When I studied guitar at university, I learned one of the most foundational methods for learning the guitar fretboard and learning a variety of guitar scales up and down the fretboard. You can learn this too. You’ll just need some time and a bit of dedication.
Before we get started, I want to draw attention to our recent post on music theory for major guitar scales, which will be essential for understanding this lesson. Once you’ve read that, come back and continue.
Introduction to the Guitar Scales Method
In the previous mentioned lesson on music theory for major scales, we learned that a C major scale has no sharps or flats, and we learned how to construct major scales in other keys by modifying the C major scale. Knowing this basic theory is crucial, and we can use it to learn any scale on the guitar fretboard by starting with the C major scale.
Because of this, we are going to learn the C major scale in all positions over the fretboard to provide a basis for learning every other guitar scale out there. Again, I learned this method my first semester of taking guitar in university and attribute it to giving me a comfortable grasp of the entire fretboard.
Identifying Guitar Scale Positions
The guitar fretboard can be divided up into roughly five scale positions from the 1st fret to the 12th fret of the guitar. If we can see these scale positions, we have a better way of navigating up and down the fretboard. Playing scales around a scale position also allows you to keep your hand in one place and access any notes within the scale.
Guitar Scale Position #1: C Major Scale
The 1st position of a C major scale starts on the low open E string and roughly spans the 1st to 4th fret.
Guitar Scale Position #2: C Major Scale
The 2nd position starts on the G note of the 3rd fret of the low E string and roughly spans the 2nd to 6th fret.
Guitar Scale Position #3: C Major Scale
The 3rd position starts on the A note of the 5th fret of the low E string and roughly spans the 4th to 8th fret.
Guitar Scale Position #4: C Major Scale
The 5th position starts on the C note of the 8th fret of the low E string and roughly spans the 7th to 10th fret.
Guitar Scale Positions #5: C Major Scale
The 5th position starts on the D note of the 10th fret of the low E string and roughly spans the 9th to 13th fret.
You’ll notice that a lot of these positions have some overlap with the other positions. This is to be expected.
Your homework is to learn all five scale positions in C major. Make it your goal to learn a scale position per week. Work on not only memorizing the patterns but the individual notes. As you go through each scale position, verbalize each note that you are playing.
Why This is Important to Learn
C major is one of the most basic music scales to understand since it doesn’t have any flats or sharps. Learning your C major scale in the five scale positions across the fretboard provides an excellent foundation from which you’ll learn other major scales, and then eventually, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and pentatonic scales, in all twelve keys.
For example, say we want to learn a G major scale across the guitar fretboard. We know that a G major scale has one sharp–an F#. If we know all our C major scale positions, all we have to do is change all the F’s to F#’s by raising them a half step. Pretty simple, huh?
After you learn your C major scale in all five positions, you will then move to learning the other 11 major scales in all five positions. For the next several weeks, Guitar Friendly will be doing a post per week on these remaining major scales. You’ll want to make sure you’re subscribed by email or RSS so you don’t miss any of these updates.
How to Apply this Knowledge to Soloing
A common misconception is that in order to be a pro at soloing you need to know as many different type of scale patterns and positions as possible. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A good guitar soloist doesn’t just know a variety of different patterns, but he/she knows how the notes in these patterns interact and relate, with not only the notes in that particular pattern, but also, the notes outside of that pattern. You’ll get severely stuck as a guitar player if you are only learning guitar scale patterns.
This is why it’s important to be well acquainted with the theory behind guitar scales. You might also want to consider Craig Bassett’s Guitar Scale Mastery System. The reason I mention it is because it is one of the most comprehensive online guitar courses for gaining a mastery of the fretboard and then knowing how to translate that knowledge into your actual guitar playing and soloing. His course goes beyond just looking at patterns and into how these notes interact and relate with each other.
All to say, as much as playing guitar is a physical activity, it’s also one that requires a lot of mental energy in order to be truly successful. As you continue to learn new scale patterns and songs, keep your mind engaged to what you’re playing and learning.
Stay tuned. More guitar scale lessons to come!