I am 95% self taught so far. I know most of the chords up and down the fretboard (Major, Minor, 7ths and 9ths mostly) Now I have reached a fork in the road and I want to take the best path.

I have learned the C Major scale at the open position (which of course means I have learned pretty much any scale somewhere on the fretboard).

So I am happy. With little thought, should someone say, hey play me an F Major scale, I can do it (not automatically, but with little thought as I do have the note map of the fretboard in my mind)......but only at one position. Same for all the others. The reason being is that I can play a note and tell you what note it is, I cannot just list off all the notes of a particular scale. I could just try to memorize it and figure it out from there, but my mind works much faster when thinking of a pattern. I know the C Major pattern on the 4th fret is the E Major, but I couldn't tell you right now how to play E Major at the open position. I could tough it out, but I think there is a more practical method. I have the scale maps up the fretboard, but have not started to learn them yet....I need a question answered first.

So, next step, should I (1) learn all the other Major scales in the open position or (2) Stick with C Major and learn it up and down the fretboard before working on another?

Which one did you learn? And which gives the best "Aha!" moment? I can see advantages to both methods. I don't want to do a little of both or I will get lost. If I attack this using only one method, I will learn twice as fast.

That said, also since there are 12 of them, I am sure there are only a couple that are most prominent (blues and jazz are what inspire me, but I do like to play around with the slide in open D). Can you please tell me maybe the next two or three keys I should work on?
So you know position 1 of the Major scale. The root, the intervals and the notes are what makes the scale. You don't play the C major scale on the 4th fret and call it the E Major, that makes no sense. If you play that pattern you're playing all the notes in the E major scale, so it's the E major, not the C major.

The 4th fret? There's no E on the 4th fret. What do you mean by this?

If you know the scale in one position that means you can use it for any key, you just need to see that it's a pattern that incorporates all the notes of the key that you want to play in, so work out what key you're playing in and call it by it's name, not some confused C major in E business.

Learn the major scale in all 5 positions, understand where the roots are, the intervals, how to connect them and then move onto the minor scale (Aeolian).

You should really check out www.justinguitar.com He'll explain it much better than I can.
Last edited by Mephaphil at Feb 3, 2014,
Thanks for the link, I will check into it.

I may have explained myself poorly. I play the C Major scale. Then take that pattern and use the 4th fret as the "nut" and play the same pattern it is the E Major. That is all I meant. I don't call it the C Major on the 4th fret, only the E Major. I simply meant that I only know the E Major at that fret using that pattern.

So really the question is simply, should I learn all the "patterns" of C Major up and down the fretboard and worry about other keys later? or should I first learn all the scales in the open position first, and worry about the higher part of the fretboard later?
Yep - learn al 12 keys all over the neck. It'll consume your practice time for a couple weeks, but after that you'll be able to run through them all in a couple minutes. Learning them all will open up the fretboard for you; if you have to play in, say, Ab major, you'll already know where all the Ab major notes are on the neck.
There's still no E on the 4th fret. You'd have to start on the 5th fret to play a major scale pattern in E.

I'm thinking that you mean you move through the 4th fret. If you start somewhere else you're effectively playing one of the modes. But you're probably resolving to E, so it's all jumbled.

If you learn it all in C, you can then easily transpose it into other areas. Learn the shape, the intervals and how they work and you'll soon easily be jumping about the fretboard.

If you want to you can focus on learning them all, but if you know it in one key you already know it in all of them.

You hit the nail on the head, I think.

Yes, I know there is no E on the 4th fret, that is not what I meant. What I meant is that if today someone asked me to play an E Major scale, I would only know how to do that using the 4th fret as the nut and playing the C Major scale. (think capo on 4th fret).

Should they ask me to play a higher or lower octave, I would be all..."well, let's see...I can do this, nope, oh ok this, then let's see here, give me a min"

I want it to be automatic, and I know I need to learn all 12 eventually, but I want to take the bigger bites first. So I wanted to know should I learn all 12 scales in the open position first or the entire C Major scale up and down the fretboard.

You answered me with a very solid defense to stay on C Major and learn it in it's entirety, Then I know which pattern succeeds which up the board and then I can "learn" it backwards for other scales back to the nut. It does make sense, and I could see value in learning both methods (Does a first year student who takes professional lessons even bother learning higher frets or just stick to 0-4 and learn all the scales there? I would think they stick to the low end as that shows value in chord combinations, but being self taught, I wasted a lot of time I fear by learning chords first (I could get rockin' faster that way, but I failed to learn the reason why it works)).

Thanks again, I will take your advice. By the end of next week I hope to have the C Major down in it's entirety (I will practice on a classical because I get good stretch from it, but I am limited to the 14th fret), being able to name all the notes as I play them. Then I will spend the next two weeks trying to increase tempo, then I will worry about each other scale and relative minor....that may make it easier.....then I will try and logic out the other scales.

