Training Lesson: Scale Shapes & Musical Devices

One String Scales

Let’s begin this training lesson by stating the obvious: most guitarists have played an entire scale, or at least a melody, by playing all of the notes in that scale or melody on a single string. It’s an obvious approach and something most of think of when we are beginners. Just below this review playing the C major scale and the G major scale on one string, it’s an interesting way of thinking about scales and is a good way to play intuitively, creatively and for breaking yourself out of ruts. I am strongly urging and suggesting that you develop your ability to play and think on one string.


Before progressing, these one string scales should be very easy to play through, improvise with and to play a simple melody on, such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (which begins on the root).


For learning major scales on a professional level, I have decided to start out with the two scale shapes, that in my experience, are the most common and well-known by students. Figuring out what you already know, and then building on it is a good way to go about this process of self-education. In the teaching business, it’s called ‘scaffolding’ or building layer by layer. When you think about it, isn’t that pretty muuch the way we, as guitarists, do things naturally?

Neck Coverage Through Transposition

By using the two iconic, well known, open position major scale patterns in the keys of G (which is called the G Type) and C (which is called the C Type), it is possible to attain quite a bit of neck coverage. In the diagram below the guitar neck to the left has the basic open position C major scale, the C Type, played in position I (the open position) and position XII. Both of these patterns are classified as the C Type. The C major scale that appears on fret V on the second neck, the guitar neck to the right, is classified as the G Type of scale fingering pattern only here it is in the key of C so it still classified as a G type. Remember, even though it is a G Type, it is still in the key of C. Study these fingering patterns, taking notice of the high and low ranges of each scale before practicing them on your guitar. Move your mouse over the ‘visualization’ box, study a different perspective on the two scale shapes.


Use the play along exercises below to sharpen your ears and technique as you execute the scale passages quickly and cleanly, in time with the recordings. The first two examples are using the C major scale fingering in the open position and then the same idea is transposed up one octave in pitch, to position XII. Notice the descending section of the scale practice is movement by 3rd, becaus I want you to be able to have the ability to play scale passages in thirds at your fingertips, sort of like an extra gear that you can shift into and out of at your discretion. At a tempo of 120, these exercises are brisk and considerably more difficult than previous training exercises.

The exercise below is working with the C major scale in position V, this scale shares a fingering patern with the classic G major scale found in the open position. Once again you are playing at a tempo of 120 and you are practicing movement by thirds (on the way down), as a soloing technique this is so effective that with my many students I refer to this type of motoin as the ‘instant melody’.

Below, the concept of attaining considerable neck coverage using the classic, iconic C Type and G Type of major scale fingering patterns is illustrated in the key of G. The open position G scale and the G scale found on the 12th fret should be easy to see and conceptualize at this point. In the illustration below, there is a G scale found on the 7th fret of the neck diagram to the right. This scale shares a fingering pattern with open position C major. So, even though the scale is a C Type of fingering pattern, in this case that scale is in the key of G. It is further classified as a root 5 scale because its lowest pitched root note, G, is found on string 5. As before, study these fingering patterns, taking notice of the high and low ranges of each scale before practicing them on your guitar. Move your mouse over the ‘visualization’ box, memorize and study each perspective of this concept. Don’t you think that one string scale might come in handy some day?


Below is a similar set of exercises using scales in the key of G, the open position G Type itself, the playing itself may be a little challenging because the exercise is long and you are quickly changing positions, from the open position to the 12th position because this mimics the type of thinking and moving you will do in real world playing situations.

Our last technical exercise in this lesson is one based on the G major scale found in position VII, sharing a fingering with the open position C major scale, this G scale is of course in the key of G and is classified as the C Type of G major scale.

scalej49Musical Devices

Chromatic approach notes, loosely fall into the categories of ornamentation and musical devices-techniques that composers use when working with melodic material, a way of changing and stretching melodies. In this training lesson we are going to revisit chromatic approach notes, often called passing notes, through learning some short contrived solos. Chromatic approach notes will add a professional and powerful element to your improvising and lead playing.

As musicians and soloists we quickly learn that music is very repetitious, playing a simple lick and developing the idea as you repeat it is good musical thinking. Repitition and imitation are solid, theoretically sound and well accepted compositional techniques.

The example below uses a 4 note ‘box pattern’ to create just such a solo. This type of playing, and fingering, originates from the Rhythm And Blues tradition and is often called a ‘popcorn part’ because it is reminiscent of the sound made by popcorn that is popping. This example is based on the C major scale found in position V: The G Type of C major scale.


scalej51Our final example uses the chromatic passing tones we learned in the key of C, using the fingering. Here, a similar type of solo is played in the 7th position, where the C Type of G major scale is located.This type of playing and thinking, using chromatic passing notes as a way of connecting scale tones and chord tones with each other, helps players develop a professional and smooth sounding personal style.

Study and learn these solos as if they were your favorites and then use these solos as the basis for your own improvising and jamming. The material on which a solo is based is what I call the ‘point of departure’. If your point of departure is nothing but scales, then your soloing style will sound unnatural and less than musical -sounding like someone who’s merely reciting scales. If you’re point of departure is licks, ideas, devices and sound musical concepts, you will be well on your way to making some really interesting music.


Play Along tracks

To conclude this lesson use the play along tracks below to practice the solos and the techniques we have studied so far:

  • Stepwise Movement, The Law Of Melody
  • Chromatic Movement & Approach Notes
  • Repitition
  • Movement By Thirds

Backing Track: Key Of G

End Of Training Lesson


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