The Boxes And How They Fit Together

I explain the boxes and show how they fit together perfectly. I also give some pointers.

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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.

19 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    soulflyV
    Seeing as The4thHorsemen has explained how the boxes fit together you should be able to find any note you want on the neck and use the basic improv solo technique I just explained to play basic but sweet sounding melodic solos. Just remember everything must be done in moderation.
    soulflyV
    Honestly, in the most basic of good melodic sounding solos is playing your licks and whatever and always returning to the 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 in your major scale. Think of notes as foods. You want the main portion of your meal to consist of the major pentatonic (1,2,3,5,6) and the garnish is the 4th and 7th. I guarantee to you that if you play the pentatonic, returning to the 1, 3, 5 at the end of your phrase/lick and only use the 4th and 7th sparingly, you will create a great melodic improv solo. Listen to this:
    Then play A C A C A C D (bend the D to an E) A C A C A C D B (1/4 bend to C and release back to B) A G. (You should play this around the 13/14 fret area on the E,B and G strings) This little phrase that you played revolves around the 1 (C), 2 (D), 6(A) notes in the Cmaj scale. The garnish is the 7th (B). For basic, good-sounding improv solos this is all you need to do. Oh and only bend the 2nd (to the 3rd) and 5th (to the 6th) notes of the major scale, and SOMETIMES the 7th to the 1st/8th note.
    JudgeDrey
    Very cool theory. I've always been a big fan of the box method and I thought it was interesting that you figured it out on your own. That's how I came to figure this out also. I had way too much time on my hands a few years ago and I just started looking for other places on the neck that I could apply this "box" that a friend had showed me a long time ago. Next thing I knew I had covered the whole neck and I had taught myself to move it around the neck to match what key I wanted to play in. It blew my mind how simple it was after I understood it. I ended up putting it all together a little differently but basically ended up with the same result you show in this lesson. I gave this a 10. I thinks every rock guitarist could benefit from this. Awesome.
    Sean0913
    So question, what if I wanted to suddenly depart on any 2 strings and use those two strings only for a run up or down the neck, only to connect tot he rest of your boxes? You couldnt do this effortlessly in any key on any two or even 3 sets of strings could you? This is the drawback with boxes, they put you in the box, and unless you guess at the notes by deviating from them by ear, the rest of the neck, by leaving those boxes becomes a mysterious black unknown. In my lessons I teach one how to go up down back and forward across any string boxes sets pairs instantly with total assurances, so in effect the entire scale can be played dimensionally at any time depending upon the direction of your choice. The other flaw in this approach is you are not using a symmetrical pattern system, in other words some strings use only 2 notes and some strings 3, which then gives an additional piece of data for the brain to have to recall in a playing situation (which string in which box only use 2 notes in that pattern?)
    The4thHorsemen
    oh, and if anyone has any questions please pm me since I don't check the comments here very often.
    The4thHorsemen
    Sean0913- well, I think this method is perfectly fine if you understand intervals, scale construction, and the notes of the fretboard. and as far as the 2 or 3 notes per string deal, I don't think that's a drawback at all. moammar - basically, you have to pay attention to the intervals. where they fall within the pattern and what note that interval is.
    Moammar
    Ol! Unfortunatelu I can't understand the exact reason to why every position starts at the fret that they do. If this is easy to explain in a comment, please do.
    The4thHorsemen
    well, yea, but I didn't want to include those in this lesson. I just wanted to keep it basic. and if you know the minor scale well enough you can just alter the pattern a little if you've learned the intervals right *shrug*
    oneblackened
    Pretty good, but a minor scale doesn't HAVE to have a b6 or a b7. Melodic minor is R 9 b3 4 5 6 7. What makes up a minor is the flattened third.
    fagelamusgtr
    This helped a lot. I already knew the theory, but it probably helped some others. The box's helped me a lot. I may have known the theory, but I never completely understood the boxs. Thanks. 9/10
    The4thHorsemen
    Well Sicking, that's one of the hardest things to explain, and I'm still not awesome at it imo. If anyone else has wrote an article or lesson on that subject I would like to read it for myself to see how other people look at that, because in that aspect I learned it with almost entirely no help, just me and the guitar spending hours together.
    Sicking
    I gave your lesson a good look and it fairly decent butat the last part in soloing tips you actually mentioned one of my problems lol I know the paterns of the scales but when I try to solo on my own I end up saying it doesnt sound right... even tho I randomly hit the correct notes. It would be awesome if you make a lesson in depth on how to create melodical solo. Cheers
    nautisch
    very nice, one question though. box 2, major 2nd position |---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-| |---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-| |-3-|-4-|--- |-5-|---| |-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---| |---|-5-|---|-6-|---| |-- -|-2-|---|-3-|-4-| how do you guys play the G and D strings, do you move the whole hand down the neck or do you play by playing two notes with the pinky? (i play the E,B,A,E strings with the index on the "2nd fret" )
    wal69
    aren't these just modes. I found learning your modes up the neck is the best way to shred and starting in different modes in the same key can give it such a different flavour.
    The4thHorsemen
    this is not a lesson on modes, this has nothing to do with modes. modes are defined by the tonality, it has nothing to do with which note you start on or anything like that. it's the underlying chord progression coupled with the melody that defines the mode.
    yaaarp
    Great lesson, very helpful but what about the other positions? Aren't there 7 modes not 5?
    wal69
    Aren't these just modes. I find learning all your modes and linking them all together is the best way to shred the neck. Starting in a different mode in the same key can give it such a different flavour