This question is about reading extended scale charts.

Example A: Shows a small segment of notes that are easy to read and practice.

Example B: Shows all possible notes and I don't know where to start or stop the scale.

How do you properly read/parse scale charts that show all of the possible notes in a given scale?

I would like to be able to break these extended charts down into smaller segments for the sake of practice.

Example A: Shows a small segment of notes that are easy to read and practice.

Example B: Shows all possible notes and I don't know where to start or stop the scale.

  • 1
    The top chart looks like it's for a guitar. The bottom chart looks like it's for a bass.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 15:55
  • Check out posts about the CAGED system. I am not endorsing it as a system, but it is extremely useful as a visualization tool to, as you put it, break them down into segments. Simply put, the scales can be seen as a "sliding frame" or superposition of the 5 barred open chord forms for a particular key: music.stackexchange.com/search?q=caged
    – Yorik
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:53
  • The bottom image is a 5 string banjo.
    – SoundAV
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:02
  • @Dekkadeci - look again - there's a 5th string emerging from the 5th fret of the neck. Weird, 'cos the tuning peg seems to be located there - mine's on the head. It's not going to be a bass - and the tuning is off for bass, too. 5 string banjo seems probable.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 15:41
  • @Tim - Yeah, I thought that 5th string was for some sort of bass extension and therefore dismissed it at first. A banjo does seem plausible, though, as the tuning is an alternate tuning for bass.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


I've never, ever liked these charts. For me, a scale goes from tonic to tonic, an octave or two above. Or if the blobs show an A scale, but the top and bottom notes are both E, then it's actually showing E Mixolydian.

One way to read them is to isolate two root (tonic) notes, and play those, and the ones in between. That then sounds like what most of us would call a scale.

I reckon it's portrayed like that to include all notes belonging to the key which are playable without moving the fretting hand (1st diagram), and all available notes (2nd diagram).


I agree with Tim that scales should generally be practiced starting and ending on the tonic note for as many octaves as one wishes to play. However in music melodies and improvised solos don’t often have the tonic and octave as the highest and lowest notes. That is where scale positions can be very handy.

Your diagram A is a scale position. There are a total of five for most scales. They then repeat an octave higher. It shows all notes available vertically within reach of your fingers with no or a minimum of shifting.

Here is a diagram of the 5 major pentatonic scale positions for G major pentatonic (note the first fret is not visible):

enter image description here

They are stacked vertically for a reason. It shows the notes the positions share in common. You will notice that the right side of position 1 is the same as the left side of position 2, and so on.

If you are going to practice scale positions it is best to work towards learning and memorizing all 5 of them. My approach to practicing scale positions is to start and end on the lowest tonic note. Starting on the low tonic I will play all the way to the highest note then back down past the tonic to the lowest note then back up to the tonic. This sonically gives you the sense of playing in the key of the scale pattern.

Here are two examples of this: For pattern 1 the lowest note happens to be the tonic so I start and end there. For pattern 2 I will start and end on the G on the D string, 5th fret, first ascending then descending then ascending back to my ending note, the G on the D string.

Your practice choices are only limited by your imagination and research. You can play them in smaller segments, use scale patterns such as 132435 or 123234345.

As you get more comfortable you can even start adapting your fingering to transition between one position and another. For example when you get to the G string on position 1 instead of 1-3 you can finger 1-1 and switch to position 2.

Here is an all inclusive diagram of the same scale like your example B:

enter image description here

Even though I filled in the roots in yellow, this diagram is not quite as helpful as the first diagram, especially since the individual notes are not labeled but it can still be useful. I included red brackets to indicate the scale positions so you can make a comparison between the two.

Some uses for this type of diagram is it clearly allows you to see the intervals of the scale by following it on one string. You can even use this diagram to practice playing scales or scale segments on only one or two strings as well.

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