It’s like the holy grail of lead guitar hacks…
How to playing all over the neck with just one scale shape?
Usually books and teachers use the following standard “box” positions to teach the major scale:
…But, it’s difficult to see the relationships between these shapes and I have always found the traditional method of teaching scales in their various “box” positions a little too abstract.
As a result, when I learned them, I was never really able to use them as freely and fluently as I would have liked. To me, they were 5 (or sometimes 7 depending on how they are taught) separate pieces of information to learn and digest. I found this approach to be inefficient.
Although technically they are all major scale shapes, I found that I just couldn’t use them in any meaningful way. In short, I was practising the shapes with no idea how to actually use them musically!
So to avoid this, I came up with a way of using a single scale shape in one octave, and applying it to each available position on the neck. This allowed me to simply take the one shape that I knew well, with one set of fingerings, and move it across and up the neck to build a thorough picture of where I was going.
Our examples will be in G major using a fingering many students learn early on, although you can use whichever shapes or scales you already know and are comfortable with in the exactly same way. Here’s our 7 note scale pattern:
The next step is to apply this shape to all the locations it appears on the fretboard in this key, which means paying attention to the location of the root notes (in red) and the fingerings related to them (the numbers within the notes).
Since we can already see an alternative root note in our first position (the 5th fret of the D string), we can use that as a reference to our next position; then simply take our first shape and lift it to the new position:
Notice that this shape doesn’t look exactly the same. That’s because we have to take into account the tuning of the guitar, so on the B string the notes get shifted up a fret to stay in key. Although, the fingering remains the same.
Let’s now put these two positions together, so you can see how they relate to each other, and have a more useful way of visualising both octaves:
Notice the slightly different fingering as you move from the first octave to the second. This will allow a smooth transition into the second octave so you can play the root note here with your 2nd finger, just as you did the first octave.
With experience, you will find other ways to connect scale positions according to where you are coming from and where you are going. Practise playing up and down these scales as relaxed and fluently as possible. Try improvising over a major backing track and get used to how it feels.
More Of The Fretboard…
To help fill out a bit more of the fretboard, we can use the same shape, but this time with the starting note on the 5th string root; in this case, G is at the 10th fret of the A string.
What’s great about this method is instead of learning several different scale patterns in several positions, all you are doing is using the same shape and moving it around; all you need to learn is where the new root notes are on the fretboard! Once again you can see we have also identified another root from which to start our next position – the 12th fret of the G string:
Don’t be confused by the new shape – it’s because of that pesky guitar tuning again! Play it a few times with the suggested fingering and you’ll start to see how it feels just like the other positions but with a position shift from the G string to the B string. It shouldn’t take long to get the feel for this, and you’ll know if you’ve forgotten to make the shift because it will sound awful : )
Once again we can combine these two positions into a slightly larger pattern, and again I have made a small adjustment to the fingering (the same as before) to link them nicely:
If we put both sets of 2 octave scales together, we can see just how much of the fretboard we have covered using only one major scale shape:
You can see we’ve covered a very large area of the fretboard using only 1 shape in 4 positions. If you were to see this on its own, it might look confusing, but as you have built it up using four simple steps, it should give you confidence to break out of using just one “box” position scale for all your soloing and improvising.
With practice, you should be able to identify the G major arpeggios within the shapes, and this technique is a great way of moving those around the neck too!
…And if you are wondering about the gaps on the fretboard that we haven’t covered, well those come with a little more time and experience. Knowing your chosen scale and how it sounds, you’ll be able to gradually fill in those gaps, as well as finding ever more interesting and useful ways to connect the different positions, giving you total mastery of that scale and key across the fretboard. Just remember to practise this in a variety of keys, using alternative fingerings as you feel comfortable!
Ultimately, you will be playing those 5 shapes I showed you at the beginning without realising it, and now they won’t be abstract and confusing, as you will be seeing the scale as a whole, all across the neck in a useful and intuitive way!
Yours in music,
Ian O’Brien Music – Guitar Lessons Norwich – www.ianobrienmusic.co.uk
If you have any questions or are curious about taking the next step with your guitar playing, Drop us an email or call us for a chat on: 07743964206. We’re here to help…