A few days ago I started to practice soloing in random keys. For example A major, G minor, etc.

Before I dive into the details I must add that I know every single box in minor/major/pentatonic scales, but only in the basic keys (C major, A minor, A minor pentatonic). But I struggle to link the boxes together if I want to use them in other keys.

In meantime I know from sight every single notes on the fretboard, so its not much of a problem if I want to play in keys because I know the available notes. For example If I want to play A major then I know the usable notes from the key and play them only without bothering the boxes.

But when I learn new music I always see the (invisible) boxes which 'contains' the notes. I feel musicians uses the boxes and they know how to link them together, but many time not knowing that is played because they see only tha patterns. But I feel be aware of the played notes can make a more conscious play.

I dont know what kind of practices I should follow. Please let me know what is the more common way or what can work, but any advice is appreciated.

  • I think if you just keep spending hours playing songs and riffs in different keys, you'll eventually learn to see boxes everywhere automatically. Oct 22, 2019 at 15:19
  • I'm not sure what some of your statements mean. What "box" are you referring to? When you say you know every box in major/...?
    – user50691
    Oct 22, 2019 at 15:36
  • Also, how do you learn new music, by ear, sight reading, or tab? This is important.
    – user50691
    Oct 22, 2019 at 15:38
  • Box means pattern in my dictionary. A scale from a given fret. I learn by tabs mostly.
    – Gery
    Oct 22, 2019 at 16:32
  • 1
    Please, please, please try to wean yourself off tabs. Have you not noticed that so many are not that good..?
    – Tim
    Oct 22, 2019 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


Along the same lines of what @Tim has said:

These boxes are transposable--but in order to use them in other keys, it's extremely helpful to know where your root note is in all boxes. Sure, you may not know all of the notes you're playing, but if you're struggling to play in a certain key, you need to be able to construct your boxes around the root note on any string.

To get familiar with root note position, go back to your pentatonic boxes and identify every single place where the root note appears in each of the 5 scale shapes.

Here's how a potential exercise might go:

  • Pick a note at random on the fretboard, any string. This will be your root note.
  • Identify the pentatonic box that it falls into (choose major or minor).
  • Build the scale around it, all the way from the low to high E strings.
  • If you know the relationships between different boxes, you may begin to see how to move from one box to the other. In the new box, identify your original root note on a different string.
  • Play up and down that new box using the same pentatonic structure.

This method is incredibly useful, especially for intermediate improvisers. If you're feeling lost in the key of D#, don't panic--find the note on the fretboard, feel out which box it's in, and build out from there!

  • 1
    Thats a great idea. I managed to do it with pentatonic scales. Identifying the root note and play horizontally and vertically now an easier job.
    – Gery
    Oct 23, 2019 at 11:23

On the assumption you're not including open strings anywhere, 'boxes' work fine on guitar. Basically, knowing the highest and lowest positions for a key in a box, you have a minimum of two octaves - plenty to be going on with.

Take a riff or tune in a key you're familiar with, say A major. Play it through, then consider that if you played it in B♭, all you'd need to do is play everything up one fret. Up another gives B, then 3 frets up from the original and you're in C. All the notes you play will be on the same strings, with the same fingers, just the start point is different, which then conveniently puts all the other notes right.

Some will disagree and say you ought to know what notes you're playing - but you already do! And I don't believe many (or any) consciously think what the note they're playing is actually called, at that moment in a phrase.

The guitar is built around the principal that everything is easily transposable, so use it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.