The Boxes And How They Fit Together

author: The4thHorsemen date: 10/13/2008 category: scales
rating: 8.8 / votes: 20 
Ok, a lot of people will just give you the box shapes and say "Here, go practice these." While theory buffs will explain to you that scales are made up of Tones and Semi-tones. And that the Major Scale is "T T S T T T S" and a Minor Scale is made up of "T S T T S T T", or else they'll go into intervals and get you even more confused while not giving you any patterns and thinking you'll figure it out yourself. I'm gonna try to give the best of both; give you the patterns to practice, and explain it so you understand how it all makes sense while throwing in some theory as well. And don't expect to learn this all at once, it'll take time and practice.

How Scales Are Formed

Ok, now that the pretty little introduction is out of the way, I'll explain how scales are formed as it's important to understand how they work. There are two ways to go about doing this, but I'm going to show you one way and get you started on another. Tones And Semi-Tones The first way to explain it is through Tones (or Whole steps) and Semi Tones (or Half steps). A Semi tone is the distance from one note to the next in the chromatic scale (which is just all twelve of the possible notes). So the 5th fret to the 6th fret is a Semi-tone (or 2 to 3 or 13 to 14, you get it right?), which is abbreviated as 'S'. A Tone is two notes up, so that's 5th fret to 7th, this is abbreviated as 'T' . Remember a Semi-tone is half of a Tone. Now bearing that in mind the Major Scale is made up of T T S T T T S. Now, the first note in the scale is what key it is, so let's start on E.
     T   T   S   T   T   T    S
E|-0---2---4---5---7---9---11---12---

   E   F#  G#  A   B   C#  D#   E
And those are the notes of E Major. Now, the Minor scale is T S T T S T T. So, using the same process as before, count up in the same fashion. I'll use D as an example.
     T   S   T   T    S    T    T
B|-3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15------

   D   E   F   G   A    Bb   C    D
And you have the notes of D Minor (Spinal Tap FTW!) Intervals Now, the other way to form scales is through intervals, this is a pretty hard for me to explain, but I'd suggest that you look around here on Ultimate Guitar for a lesson that explains it fully because it's really helpful to understand how that works. Here's a basic way of looking at it. In this way of looking at it each note of the scale is an interval. They are specified by number. The Major scale is just 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. So in C Major:
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
But in Minor keys they have 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. This means that compared to the Major scale, the Minor scale has a flat 3, a flat 6, and a flat 7. So, that means:
C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 1
See the difference? Now, all of these have names, such as a b3 is a Minor 3rd, a 5 is a Perfect 5th, etc. but I'm not going to go into that, but I still think you would find it helpful for you to look into that.

The Patterns

Ok, now, instead of constantly counting in your head to figure out what notes are in the scale, there are patterns that you can memorize so that you always know where to go next without worrying about whether you're in key or not. Of course you still need to pay attention to the notes and the intervals to help you sound like you want, and help with theory, so in these shapes the numbers have nothing to do with the frets. They stand for what degree of the scale each note is. R is the root note, or first note of the scale, and this determines what key you are in. For example, G Major in the first position would be:
|-----------------------------2-3-5--|
|-------------------------3-5--------|
|-------------------2-4-5------------|
|-------------2-4-5------------------|
|-------2-3-5------------------------|
|-2-3-5------------------------------|
These are all relative to whatever note you decide is your root note, which is what scale you are in. Here are the shapes of the Major Scale
1st position
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|
 
2nd position 
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
 
3rd position 
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|
|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|

4th position 
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|

5th position 
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
And these are the Minor Scale shapes:
1st Position
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|

2nd Position
|---|-3-|---|-4-|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|
|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|

3rd Position
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|

4th Position
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|
|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|

5th Position
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|

How They Fit Together

Now, a lot of beginning guitarists will just learn the shapes, and get fairly good at playing in one shape at a time, but they have trouble fluidly going from one shape to the next. They'll have a hard time being able to play rapidly all over the neck or jump from high up on the neck around the 17th fret down to like the 5th fret. The way to really understand the fretboard is the see how the shapes connect together. I think it is very important to see how all these boxes connect together, what notes they share in common and the patterns everything follows. I'll start with the first two boxes of the Major scale to demonstrate.
 _______________
/  1st Position \
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
        \___________________/
             2nd Position
As you can see, the the two positions fit together perfectly. You just have to look at what all notes they share in common and remember how they fit together. The 1st box pattern matches up with the 2nd. The 2nd fits into the third, etc. until the the 5th box fits into the 1st. I've made a chart for both the Major and Minor scales to show how all the patterns fit together. Here's the Major boxes
 ______________       _____________   _________________
/ 1st Position \     / 3rd Position\ /   5th Position  \
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|
        \__________________/ \_________________/ \_____________/
            2nd Position        4th Position      1st Position
And the Minor:
  _________________   _________________   _________________
 /  1st Position   \ /  3rd Position   \ /  5th Position   \
|---|-1-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
             \_____________/     \_____________/ \_________________/
               2nd Position        4th Position     1st Position
It really takes a lot of finding ways for you to remember for yourself, so find as many patterns as you can to help you remember how it all fits. One of the basic ways to move from one position to the next is to slide up or down, for example in E minor a basic movement from one position to the next:
|-----------------------|
|----------------15-17--|
|14p12-----14/16--------|
|------14---------------|
|-----------------------|
|-----------------------|
And you've moved from the 1st position to the second just like that! Of course with enough practice you get to a point where you don't even think about the positions any more, just what's the easiest way to play what you want.

A few more tips to help with soloing:

Learn what the intervals sound like, get to really know the scale and what it sounds like to go from one note to the next. Pay attention to how pleasant or tense each note sounds when combined with the other. Work on your phrasing, don't just play random notes out of the scale at the same exact tempo. Actually think about what you would like to hear, what you want to express. You could settle on a fairly tense note that wants to go somewhere, like the 2nd and draw out the tension, let it ring, before landing on the root. Your ear gets better at this with practice. Study your favorite musician's licks and how they play, pay attention to their note choice and rhythm. Analyze their licks and maybe find ways to change it up to something different. Come up with some of your own licks based around their ideas. Don't try to emulate your favorite musicians, find your own style. It's ok to be influenced by them, use some of their ideas, but we don't need a copycat. And finally, relax! Don't pressure yourself too bad or tell yourself you suck, that only makes it worse. You need to make it fun, enjoy what you're doing just because it's fun to do. It's not a competition, it's about having fun and expressing yourself to the best of your ability.
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