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After learning the CAGED 'open string' scales, what scales to do next? In what order or what way? When I learn a new scale, it seems to have the effect of displacing my ability to play other scales correctly, and when I re-learn the older scales, my finger seems automatically want to go, before I can stop them, to where I know to be the wrong place to go when I do new scales. Is there a way out of this mess?

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General tip for learning without forgetting: Keep practising the old stuff regularly, don't take a break and then go back to it. You can lessen the time devoted to old stuff of course, just play enough to stay "in shape". –  Matthew Read Sep 22 '11 at 15:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are six canonical two-octave major scale fingerings for guitar, three with the root on the E-string and three with the root on the A-string, and they come in pairs---meaning, each root-on-E-string scale is paired with an root-on-A-string scale. You'll see what I mean in a moment.

Here are the root-on-E-string scales, in the key of A:

Pattern 1 (start with the 2nd finger):

$E 5 7 $A 4 5 7 $D 4 6 7 $G 4 6 7 $B 5 7 $e 4 5

Pattern 2 (start with the 4th finger):

$E 5 $A 2 4 5 $D 2 4 $G 1 2 4 $B 2 3 5 $e 2 4 5

Note: A variation for this fingering plays the seventh note on the D-string, 6th fret instead of the G-string, 1st fret. I think this variation is easier to play, but breaks the pairing with its root-on-A-scale equivalent.

Pattern 3 (start with the 1st finger):

$E 5 7 9 $A 5 7 9 $D 6 7 9 $G 6 7 9 $B 7 9 10

Here are the root-on-A-string scales, in the key of D:

Pattern 4 (start with the 2nd finger; play the last two notes with the 4th finger):

$A 5 7 $D 4 5 7 $G 4 6 7 $B 5 7 8 $e 5 7 9 10

Pattern 5 (start with the 4th finger; on the high E-string, play the A with the 4th finger and the B with the 1st finger, shifting your whole hand):

$A 5 $D 2 4 5 $G 2 4 $B 2 3 5 $e 2 3 5 7 9 10

Pattern 6 (start with the 1st finger):

$A 5 7 9 $D 5 7 9 $G 6 7 9 $B 7 9 10 $e 7 9 10

As you can see, each root-on-E-string is paired with a root-on-A-string scale, and the fingerings for a pair of scales are almost identical. There are three pairs of scales so that you can play a scale beginning with the first, second, or fourth finger of the left hand.

Advantages of These Six Patterns

None of these scales involves an open string, so they are completely transposable. You may ask: why six patterns? Isn't one good enough? The advantage of having these six patterns is that in any given hand position, you're only ever a one-fret shift away from 11 out of the 12 possible major scales. For example, let's say you're in 4th position (meaning, your index finger is at the 4th fret). Then with at most a one-fret shift, you can play:

  • G Major (shift down one fret, play Pattern 3)
  • A♭ Major (no shift, play Pattern 3; or shift down one fret, play Pattern 1)
  • A Major (no shift, play Pattern 1)
  • B♭ Major (shift up one fret, play Pattern 1; or shift down one fret, play Pattern 2)
  • B Major (no shift, play Pattern 2)
  • C Major (shift up one fret, play Pattern 3; or shift down one fret, play Pattern 6)
  • D♭ Major (no shift, play Pattern 6; or shift down one fret, play Pattern 4)
  • D Major (no shift, play Pattern 4)
  • E♭ Major (shift down one fret, play Pattern 5; or shift up one fret, play Pattern 4)
  • E Major (no shift, play Pattern 5)
  • F Major (shift up one fret, play Pattern 5)

That's a lot of flexibility with only six patterns, especially since their paired nature makes them easy to learn.

Practice Suggestions

In my practice regimen, I pick a pattern and play it beginning on the 5th fret, then the 6th, the 7th, up the 12, and back down again. Then I go on to the next scale pattern.

Some other scale practice exercises I use include:

  • play the scale up and down repeatedly without stopping, beginning at the 5th fret on the way up, then the 6th fret on the way down, then the 7th fret on the way back up, etc.
  • play the scale in groups of three, as in:

Exercise: Groups of Three

$E 5 7 $A 2 $E 7 $A 2 3 2 3 5 3 5 $D 2
  • play the scale in groups of four, as above.
  • play the scale in thirds, as in:

Exercise: Scale in Thirds

$E 5 $A 2 $E 7 $A 3 2 5 3 $D 2

When I was first learning the scale patterns, I picked one of these exercises and used it with all six patterns, every day for a week; then I moved on to another exercise. These days, I pick one of these exercises per day and practice it with all six scale patterns. I rotate the exercises to avoid getting in a rut.

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what is your opinion or experience of music.stackexchange.com/questions/3136/… ? –  user1217 Sep 25 '11 at 14:50

The CAGED system is a great way to learn Chord inversions and thus is suitable to learning scales.

