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5 Useful Approaches to Scales on Guitar

· Scales and Arpeggios,Guitar

What makes the guitar such an interesting and difficult instrument is that there are so many locations you can play the same note (5 for middle C, for example). Unlike piano, where there literally is only one way to play a single note, the guitar requires a deeper focus on the basics of the instrument.

After nearly 25 years of playing the guitar, I still am practicing, to some degree, the basics of the instrument – namely, learning where the notes are so I can get to them when I want. Interesting, right?!


I think there’s something beautiful about that, too. To really get know the fretboard, I think you need to fall in love with practicing scales and arpeggios in all the wonderful and quirky ways that are possible on guitar.


Here are some of the approaches I’m fond of (major scale modes and minor scales, in particular. Things get a little dicey once you start tackling symmetrical scales and altered scales).

  • CAGED System – the more or less traditional 5 patterns that mirror the open chords on guitar. 
  • 3-On-A-String – Playing 3 notes per string across all strings. Works great for any 7-note scale.
  • 2-On-A-String – Try playing a G-Major scale starting on the 15th fret and ascend playing 2 notes per string. It’s very strange (because as you ascend in pitch, you descend towards the nut of the guitar) but useful approach.
  • 1-String-Scales – Playing a scale using only one string. Really helps you play vertically up and down the neck. Then move to using only 2 strings, 3 strings, etc.
  • Cross-Strung Scales: Try playing a G-Major scale starting on the 3rd fret 6th string. Use the open strings instead of fretted options. After every open string play the following note on a lower string. (e.g. G (3rd fret/6th string), Open A, B (7th fret/6th string), etc…

I’m sure there are more, but I found these approaches extremely useful and fun to explore.

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