The goal is to do this without using a chart, as I want to imbed these notes in my mind. I plan to take at least 6 months only practicing scales and other practice forms to get my fingers and mind loose....then I will go back to playing actual songs. It is OK, I have spent years playing songs using tabs and non-guitar people think highly of my skill set. But when paired to an actual musician, I show my ignorance in the first measure.
Last edited by Elahrairah01 at Feb 4, 2014,
You should learn each scale up and down the neck. Start with C, and then F or G, then Bb or D, etc. Go in circle of 5ths/4ths order so you're only adding one flat or sharp at a time.
Yep, learn C major all the way up the neck. Then after that you can use it as a reference point for learning other keys - for example, if you wanted to learn G major next, all you need to know is that your new root is G, your third and 5th are B and D, and instead of playing F, you play F#.

The only other suggestion I have about this is to take your time with it. It's a lot better to take your time, and really let the knowledge sink in and become "yours", than to go through it too fast and have just a surface familiarity with all 12 keys.
I just spent last night learning all the notes up to the 6th fret (as I said before, I can fly through it up to the 3rd fret). Calling out the notes out loud as I played them up and down. Then trying to mix it up C, A, F, E, B etc...

It is slow going, but that is OK. I have plenty of time, too old to be famous now, just trying to impress the little ones so they will have a love of music too.

Hardest part is tying to say G, F, E, D, C, B, A at a quick tempo, I keep saying G, F, E, D, E, Damn it! (even though I play C, B, A). My boy will think "Damn" is a note!

Probably should have learned piano first, somehow I think the logic is easier to pick up if you see all the notes together with both hands.
I am seriously thinking of harming my guitar ever so slightly and doing something to mark the notes. Perhaps put green dots under the whole notes and call that C Major, then mark all the sharps with different colors, so I can learn "all green except for when you see blue" then on the next key "all green except for blue and yellow" then "all green except for blue yellow and red" or something like that.

Only reason I hesitate is I don't want to harm the fretboard (or have anyone else see her all dolled up with stickers because they are bound to be there for a year or two until I learn it all).

I also hesitate because I won't be forcing myself to learn the actual notes in the scale....I don't want to cheat, but I also don't want to get myself frustrated.

When all else fails, I tune to open D and pull out the slide. Then almost everything sounds sweet and brightens the mood.
Last edited by Elahrairah01 at Feb 5, 2014,
You don't need to mark the notes. Look up the basic major scale formula and start working the C major notes out as a scale. Try going all the way up and down a single string first, it's a bit easier to digest when it's linear.

Once you know C major on each string individually you can start to put them together by position and it'll make a lot more sense.
Piano was a lot more logical to me for theory type stuff. I was having trouble figuring out note relations until I went to a piano. The linear view made it easy. Then I just took it back to the guitar.

You may be on the verge of an "A ha!" moment. I can easily find the notes for C Maj on each string, and I can see how I will be able to put them together.

However, when playing the scale up a string, I am sure there is a proper way to do it so the fingers are in the best position to switch strings. I have not been able to find a best pattern.

When trying to do the C Major scale on the low E string, which is the best fingering?

1) E(0), F(I), G(R), A(P), B(I), C(M), D(P), E(P would have to slide up (or I))
2) E(0), F(I), G(R), A(I), B(R), C(P), D(I), E(R)
3) E(0), F(I), G(R), A(I), B(R), C(I), D(R), E(P)

I can do all of them basically as fast (meaning slowly) either way, but none of them really seem to flow properly. For instance, on a piano, when you have used up all your fingers, you can slide your thumb under easily. Moving my hand up seems to disrupt the flow especially any area where I start with my index finger again. For example, in version 1 above, between A and B just doesn't fit, and I don't think it is timing of moving my hand, it's the note gets killed off before I can ring in the next one. I guess ther isn't much you can do, but still...I guess in this case you could just play the harmonic

I will play with which one best fits with dropping to the A string, but maybe you experts can tell me which one is easiest (especially when I start learning other keys, I am sure some fingers are best kept at the ready rather than being used all the time).

Last edited by Elahrairah01 at Feb 7, 2014,
Hey Man,

I wouldn't interrupt what you are doing now over technical issues, because it sounds like you are on the verge of putting everything together in terms of knowing the notes. Just play it a bit slower - since you are just doing the play C major up one string as a learning device.

