboard. This isn’t the best example but I thought I’d include it anyway.

See how crosspicking the first phrase with an open G string let’s me sling shot my way into another pentatonic shape and quickly sweep/crosspick my way up to the high C with a slide? Every step of that process is all about efficiency of travel across the neck.

3. Tony Rice Pull-Offs

Alright, here’s a nice simple one. Tony Rice uses these pull-offs in lots of his famous solos. In fact, I would say he over uses them but that doesn’t meant they aren’t still a useful tool in our arsenal. 

The short explanation is to move in thirds using a pull-off on the higher note. In this case, we’re using our A and D strings. We’re ascending and then finally using our pentatonic knowledge to play a phrase and escape using two escape notes. You can get more creative with those Tony pull-offs though…

2. Tony Rice Pull-Offs 2

In this example I use the same technique to ascend and descend the neck. Once again I’m thinking in thirds with a pull-off but on my D and G strings now. When I get back down I finish with our standard bluegrass lingo.

1. Country Sixths

Nothing will ever be more useful for travelling up and down the neck than country sixths. Sixths are basically a third apart but separated by an octave. They lay out incredibly well on the guitar and work like a super highway up and down the fretboard.

If you want to start to use the neck like a pro, you gotta learn these. Check out my blog post on country guitar or watch this YouTube video to get into sixths in a serious way!


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