Guitar Major Scale Fingering Patterns

If you’re a guitarist moving into the area of scales and fingerings, chances are you’ve acquired a few books on the subject. Sometimes this can be confusing because different authors use different scale systems. Some use a 3-note-per-string/7-position system. Another book uses three patterns for diatonic scales (and two patterns for pentatonics), while my own Guitar Fretboard Workbook recommends five positional patterns. Should you learn them all? Here’s my take on it.

The short answer is that the five-pattern system is most important, but I do also practice the popular 3-note-per-string/7-position scales, along with other patterns. They are all useful in some way.

The five-pattern or CAGED system is easiest for relating melodies to the underlying chords, which you’ll find out more about when you look at Chord Tone Soloing. You’ll probably agree that melody should take precedence over physical concerns.

That said, the 3-note-per-string scales have a certain symmetry that makes them easy to learn and practice. They also let you economy-pick and use lots of hammer ons and pull offs, so they’re good for playing fast.

Take your time and really learn the five patterns. After the five patterns of scales are ingrained you will know where the notes are, so then it’s not so hard to connect one pattern to the next. While playing pattern 1, you have to be visualizing pattern 2 so you can move up into it without a glitch. The 3-note-per-string patterns do exactly that: cross from one root shape to the next.

D Major Scale Patterns 

 Pattern 1


Pattern 2

Pattern 3

Pattern 4

Pattern 5

I like knowing where the root is, keeping track of it when playing any pattern. Try yelling out the word “root” whenever you hit that note. Remember, the root is not the lowest note in the pattern. It’s the note that is circled in the diagrams, it’s the point of musical resolution, it’s the “bits” in “Shave and haircut, two bits,” and so on. I’m sure you knew that, but I’m playing it safe here.It’s also cool to (later) work out some 4-note-per-string scale fingering patterns. These use all 4 fingers on each string and move through most of the guitar’s range. You could crudely call this “Holdsworth” fingering.

Another thing that’s useful (but somewhat counterintuitive) is to start high up on the neck (say F on the 13th fret with your 2nd finger) and then play up a major scale using two notes per string only. This forces your hand to move away from the body as you ascend, moving you down from pattern 4 into pattern 3, and so on. You could crudely call this “Django” fingering.

As the patterns become memorized (master the five-pattern or CAGED system first), make small variations in your approach, like starting a scale from each of its possible notes, starting from the high notes and descending, using different tempos, different rhythms like triplets, applying it over chord progressions, and so on.


Barrett has performed extensively in the US, Asia, and Europe. In Los Angeles, Barrett has appeared on every stage from the Whisky-a-Go-Go to the Viper Room, and has been a Musicians Institute instructor for 18 years.

Barrett’s books include The Guitar Fretboard Workbook, Chord Tone Soloing, and Music Theory: A Practical Guide for All Musicians. Classic Rock Guitar Soloing is his DVD, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation.

Lots more tips at Barrett’s
You can also get Barrett’s Crash Course In Harmony And Theory at the main site:

One thought on “Guitar Major Scale Fingering Patterns

  1. I like to teach the 5 CAGED shapes as well. Then when you start to target chord tones it’s a bit easier to connect them with non-chord tones from the CAGED shape. I also like to visualize small triads and how the melodic idea weaves around the basic chord shape.

    For wider intervallic playing covering larger rangers, you can start to play over 2 adjacent shapes.

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