That said, these sort of position shifts are really common. Not working the whole way through a scale up one string, but doing one or two of the shifts like that is. Also, sequences were you make each group of 3 notes overlap by one note are even more common.
The real long term solution to do stuff like this effortlessly is not a quick fix. It's a bit hard to explain but here goes. When you start out, you think about what you are doing linearly, in the case of the bit that's giving you grief: "index-ring-pinky-move hand-index-middle-pinky". Of course that's going to interrupt what you fingers are doing because you've got this "move hand" thing in the middle. As you get more experienced, the hitch gets smaller and smaller, but it's still there. You get to where it doesn't cause you to fall out of time anymore, but it's still enough to throw you, and make things not quite flow, like what you are experiencing.
Since moving your hand comes from a different joint than moving your fingers, suppose you could separate the movements but still keep them in time, like a pianist does when playing left and right hand parts, and drummers do for pretty much everything. For example, try playing 1-3-4-1-2-4 in the same position (ignoring that it doesn't sound so swell for a moment). That should be pretty easy. That's all your fingers have to do. You just do that, and then move your hand in the middle on a second mental "channel".
Yeah, I know, easier said than done. But once you crack that bad boy, position shifts just cease to be a problem.

Hope this helps!
You need to understand exactly what scales are and how they are made before attempting to learn them all over the fret board. Before you have this understanding the task of learning ALL scales ALL over the neck seems almost insurmountable. Once you understand what scales are and how they are made you'll realize that it's really not that difficult at all to learn and play them anywhere on the neck.

So firstly, what is a scale?

A scale is simply a collection of notes that work well together harmonically over a particular key or chord progression. A scale is NOT playing up and down those notes repeatedly. That's just one (very dull) way of playing the notes of the scale, but the scale itself is actually the notes within it. They can be played in any order, melodically or harmonically. It's an important distinction.

How to play scales on the guitar?

Well, there are many ways to approach learning and playing scales on the guitar. The first thing you need to know is the formula for the particular scale you're trying to play. In this case you've asked about the major scale, so the formula for that is TTSTTTS (T=tone, or two frets, and S = semitone, or one fret).

That means taking C major as your example, if you play the note C on the first fret of the B string, you then need to move up one tone (two frets) to a D, then another tone (two frets) to E, a semitone (one fret) to F, another tone (two frets) to G, another tone (two frets) to A, one more tone (two frets) to B, and finally one more semitone (one fret) to the octave C.

That's a C major scale played on one string. It's actually a very good exercise to learn to play scales on one string as it lets you see the intervals between the notes more clearly (almost like a piano), and gets you moving up and down the neck.

This formula is the same for EVERY major scale. So if you started on the top E string on the 3rd fret you would be playing a G major scale, and from the G string on the 2nd fret an A major scale.

Another way (much favoured by guitarists) of approaching scales is by learning 'shapes'. Shapes are a really great way of learning where all of the notes within a scale are in a 'position' on the neck. That is where all the notes of the scale can be found across all six strings within about 5 or 6 frets - close enough together that you don't have to move your hand up or down the neck.

There are a few different 'systems' when it comes to scale shapes, but the first one I would recommend you learn is the so called 'CAGED' system, as you seem to already be on track to learning this.

Basically the CAGED system takes the open chord shapes C, A, G, E, and D and moves them around the neck, as barre chords. Then you can build scales around these chord shapes by simply adding the extra notes. It's a relatively easy way of knowing where the notes of any particular chord or scale are in relation to where you are playing. Understanding this system will enable you to play ANY chord or scale, ANYWHERE on the neck without having to move your hand more than one fret up or down from where you are currently playing. It's a very powerful tool.

So, to answer your question, should you learn all the C major scale shapes first or learn every major scale in open position?

Well, apart from the fact that you can only really play 5 major scales in open position (and there are 12 in total as you say) you're better off learning the five 'CAGED' scale shapes. In any key, it really doesn't matter. Key is irrelevant when you're learning the shapes. Once you know the shapes you can play the scales in ANY key you want.

So learn the five CAGED scale shapes (I'm sure there's loads of information about these on this site). And by learn them, I don't just mean play them up and down.

No, you need to understand them. Know what the root note is. Know where the chord tones are (the root, the third, and the fifth) and all the other notes. Know what they sound like as well as where to find them in the shape.

Practice playing them up and down. Then practice playing the notes in different sequences. For example go up 3 notes then down 2. Or up 4 down 3. Up 6 down 2.

Play them in thirds, fourths, fifths etc. melodically and harmonically. Play them in every possible way you can imagine until you know the scale inside and out, without even thinking about it.

Learn how to connect the shapes to each other. Go all the way up one shape, then slide up to the next and come down the scale in that shape, then up the next, and down the next. Do this not just on all six strings, but try 5 strings, 4, 3, or 2.

By doing all this, eventually the shapes wont even matter anymore. Both your mind and your fingers will know the scales so well you can play anything you want, without even thinking about it. This is the ultimate goal with learning scales.

And, as a bonus, by learning the 5 CAGED shapes of the major scale, which can be played in all 12 keys, you've also just learnt the shapes for the minor scale, and the other 6 modes of the major scale. That's 84 scales, across 12 keys, anywhere on the neck, just from learning 5 shapes.

And with just a few minor alterations you can play the melodic and harmonic minor scales too (and all their modes). In fact, once you understand how scales are built, and how they relate to one another, you can easily play any scale you want just by modifying the ones you already know. Cool, huh?