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I have learned all the boxes, of let's say, the major scale. How do i play this across the whole fretboard?

When people solo, they play a scale across the neck. So how i do this? Everyone that i know that can do this, say it's easy, yet no one has been able to explain this to me.

  • Are you saying that you can play all the notes on one string only, from bottom to top, or do you mean you don't know how to move from octave to octave across the neck? – Stinkfoot Nov 20 '17 at 18:55
  • It's not clear at all what you mean by 'I have learned all the notes....of the major scale. Do you mean you know their names? Where they might be found on the fingerboard? Ask the people you know to show you what they do. There's actually no need for explanation at this stage. Just copy them. But the question is unclear. – Tim Nov 20 '17 at 19:34

10 Answers 10

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scale master This is why I highly recommend learning the scale by scale degrees rather than simple box positions that don't show any of that data. Knowing your note names is also important to know where your tonic is, but I'd argue that knowing your scale degrees is just as important since it allows you to still play the same patterns up and down the neck but in different positions while also knowing which notes are which.

This diagram is something I made myself and it clearly shows where all the notes are. If you take the left most position as the open strings this diagram spells out the F major scale, with low E as the 7th degree, but any of these positions can be played starting on any fret. I would suggest you not shift up a fret between G and B like a lot of other methods suggest because the defeats the purpose of the closer tuning in that it allows you not to shift and lets you play only 2 notes on either the G or B string, depending on which position you are at. That means you should end up playing the same notes on the 1st and 6th strings. Two of the positions consist of 4 fret spans (3 and 7) while the other five consist of 5 fret spans (1, 2, 4, 5, 6).

scale master slide As far as shifting up and down the neck, it's simply a matter of making sure you're hitting all the scale degrees in order. In my second example you can see a first position pattern that shifts up every time you get to the 7th degree. The fingering pattern would be 124, 124, 1 slide 124, 124 slide 4, 124, 124 slide 34. Technically you can slide between any notes you want, and there are practically an infinite amount of ways you could play this. Knowing how to play these scales up and down a single string will help you memorize this. enter image description here Lastly, here's a scale pattern that shifts up the entire neck, from fret 1 F on low E to fret 24 bent to the highest F. There are two, 3 note pattern played per string and a vertical shift up a string between them. The fingering would look like this: 124 slide 124, 124 slide 124, 134 slide 123, 123, 1233, 123 bend. Note the dropped pinky as you get past fret 12.

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For E minor (for example):

-------------------------------------------------------14-15-17/19-20-
-------------------------------------------12/13-15/17----------------
--------------------------------9-11-12/14----------------------------
----------------------7/9-10-12---------------------------------------
-------------5-7/9-10-------------------------------------------------
-0-2/3-5/7-8----------------------------------------------------------

If you know the notes on the neck, then you just have to plan out the scales and practice them and work on how you are going to handle the fingering.

  • 1
    What's happened to 5th st. 0, 2, 3, and 4th st. 0, 2, 4 etc? This is the confusing part for beginners. So few notes, so many different places to play them... – Tim Nov 20 '17 at 19:37
  • @Tim I don't understand your question at all. What do you mean by "what's happened to..."? – Todd Wilcox Nov 20 '17 at 19:48
  • The notes I enquired about are all part of the E minor scale. They're not shown in the display, but could have been. – Tim Nov 20 '17 at 20:51
  • @Tim The point of my answer was to show how to play an E minor scale that spans the whole neck. Playing the frets you mentioned (the notes are there but I suggested playing them on different frets from the ones you mentioned) would make it harder to play the whole neck, not easier. – Todd Wilcox Nov 20 '17 at 21:01
  • Point taken !!! – Tim Nov 21 '17 at 7:54
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One way to play the scales all over the neck is to practice the 5 shapes. Look at the 5 images on this page: https://eatsleepguitar.com/2014/03/20/the-foundation-pentatonic-diatonic-scales/

All the red and grey dots represent a scale at that position. You'll notice the red dots represent the Pentatonic scale. When you add the grey dots to them, you get the Diatonic scale.

The 5 shapes cover the whole neck. Practice one shape in its position, over and over, until you can play it without thinking about it, over a metronome. Then practice the next one, then the next one, etc.

Solos can be improvised by playing the notes in these shapes. The pentatonic scale is particularly useful because all its notes sound good together.

Another good exercice is to write the name of the notes on the dots. It will give a sense of the scale and where the root is, as well the 4th and 5th, etc., and help you to naturally change modes by moving the tonal-root within the same shape.

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Since you are just beginning, here is a very simple way to get you started:

If you can only play the notes on one string, once you get to the 5th fret, all you have to do is subtract 5 from the fret number and move to the next string to get the same note.

For example: On the E string, fret 7 will be the note B. Subtract 5 from 7 and you get 2. Move to the next string - the A string - and play on the 2nd fret - you will get the same note - B - which is one step (two frets) above A. If you are on the 5th fret of the E string, that's the note A - subtract 5 and you've got 0 - that means the 0 fret - the open string without fretting at all, your open A string.

