Moving scales beyond the basic shapes

There’s something I’m missing here and the problem is I’m not even sure what question to ask so I’m just going to brain dump a bit and hopefully someone can get an idea of what I’m having trouble comprehending.

So I’ve got the basic scales shapes pretty well down…at least the more common ones (major, minor, pentatonic and blues minor pentatonic) and can play them all over the board.

Side note, I’m going to use C major, for the purposes of this mind dump.

So yeah, A string 3rd fret, A string 5th, D2, D3, D5, G2, G4, G5. Basic ionian/major scale. Move that same shape anywhere and it works. I see people playing more than that shape, however. What about the scale notes on the E or B strings? I’ve got a book with bass scales and it has a bunch of diagrams and something is keeping my brain from putting it together. Like I said, I’m not sure what I don’t understand about them.

An example of the major scale from the book, which is similar to other diagrams that I’ve seen:

As I’m brain dumping this “on paper”, so to speak, I think I’m formulating the question.

The white dots are the root notes. I get that. I think the problem I’m having is with how to practice these different positions in some kind of cohesive way.

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When you say “… all over the the board”, I assume you mean you can apply the basic shape all over the board, but with different root notes (i.e., not always C major, but other major scales and so on)???

What the exercise here is trying to force you to do is to extend that basic shape such that you can play the same scale over all strings and the entire fretboard. The main idea is to not get stuck to that basic major shape we all learn in the first couple of lessons.

The first extension is to also know the “shape” extending to the string below your starting note (in your example, the E string) and potentially also above the ending note. In other words, play a major scale not just over three strings, but four, or five, or six.

The other extension is to extend from the initial frets to higher frets (i.e., closer to the bridge). The last two rows of dots in Figure 1 are repeated as the first two rows in Figure 2; the last two rows in Figure 2 are repeated as the first two rows in Figure 3 and so on; in this way, you can stitch the entire fretboard together and play always the notes of the same scale, here the major scale.

Note that after the 5th position, you start with position 1 again and keep going like this…

The problem with “shapes” is there are so many :joy: - as well as variations!

One way to practice this is to find a C major drone and then play the C major scale in the different positions. (Unless you have a 5-string, you probably want to start in position 5 with C on the 8th fret of the E-string). This might not sound like a scale to you, as you need to be conscious yourself where the root is (not necessarily at the beginning or end here) - but you will learn all the notes of the scale within a 5 fret span. Then do the same from position 4 and so on.

And then do all the other 11 major scales.

Again, the main idea is to be able to play ALL notes pertaining to a given major scale within a five fret region over all strings (and be able to move the five fret region over the entire fretboard).

Let me know if this makes some sense!?!


I 'm not sure what you’re asking, but these are modes (if you didn’t know). After the major scale I see Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian). I’m not close to being able to adequately describe their usage, but like the others you named they have their “purposes.” I know in my favorite genre, funk, the dorian and mixolydian (along with minor pentatonic) come up quite often.


Yes, if you allow them to “start” (“have the root”) on a non-white dot, then you can find all the mode shapes in those diagrams :smile:


Ok, a bunch of the street lamps are lighting up on the dark and foggy pathway that is my thought process. And you’re right, it doesn’t sound like a scale and I think that is what was tripping me up a bit. I wasn’t getting that do-re-me-etc-etc thing going and thought I was misunderstanding. Turns out I was, just not in the way I thought.

Going to see if I can apply what you said to see if that gets me traveling in the right direction.


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Let us know how it goes!

As you play these, you might want to pause/hold longer whenever you hit a root - this also forces you to keep track of where the root is :smile:


That’s a fantastic tip. Thanks!


Excellent point @joergkutter. When doing the pentatonic shapes I pause/recognize the roots. Then you’re able to hit the scale from any string or spot on the fingerboard.


What helps me is to label on the black dot’s on the diagrams in relation to the white root notes. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7ths.

For anyone stumbling on to this: that hint by @joergkutter about finding a drone and doing the scales practice with it was a game changer. Found a great series of Major key drones and have been practicing the scales with those since yesterday and let me tell ya, you instantly know when you hit a wrong note. It’s like someone pokes you in the ear.

Here’s the playlist for anyone interested in trying that out:


Glad I could help, @mr.crispy

One note drones are cool, and you can also use them to try and get a feel for different scales (or modes) over them, i.e., a C major and then a C lydian and so on.

