In guitar, the best way to learn all scales (modes of natural, harmonic, melodic scales,etc) in every key is to memorize entire pattern of one scale in the neck like this

enter image description here

or just memorize one shape of scale formed by T,ii,iii,iv,v,vi,vii degress of scale like this,

enter image description here

and transpose this one same shape to others keys?

Thanks buddies.

  • 1
    Why Is that Dorian called 'E shape'? – Tim Jun 3 '18 at 7:07

I would consider "What is the best way to do X" to be a very opinion-based question, however I think there are objective benefits to learning some ways over others.

In my eyes, it is inarguably easier to just learn one shape and transpose it up and down the fretboard into different keys, if you don't really care (or need to know) what the individual notes you are playing are called. It is worth it to learn which note you are playing in the context of the scale (I, II, III, IV etc) but beyond that, when you are starting out learning the individual note names is not really necessary.

The first image you displayed is all just one scale. It just shows all of the notes in the C Major scale all over the fretboard. Starting on a note other than the root note is called an inversion (root inversion of C Major starts and ends on C, first inversion starts and ends on D but contains all notes in the C Major scale, second inversion starts and ends on E but contains all notes in the C Major scale, and so on). These inversions are commonly called Modes, and are worth looking into if you have your root inversion memorised and want to expand your knowledge of the fretboard. Modes are a good way of splitting the notes of the scale into defined shapes, instead of just forcefully learning where every note is in every place on the fretboard one at a time.

In answer to your question though, I believe that learning all modes in a particular key and then transposing them up and down will be the best way to learn a scale all over the fretboard. With practice, the shapes and their relation to one another will become second nature and transposing the shapes into different keys will be simple.

Having said this though, it is always interesting to try new ways of learning. This is why I don't like this kind of "Which way is best?" question - someone will always think their way is better. Whichever way works for you is the one you should stick with.

  • I agree, the question baits us to choose one from among a set of complementary choices. They all need to be practiced. – ggcg Jun 20 '18 at 19:14

(This would ideally be a comment, rather than an answer, but I needed to include a picture!)

I'm a bit confused by the question. The second diagram doesn't imply a different 'way of thinking' to the first one - it's just showing less. enter image description here

The section outlined in the first diagram here in blue is the same piece shown in the second diagram of the larger fretboard pattern.

The first diagram is showing C ascending natural minor, and the second is showing A Dorian, but apart from that, both diagrams are just showing scale shapes - the first diagram shows more, and the second shows less.

If you learned the 'big' shape in the first diagram (which most people do by learning smaller shapes and then fitting them together using the 'CAGED' system), you'd still have to transpose it to play in different keys - it's still just one scale.

  • 1
    i upvoted you as I think its worthy of being an answer. – bigbadmouse Jun 13 '18 at 8:17

This is going to be a long winded answer to a seemingly simple question. I think to some degree your question isn't fair because you're asking us to pick one of 2 things that actually complement each other rather than compete.

In short you need to do both, memorize the patterns and translate them, and memorize how the different patterns are connected.

There are at least two levels of learning modes. One is the development of the haptic connection to the patterns on the instrument in some tuning (let's assume standard). The other is learning that, in theory, the diatonic modes are all the same. "Best way to learn..." may not be a fair question. People can only share what works for them and that may not work for you.

I would say that as a guitarist the haptic connection has to take precedence (probably true of any instrument). If you know all the theory in the world your hand won't respond to what your ear tells you to do unless the patterns are muscle memory. The guitar is a fascinating instrument in that it has transnational invariance. If you know your patterns in Amaj (relative to the 5th fret for example) you can move those patterns up to Bb or C and they are all the same. This can make the job a little easier. Many shredders (in videos from the 80s etc) advocate practicing patterns chromatically up the neck. I personally think we can do better by jumping thirds or going through the circle of 4ths as we progress. The guitar will start to feel different in positions that are far apart. I personally like to drill patterns (scale, arpeggio, changes, etc) in F or G at the 1st or 3rd fret (but not open position), then at the 5th or 7th fret, again up near 12th, the 15th or high if necessary. This gives you enough coverage to feel your way through the other keys. Open string patterns need to be practiced independently as they tend to use different fingerings. It seems to me that modern guitarists have abandoned open string mode patterns but they are important. I personally like to go through a cycle rather than chromatically. This advice applies to all modes (diatonic, related to melodic minor, pentatonic, etc). Drill until the finger cannot be confused.

Connecting modes to chords. The end goal has to be using the modes to solo over changes or understanding these patterns for composition etc. To that end it is very helpful to practice those modes that fit easily over chord pattern on the guitar (this is a guitar-centric practice method as it appeals to the different hand shapes). There are 5 basic ways to play the major and minor (and seventh) chords, that are all similar to the open string chord forms (E, A, D, G, and C). The forms are usually referred to as the C-A-G-E-D system. In a nut shell Phygian or Lydian mode fits over (or matches) that C-form of any chord, Locrian or Ionian fits the E-form, Dorian the D-form, Aeolian the G-form, and Mixolydian the A-form. This is not a statement of music theory, like what mode matches what triad or 7th chord in a set of changes. This is a statement about the physical form of the mode and it's connection to the root of a key. By practicing 5 of the 7 modes that match the chord forms you will eventually develop an immediate physical connection between a "feeling" in your hand shape and the modes of the key closest to your fingers. As musicians the connection should happen in the ear first (and it does with practice). But this physical connection is invaluable for getting your hand to connect to your ear w/o having to overthink. Along these lines I like to practice modes as follows. Start with G Ionian, followed by G mixolydian, G Dorian, G Aeolian, G Phygian. This pattern takes you through the following key changes: G, C, F, Bb, Eb. In other words the circle of fourths. Keep going all over the neck.

Connecting modes to each other. Once you've got the patterns down and you know how they are related to an open string chord form connect them by connecting the 5 forms of the I chord in a single key. For example starting in G, G E-form at the 3rd fret followed by A dorian at the 5th fret (G D form), then B Phrygian at 7th (G C-form), Mixo at the 10th fret (G A-form), and finally Aeolian at the 12th fret (G G-form). You can continue on to the octave at the 15th fret. Notice that some modes are missing. It's not that they are not important but in terms of finger patterns and haptic memory they are not very different for the guitarist. This applies to the melodic minor modes as well.

Find all chords in a mode. Connecting a mode to a chord (like Dorian to the ii-7) can be inverted and one can find ALL chords in a key in each and every mode of that key. Another post.


Well for me, the most fun is to first learn the Pentatonic scale in the key of "C" or relative Am. Many songs for guitar are easily learned in that key and if you just want to jam with your friends, it's easy. If you are going for more, then by all means learn the other patterns.

  • 1
    This question is asking for information way beyond pentatonics. – Tim Jun 3 '18 at 7:09
  • If you rework your answer to include the full ambit of what he is actually asking, I will happily up-vote you. Right now, I agree with Tim – bigbadmouse Jun 13 '18 at 8:19

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