Unfortunately, CAGED is also quite limiting in that it focuses mainly on the major chords of C,A,G,E,D... That is, the CAGED system looks at the first position shapes of these chords and moves them up the neck of the guitar. So literally, your scale work would be relative to a C SHAPE, A SHAPE, etc etc.

But there's an important factor relating to to 2 of the shapes: The D shape is really in transition to the C shape.

enter image description here

So in fact, there are SUB shapes in between the CAGED chords. These SUB shapes are usually made up of 3 notes, one per string (so max three strings). If you figure out the 6 patterns from Alex's post above and relate them back to the CAGED shapes WITH THE SUB SHAPES, you'll see that the symmetry in the scale pattern usually breaks along the same notes where the D shape transitions to C shape.

Hope this makes sense.

So taking this all the way back... start with E.
You should aim to do E scales firstly within frets 1 and 3 from the lowest string to the highest string.

Then you transition up to the D shape and again, go from the lowest strings to the highest strings and back.

Then transition to the C shape and low to high strings again.

Then transition to the A shape and low to high strings again.

Then transition to the G shape and low to high again.

And finally back to E. So in fact, it's a EDCAG.

It's always better to relate scales to a chord shapes - particularly in a structured progression. That's why learning Blues is such a great introduction to the art of soloing. All of the CAGED and EDCAG shapes are there... but it also throws in transitions between Major and Minor...

ie. Key of A

  • i (Major scale) iv (Minor scale) v (Major scale)
  • A Dominant 7 - D9 - E7

Start with the A shape (first position) which gives way to the G/E shapes. The E shape for the A Chord (5th Fret) can be used for all the Stevie Ray Vaughn/Hendrix licks you can throw a stick at. Which then slides up to the D shape and the sub D/C shapes leading up to the 12th fret.

Rinse and Repeat.

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While I agree that learning the feel of a scale is important, I think knowing the notes is really important, too. So my suggestion is to practice extremely slowly, and think of the notes that you are playing, and not only the shape and feel. If you are burning through your scales only for technical facility, and not also for the content, you are not going slowly enough. For this sort of practice you should go no faster than you can say the notes out loud while you play them. (I'd do this on your open string scales, too.)

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The way I have always done it is to practice and learn the feel of a scale. I'm not yet at the stage where I fully understand all the modes - takes a lot of practicing - but I know that all the scales in an octave feel different, so what I do is cycle through them; 5 repetitions up and down of one type, then 5 of another etc.

This helps your fingers learn a lot of different correct way, and to me it seems like the feel I'm aiming for mentally steers my fingers to the correct scale/mode.

Reading that back seems very odd, and possibly not helpful if your mind isn't in the same place as mine - I guess the key is to not just practice one type of scale, but to learn them in parallel so you can identify the differences and switch between them easily.

But it comes down to just lots of practice - same as ever.

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One reason why scale fingerings can be harder to remember on fretboard (than it is on keyboard) is because the octave can be fingered in so many ways there. Instead of trying to remember all the ways ( on http://i-love-guitar.com/images/exoctaveshapes1.gif ) all at once, stick with the one between the 2nd and the 5th strings to begin with.

Try practicing just the one octave shown below to begin with. After you have mastered the 7 modes of the diatonic scale (arranged in level of difficulty below, which happens to form a diatonic circle of fifths), extend your range above and below that octave gradually (one step at a time) in order to learn other ways of fingering the octave well.

That is, each time you extend your range of scale runs using the diagrams below, tell yourself "i am going to run exactly an octave from THIS string to THAT string now" before you start doing it. Otherwise, your hand can literally run faster than your mind, and you don't learn as much by practicing even though your fingers are doing the same thing - because your mind is not doing the same thing.

+  +()+()+--+()+
+  +ti+DO+--+()+
+  +so+--+la+
+  +re+--+mi+fa+
+  +()+--+()+DO+
+  +()+()+--+()+

+  +()+()+--+()+
+     +SO+--+()+
+  +re+--+mi+fa+
+  +la+--+ti+do+
+  +()+()+--+SO+
+  +()+()+--+()+

      +()+--+()+--+()+
      +RE+--+()+()+
   +la+--+ti+do+
   +mi+fa+--+so+
   +()+()+--+RE+
+()+--+()+--+()+

      +()+--+()+()+
      +LA+--+()+()+
   +mi+fa+--+so+
   +ti+do+--+re+
+()+--+()+--+LA+
+()+--+()+--+()+

      +()+--+()+()+
      +MI+()+--+()+
   +ti+do+--+re+
+fa+--+so+--+la+
+()+--+()+--+MI+
+()+--+()+--+()+

+()+--+()+()+
+la+--+TI+()+
+fa+--+so+
+do+--+re+--+mi+
+()+--+()+--+TI+
+()+--+()+()+--+

+()+--+()+()+
+mi+FA+--+()+
+do+--+re+
+so+--+la+--+ti+
+()+--+()+FA+
+()+--+()+()+
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