Even better for what you are trying to do at the moment are chordal drones, like this one:

There, it is really only the major scale that “fits” :smile:

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I understand your difficulty here!
I’ve created my own solution and naming system based on practicality and the physical fingerings I play with rather than (what you have in the diagrams) what I consider a more abastract/theoretical approach to the notes on the fretboard.

I have three forms:
The Bird form (starts with middle finger on the root of the ionian/major scale)
The Jaco form (starts with the index finger on the root of the ionian/major scale)
The Pinky Form (*most challenging for everyone) - (starts with pinky on the root of the ionian/major scale)

Here’s my TAB layout:
(Ignore the bottom form - The Musician’s Institute Form - for now. It serves a different function of moving horizontally on the neck rather than vertically as all these other diagrams do.)
4 forms for the major scale.pdf (63.6 KB)

Each form contains all the other forms and becomes all the other forms.
And this will - hopefully - become evident in the practice.

Practice phase 1:
Practice these 3 forms as written as independent forms so that they are easy to play, deeply memorized and comfortable.
Pay careful attention to what finger begins AND WHAT FINGER ENDS each scale form.

Practice phase 2: Begin to extend scales across all 4 strings.
For example:
The Bird form doesn’t use the E string at all in this exercise.
How do you extend it down to the E string?
The form that descends from the Bird form is… Descending Jaco Form.
The Jaco Form ends on a 2nd finger on the root. The Bird form begins with 2nd finger on the root.
So - you’ve already practiced the fingering to play a descending scale starting with your middle finger. To do it, you have to visualize and play a descending Jaco form starting with your middle finger on the 3rd fret of the A string.

Another example - You play the Pinky form.
You end with first finger on the 5th fret of the G string.
If you index finger is on the root, you are in the Jaco form. You can now extend the form up 2 more notes.

So now you practice all 4 forms making sure you see where the forms connect to one another, and making sure you can play across all 4 strings in all forms.

Practice Phase 3:
Each scale form is a whole step shift from the next.
Starting with Bird, you can shift up a whole step and move into Jaco form.
From the Jaco form you can shift up a whole step and be into the Pinky Form.
From Pinky form you can shift up a whole step into Bird form again, this time with your low root on the E string.

This is about 4-6 months of dedicated scale focus and practice time condensed into one short post… sorry for the brevity.

But I’ve always had a really hard time and frustration with the encyclopedic “this is where all the notes are for your scale forever in all places” type of diagrams.
They are not how I think or play.

If the above is helpful to you, hooray!


Mark Smith uses chordal drone backing tracks extensively in his chords and scales courses. They are extremely useful for nailing down how tones relate to the root in scale patterns.

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This is indeed a great idea.

I understood everything else that you said (I guess), but I didn’t get this part. Would you mind explaining what a drone is in the context of your previous explanation, please?


Someone continuously playing (“droning”) the chord tones of C major (or maybe better, CMaj7 if you want the major seventh in there too.)

For example,

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Hi everyone!

What’s missing for me is the idea to break down a scale into bits like “fret A, fret B, fret D” across four frets. That’s what Mark Smith does in this video. Each scale has two or three mini-shapes, if I got this right (three for major/minor and two for pentatonic scales).

So, if you want to jam by playing through a chord progression, you can pick a root, and find the mini-shapes around it. This should also help with learning about scale degrees, i.e. “Where is the 6th in a major scale?”

Maybe this helps!

I found these dotted diagrams are a really bad design because they include too much information. Labelling the dots with scale degrees, for example, would be information overkill. And it doesn’t highlight that there are really only a few of these mini-shapes. When memorizing things, you need to have something that you can understand at a glance.


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Sure, but @howard pretty much already answered that.

Drones (continuously playing notes or chords) are useful to explore intervallic relations and scales and train your ears to hear the nuances and “flavors” you get from different scales and different intervals.

You can either have drones on a single note (perhaps on various octaves and with different timbral instruments to make it less “boring”) or you could have chordal drones (e.g., major, minor, with or without the 7 and so on).

All the videos in this thread so far are examples of drones.

Yes, this is certainly helpful, but is perhaps an added layer!?!

Many shapes suggest a certain fingering, but it is not always possible. Also, as you move away from basic shapes and explore different ways to play, say, triads, you’ll find that there are quite a few ways or shapes to do that.

I guess the tricky part is to try to find a systematic approach to all these shapes.

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I’m not even certain it is all that helpful - sounds overly prescriptive. How you finger the scale is irrelevant; the scale is the scale. It’s more useful to learn the note names than the fingering.

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