Dumb Shit Guitarists Do: Playing in Boxes

One of the fastest ways to advance on guitar is not to create more work for yourself. Guitarists seem to be masters at this, and the ‘how do I break out of scale boxes and patterns’ stumbling block is a prime example. If you’ve been duped into learning the shitty CAGED system or can’t be bothered to learn music theory, you’ll be heavily reliant on shapes and patterns. While this is all well and good in the beginning and will probably get you laid on a regular basis, you’ll need to up your game at some point, or the only thing biting you in the ass will be those boxes.

I can see the attraction of scale boxes – they tell your fingers where to go to make the right noises over other patterns (chords). The problem with boxes is that at some point most guitarists feel the need to ‘break out of them’ as if there were some undiscovered notes on the fretboard that will elevate their lead playing to panty-wetting status.

To Box or Not to Box
This is the dilemma. If you’re going to play in boxes, it’s probably worth studying guitarists that CAN play in boxes like Eric Clapton and the box master BB King. What these guys have (had) going for them was melody and phrasing. Chances are that if you’re fleeing from boxes, you either need to get more melodic or improve your phrasing.

How Not to Get Stuck in Boxes
This may sound obvious but the best way to break out of boxes is not to learn frickin’ boxes in the first place – see what I mean about not creating more work for yourself? If you don’t learn the box in the first place, you don’t have to waste another six months breaking out of it.

This is probably more psychological than anything else but take a look at the physical space you have on the fretboard when playing in boxes:

how to break free of boxes guitar

The physical distance across the fretboard is very limiting, you can go up or down but you’re going to run out of fretboard fairly quickly, especially if you’re A Minor Pentatonicking it.

Check out the horizontal view:

break out of boxes guitar

Now look at all the places you can go – you’ve got the entire fretboard at your disposal instead of a crappy, creativity-sapping box pattern.

So, what do I do now?

All you need do now is learn your scales, arpeggios and whatnot in a horizontal manner and you’ll be free to roam the fretboard like a boss. For this, check out the Fretboard Motion series of lessons over at unlocktheguitar.net.

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