I am learning Enter Sandman. I know it's in E minor key. But How do I find out what scale shape does it use? Does it apply to the CAGED system?

None of the online videos talks about that. They just teach you the fingering. But I want to dig deeper!

Your answer will be highly appreciated!

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The notes in that intro are E, G, Bb, and A. There aren't enough notes here to form a standard scale or mode, but you could notice that E-G-Bb form a diminished triad and postulate an E Locrian mode. Given that F# makes an appearance later I might be inclined to consider E Locrian 2 (also called E Aeolian b5), which is the 6th mode of the G Melodic Minor scale. This might be a useful scale to use to improvise with in some parts of the song.

$A 7 $A 9 $A 10 $D 7 $D 8 $D 10 $G 7 $G 9

E Locrian 2 (E Aeolian b5)

Riffs are not always best thought of as derived from scales, though. The song as a whole is not in the Locrian 2 mode, but in the key of E minor. That Bb in the intro riff exists along side B as the song gets going, which is to say that both the b5 and the 5 of E minor are being used. It might be better to think of this riff in terms of chord tones and passing tones: The E and G are the root and 3rd of an Em chord, and the Bb is just a passing tone on the way to A. If you think of this A as the root of an A chord (or an A5) then this riff just follows a I-IV progression with a Bb passing tone.


I think the reason that the videos you see don't teach you what scale shape it's in is because either it's not in one, or it doesn't matter. Suppose I create a riff that involves playing the low E, then the highest E on the high E string (suppose I've got a 24-fret guitar). Does it really matter what scale shape it fits into? Does it even fit into one?

Coincidentally, I'm in a band covering that song, so I can tell you that the song is written in E minor but uses B♭ and F a lot (like lots of songs, to sound darker). The F and B♭ don't fit into the E minor scale, but essentially the song uses whatever system of chord shapes you know for E minor, but sometimes adds in a note between A and B or between E and F♯. That part where it goes into F♯m is just like the other chord shape but up a whole step.

  • 1
    Okay.. Then what's the point of learning scale shapes? Right now I feel like I am learning songs on one side and learning scale shapes on the other side. I just couldn't find relevance and it bothers me...
    – K- STAR
    Jan 14 '19 at 9:04
  • @K-STAR I think the idea behind learning the scales is not only to familiarise oneself with the notes on the fretboard, but also to make any part that does use notes from that scale easier to conceptualise. Don't worry that most songs don't quote scales exactly; in fact, the authors usually write in an attempt to avoid sounding like one big scale. The idea behind any practice exercise is that even though you might not ever actually use the exact thing you've practiced, the knowledge and experience you gain is going to be useful. In this case, that would be the notes in each key and their locat
    – user45266
    Jan 14 '19 at 15:50
  • And I might also add that learning songs can be just as good as learning scales for practice as long as you really pay attention to what's going on musically.
    – user45266
    Jan 14 '19 at 15:52

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