That works on the bottom 4 strings - E-A-D-G.

From the 3rd to the 2nd string, G->B, subtract 4: If you're on the 7th fret of the G string, that's the note D. Subtract 4 and you've got 3 - that's the third fret of the B string - the same note, D.

Going from string 2 (B) to string 1 (E) - again subtract 5.

Of course there is much more to all this, but this method will give you a start and teach you something about how to move around the neck. Important:
Pay attention to the positions of your fingers when you play across the strings - they form patterns. You'll quickly learn where the notes are without having to count.

I am not guitar teacher - this is how I learned on my own, many moons ago and that was mostly for bass, where there is much less emphasis on 'shapes' than there is for guitar. Bona-fide teachers probably have better ways, but this way is straightforward, and it works.

(If you learn some theory - highly recommended - there are much easier ways too.)

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To answer "When people solo, they play a scale across the neck. So how i do this?"

Learn the Stairway to Heaven guitar solo for this. Why? Because it is a great introduction to playing a solo across the neck using the A minor /A minor pentatonic scales to something that is very familiar.

Starting at the 5th position for the opening then proceeding up the neck with phrases to the octave 17th position of where you started.

You will learn phrasing and how the patterns connect as you move from one position to the next.

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/led_zeppelin/stairway_to_heaven_tabs_93931

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I believe that what you refer to as "scales" are not just notes in a row, I think your friends play in fact patterns and licks.

Actually it's not that useful to change shape while playing a straight scale, usually you do that to repeat a pattern but make it sound different by inheriting the fingerings while changing the degrees you are playing. It's a common thing guitarists do.

As an example look at the diagrams below:

1) you could play an a major shape in one box (i'm using 3 notes per string boxes here)

2) You can switch shape every 2 strings and repeat the exact same pattern over different octaves

3) you can switch shape every 3 notes

4) you can switch shape following an arpeggio.

Keep in mind that it is simpler and more effective to not play all notes in a row but to play patterns or other musical ideas over these fingerings

enter image description here

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Nobody except Tama and Ramillies has given you the mechanical answer I think you're probably looking for. And neither Tama and Ramillies were as clear as they could have been. Let's break things down in more detail, using the box method you're familiar with. (Tama's recommendation about scale degrees is a good one, but it doesn't help you right now. This will.)

Let's say you're moving up the neck in a particular passage during your solo. You know ahead of time which is your lowest note and which is your highest note for that passage. Given that information, you first decide which box it makes the most sense to start out with and which box you want to end up in. (That could vary depending on the previous passage and the upcoming passage, but that's irrelevant to your actual question, so let's not get sidetracked.)

So your real question is: How do I move from box to box?

Tama and Ramillies each give a different answers to this, and Tama especially was unclear--her answer was almost more implied than clearly stated (she says "The fingering pattern would be 124, 124, 1 slide 124" without actually explaining what she means), so I'll spell it out. Fortunately, her diagrams do help. To do what she's talking about, you slide from position to position. Here's what that means:

  1. When you reach the note from which you begin the slide, you do not continue playing in the current box. Yes, you play that note with the correct finger for the box, just as you've practiced it when you learned that box. But not the next note. Instead of playing the next note the way you should for that box, which would be with a different finger, you use the same finger to move up the same string until you get to the next note in the solo (passage).
  2. Once you reach that subsequent note, play it with the same finger. That's what is meant by "slide". (You can also slur while you slide--i.e. keep your finger pressed down hard on the string so the string continues to sound as you move--but only do so as a deliberate choice for special effect. Your normal practice should be to slightly mute the string as your finger moves.)
  3. At that point you are either in a new box or at least about halfway there. Here Tama's diagram is illustrative, as she shows various points in a scale at which you might slide on your way up or down the neck. (To go down the neck, you just reverse the direction of the slide.)
  4. If you are only halfway to the next box, do another slide to get all the way there. I find this clumsy to do on the same string I just finished sliding on, so I always do this on the next string with a different finger.
  5. Once you get to the new box, continue playing subsequent notes with your normal fingering for that box until you either finish the passage or until you need to slide again, in which case follow the slide procedure once more.

Ramillies gives you a different method--instead of sliding, which necessitates staying on the same string and moving your finger up or down it, Ramillies advocates using open notes to jump from position to position. However, s/he fails to break down what that actually entails (although, once again, the accompanying diagram does help after you understand what's being talked about). What you'll be doing is using the open note as a kind of trampoline to jump from one box to the next. To use that method, here's what you need to do:

  1. Register which open notes occur in the scale in which you're playing. (Or, more properly, which open notes occur in the solo passage--the notes in the passage might not include all notes in the scale, and conversely the solo might include notes outside the scale. For the sake of simplicity, however, these instructions assume that your passage does not include notes outside the scale.)
  2. Register which of those notes also happen to occur in the scale box from which you begin (your starting box).
  3. Given the position of those notes in the starting box, decide which open note makes the most sense to use as your "trampoline". (For example, if one of the open notes that happens to be present in your starting box also happens to come directly after your starting note, it probably doesn't make much sense to use that open note, as you'd only play a single note in your starting box before playing the open note and jumping away.)
  4. Play up to the note in the passage just before that open note.
  5. Now play the open note you decided to use as a "trampoline", and simultaneously jump your hand up (or down) the neck, placing it at the next box.
  6. Now play the next note in your passage with the correct finger for the new box.
  7. Continue playing subsequent notes in the new box, with your normal fingering for that box, until you either finish the passage or until you need to jump once more, in which case follow the jumping procedure again.

