I'm looking for a particular word for a concept in guitar playing.

A "shape" of an Am arpeggio

This image shows a set of positions in the fretboard. It is usually used to show easily how to play a scale or an arpeggio. Sometimes it is linked to a fret, sometimes not, emphasizing the "transposable" nature of the fretboard of the guitar (like in this example, no fret are specified, even if notes are labeled).

I've seen it called "shapes" and sometimes "boxes". Is there other more widely used or accurate term for this ?

I'm not looking for the word "scale", but a more specific guitar term that means "a set of positions on the fretboard".

EDIT : As ggcg stated, my use of "position" can be misleading here. As position, I mean a pair of a string number and a fret number, referring to a physical position on the fretboard. What better word I could use here instead of "position" could be another question in itself.

  • 2
    The term "position" has a very specific meaning in guitar. It usually refers to the "fret" where your first finger resides. So if you played the above pattern starting on A (as indicated), in standard tuning, that would be the 5th fret and hence position V, or fifth position. Your use of "position" could get confusing. But I have always known these diagrams as "box" diagrams for chords, scales, and arpeggios. As soon as I see it I'd identify the scale. Yours looks like a minor 7th arpeggio
    – user50691
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:10
  • So your guess is "box". Ok. About the misuse of the word position, how would you call a "position" on the fretboard, a cell that could be represented by a string number and a fret number ? See, this kinda illustrates my struggle in guitar learning/teaching, I see words being used for different things, have the lack of some works, and I really feel the need of a normalization. Thanks for your comment :)
    – 021
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:41
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    The problem is that not all such diagrams form "boxes" per se.
    – user50691
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:49
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    I am not sure how to address your other point. "Position" has a definite meaning it defines a static location on the fret board relative to the nut. Such diagrams like the one you have are meant to show the relative placement of notes for a "movable" pattern. So your example would be C-7 when played on the 8th fret.
    – user50691
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:51
  • 1
    Box patterns usually stay in or near one position. An example of one that doesn't would by the three note per string Major scale which climbs up three positions as it goes. I ends in a different position than it starts.
    – user50691
    Sep 8, 2020 at 19:24

3 Answers 3


What comes to mind for me is fingering pattern, and is usually coupled with a qualifier such as chord fingering pattern or scale fingering pattern or melodic fingering pattern, these patterns are movable up and down the fretboard according to the root note of whichever key matches the particular song we are speaking about. The pattern in the picture appears to me to be a fingering pattern for an Am7 arpeggio, so I would refer to this as an arpeggio fingering pattern.

  • I like this term. Quite concise without overlapping with another term of guitar. I haven't seen it used that much though. Thanks.
    – 021
    Sep 9, 2020 at 12:49

Position comes to mind. It seems there are five available on guitar. Their numbers are 1-5, but not all seem to align.

A 'position' is a place where there are lots of notes from a particular key available across the strings, going from the lowest to highest available without stretching - so a four fret 'box'. Each 'position' overlaps the next.

The one you show is for the minor pentatonic (strangely missing the D notes), but as always with these 'boxes', they span more than the usual two octaves that would be associated with scales or arpeggios. That's because when one reaches the top string, there's often one or two extra notes that can be reached easily, therefore they're pu in too.

After teaching for many years, I have to admit I never name the 'positions' - it can become confusing - and in fact rarely if ever address any position using all avaiable notes from a key.

The beauty of the concept is that when one 'position' is learned, the other eleven are readily avaiable as exact copies, simply knowing between which frets each key lives.


"Box" is certainly the common term, and "shape" is self explanatory. "Patterns" is generic, but used a lot in method titles like "patterns for improvisation."

Personally I don't really like the term "box" and the idea it conveys. At least to me it seems to promote staying stuck in a box instead of learning how to change positions. But in Guitarland it hard to get away from that term.

I prefer to name the actual musical thing: scale, arpeggio, tetrachord, etc. Your picture looks like a minor pentatonic scale with the fourth omitted, or a minor seventh chord arpeggio.

  • I guess you meant "shape" and not "sharp". I find myself in need of a proper term for this, especially to explain that what we usually play is a just one "box of a scale/arpeggio" and that there's several of them.
    – 021
    Sep 9, 2020 at 21:06
  • @021, yes that was a typo. Corrected now. Thanks. Sep 10, 2020 at 12:39

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