Playing Scales Across The Fretboard Fast, Fluidly &
If you've spent any time learning guitar scales, you'll know the
importance of memorizing patterns - the roadmap for playing scales
across the fretboard.
While you may be familiar with "boxed" and "three notes per string"
scale patterns, you soon feel the urge to break out of these narrow
limitations and span more of the neck. Knowing how to navigate (and
physically endure) these larger roadmaps in a practical sense,
musically and fluidly, is a skill
in its own right.
This lesson will show you how to span beyond three octaves for a given
scale, over a twelve (and more) fret radius, using fingerings that
promote speed and fluidity. You could call this "shredding for
beginners", because it lays the fret-hand groundwork for fast, yet
Three-Octave Scale Patterns
While the smaller scale patterns you learn in those early stages are
crucial in helping you explore a scale's sound, they are quite limiting
in terms of how they box you in on the guitar neck. By unboxing your
scale playing, you can ascend or descend into pitches that would have
otherwise been "out of bounds". It also allows for more free
flowing, fluid movements up and down the fretboard.
The diagrams and tabs below show you ways in which you can navigate
scales across three octaves/twelve frets and beyond, in a single run
(if you wish). The result is fast,
smooth, melodic movements up and
down the neck when you need them.
How to practice these scale forms
patterns below are not specific to a particular key (although I use the
example of G
in the video - start with this). Position the root (1)
on the appropriate note/fret for the key in which you want to play the
scale. I advise practicing these run patterns in several keys (e.g. E,
F, G, A, B etc.) to help you internalize them.
When learning the pattern, break it up string by string (or octaves if
you're able) before combining
them into one large run sequence.
You can practice playing through the scales using both alternate
picking and legato techniques such as hammer ons
offs using the timing exercises below...
1 Start with your metronome
at 60 BPM,
playing one note on every click/beat (hear it). When you can play
comfortably at that tempo, increase the BPM to 70, and then in increments of 10 (or
20) as you get more confident.
2 Once you get to around 200 BPM, wind it back
to 60 and try playing eighth notes (2 notes per click - hear it).
Again, use small increments to ensure smooth progress. Challenge
yourself to reach at least 160 BPM.
3 Again, go back to 60 and try sixteenth notes
(4 notes per click - hear it). You'll find this timing far more
challenging as you approach the higher tempos. Push it as high as you
can/want using the 10 BPM increments. Follow this three step process
with discipline and it won't be long before you're able to blitz
through the scale in your sleep!
The first diagram shows the intervals, the second shows the suggested
fingering (you can change this if needed).
As well as straight runs, you can try more interesting "staggered" runs
such as the G major examples below (suggested
fingering in blue)...
In this next diagram we skip the 6th tone in the scale, giving us a
more arpeggiated run (note the blue line indicates a slide
using the 2nd finger)...
As shown in the video, because we have to shift our 3-note fingering on
string, we'll essentially be assigning two fingers to some frets. So,
the sequence, where there are two fingering labels on a fret, start
with the three note sequence on the left-hand labels and then shift to
the right-hand labels. I hope this isn't too
confusing (I couldn't think of a better way to label it)! If in doubt,
watch the video as the fingering is sequentially mapped out.
Let's try some staggered run exercises in G major...
Below I've left out the 6th of the scale which will give us some
colourful variation. This time, we're starting and ending on the 3rd of
the scale. Adjust the fret positioning accordingly so root (1)
notes correspond to the key you're playing in. You can use the previous
diagram (the full major scale run) to see where the 3rd on the E string
corresponds to the below pattern...
A very pretty scale over major chords, defined by the augmented 4th (#4) interval. In
relation to the major scale, we simply sharpen the 4th to get Lydian...
Again, if we "skip" the 6th, all we need to do is raise the 4th from
the major scale form. We're starting on the 3rd...
A more "exotic" sounding major scale (used a lot in metal), great for
longer runs due to its rich tonality. Phrygian dominant is the 5th mode
of harmonic minor (see the minor scales further down), so you can
visualise the root of Phrygian as starting on the 5th note of a
harmonic minor pattern or harmonic minor starting on the 4th note of a
Again, skipping the 6th tone gives us some variation but still retains
all the most important harmonic tones of Phrygian...
Remember, you don't always have to do a straight run up or down. Try
this sequence for the form above (G
Now on to our staple minor scales...
Minor Pentatonic (including b5 "blue" note)
Typically played in its boxed form, if we move to the minor
3rd (b3) of
the scale, we can get into position for a flowing, bluesy, three-octave
Let's try a couple of runs in G
key songs are contained within this scale. See if you can
build your own run sequence similar to the major scale
Here I skip two tones from the scale - the b6 and b7 - giving us a
more arpeggiated sound...
The only difference between natural
and harmonic minor is the 7th. We
simply raise the 7th by a semitone, giving us that neo-classical minor
sound used by many metal and shred players. A bit more of a stretch for
that pinky on some strings...
Here are some effective speed building exercises (in G
minor) for the above pattern. Break it down into octaves or even string
by string to help you learn it...
For some variation, simply add the major 7th (7) to the "skipped"
natural minor sequence from earlier...
Once again, a skipped tone variation. Here we skip the 2nd, giving us
the equivalent of minor pentatonic with an added 6th...
Once You've Learned The Patterns...
While many solos, especially in the heavier musical styles, involve
these drawn out runs across the fretboard, it's important to practice
combining them with more articulated, improvised licks and phrases, to
give your solos variation. While it may be tempting (and fun) to use
your newly learned skills to blitz up and down the neck, people
listening will want to occasionally hear more nuanced musical
Practice moving in to and out of these runs from/to slower, boxed-in
Think about target notes
as you approach the end of your run. The strongest target notes are the
chord tones that correspond to the backing chord. For example, if you
can learn where the root, 3rd and 5th of the chords you're playing over
lie in your patterns, you'll have those "safe" points to punctuate your
run. I'll be covering this in more depth in a separate lesson on "tone
In short, practicing where and how you end your run is just as
important as the run itself.
Thanks for your time and effort - keep up your daily practice, even
30 minutes will ensure good progress.