As Ramillies points out, his/her method has its advantages, but it requires more thought so is more difficult to apply on the fly when improvising; and sometimes (though admittedly rarely) the open note may be two strings away from its predecessor or successor rather than just one. In that case it's still OK for fingerstyle but if you're using a pick it requires a string skip, which IMO negates the advantage of avoiding the slide. As a result I've used it when playing classical or flamenco passages, but I've never bothered with rock/jazz (electric). Still, it's your poison to pick.

  • Playing a solo using occasional open string notes often sounds quite amateur - and using open strings anyway precludes any opportunity to change the key easily of something already learned. – Tim Nov 21 '17 at 8:15
  • @Tim: I should have pointed out that everything I wrote should be taken from the viewpoint of the solo classical guitar. It's not possible to transpose these pieces (and there's no reason to do it). By the way, I fail to see what is wrong or amateurish with using open strings. They make hard chords easy and impossible chords hard (at least some). Moreover they give a more powerful sound than fretted strings. If you're letting go of them, you're deliberately giving up a big part of the dynamic range of the (acoustic) guitar (which is poor anyway, so you should better use it as much as you can). – Ramillies Nov 21 '17 at 17:58
  • I missed the fact that this is aimed at playing with a classical type guitar. However, it's impossible to use vibrato on open strings, and they do sound odd in amongst fretted strings, hence the comment. – Tim Nov 21 '17 at 18:59
  • @Tim: You didn't miss it, I failed to say that :--). (Thanks to you, I now added it.) Otherwise, I fully agree that it can be a little bit tricky to make the open string sound consistently among the fretted strings, and the point with vibrato is a good one as well (I didn't mention it because (I think) you would hardly do one in a swift scale run.) – Ramillies Nov 21 '17 at 19:24
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    I agree, I implied my answer somewhat. I do use the 7 patterns as boxes but I also use the 7 three note patterns to know how the boxes are formed, and I believe this is more useful than only memorizing the full scale box. What I mean is the three patterns of notes you get from the major scale; two whole steps (123, 456, 567), whole step-half step (234, 671), and half step-whole step (345, 712). This makes one more flexible in general. Knowing the intervals also helps with remembering the transition between G-B. – Tama Nov 21 '17 at 20:24
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Warning: This method will work best with classical guitar. It will break down if you try to use it in jazz etc.

If I need to run a scale across the whole neck, I always do it by using an open string. (Since most music for the guitar is in the keys with sharps, you can be quite sure that it will be possible at some point.) I play one half of the scale in the first position, up to a open string, most often E (1st string). While the right hand takes care of the open string, the left hand has plenty of time to move into a suitable higher position and finish the scale in there.

Let's add an E minor example:

----------------------------0--------7-8-10-12-
----------------------0-2-3---7-8-10-----------
------------------0-2--------------------------
------------0-2-4------------------------------
------0-2-3------------------------------------
0-2-3------------------------------------------

This is a very basic and braindead method, but it works best for me, even in some quite virtuosic pieces of the classical guitar. It's quite nice since you can play across the entire range in only two positions of the left hand: the first (you probably can do the scales the best in the first position, can't you) and the 7th or possibly 12th (if you perhaps want to go up to the top B or C). As you see, your left hand will have to move only exactly once, with quite plenty of time.

I guess this method would break down in very flat keys (each flat = 1 or more useless open strings), but there's only very little music written in them, so you needn't care :—). The flattest key you will regularly meet is, I believe, D minor, and there this stunt is still entirely possible.

P. S.: Don't forget to mute the open string after doing the leap. Your left hand will take care of it easily.

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Browsing quickly through all the great answers, i noticed something missing (or maybe i just missed it). I'm just going to say that there are two steps to learning scale x:

  1. Learn to play it on one string. This is used for moving up and down the neck.
  2. Learn "shapes". Aka box patterns, 3nps, one-octave/two-strings etc. These get you changing strings.

Combine these freely once mastered. Playing a scale almost never means playing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 ... In real life, learning to use the scale is more useful than letting the scale use you. Cliché, i know.

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here is a very simple way to learn diagonal scales: a major scale is basically two major tetrachords separated by a whole tone. When you've figured out what a tetrachord looks like on the fretboard, move your fingers one whole tone down (or up) the string and play the next tetrachord and you're all set... you'll very quickly remember where the half-tones are in this sea of whole-tones and they'll soon be like beacons in the night! by the way, a major tetrachord is WWH (but you already knew that) figure out your own personal fingerings, they'll be as good as anyone else's

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