Scale Positions for Guitar – The 3 most Important Systems

42 Comments

  1. Jens Larsen

    What is you system for scale fingerings? Is there one you consider better and why? 🙂

  2. Ron Amundson

    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned that the CAGED system looks as if it was designed after the first position 'cowboy' chords with open strings. I always thought that was the point of the system — it reminds you of the shape of chords with open strings. Why is there no "F" or "B" in CAGED — well, it's because there are no open strings in those F chords — an F chord is really an E chord with a bar behind the first fret; a B is an A with the same bar. I'd never heard about your description of eliminating stretches for CAGED. But then I never took lessons that had me learn scales. (Only chord melodies.)

  3. Dspeir

    I use a combination of the chicken claw and goat hoof method, but I always end up with some really bad Indonesian food 😀

  4. Learn Guitar Cardiff

    Great video. I started with 3nps and came later to CAGED which I do really like, but I had never come across your 3rd options although I have used some of those fingerings as alternatives I've worked out for myself. The 3rd way kind of bridges a gap for me which is great. I look forward to looking into it. Just to add to the CAGED debate, IMO it really does depend on the style you play, and the picking style that goes with it to varying degrees. I find the CAGED works well with swing or Gypsy jazz, and the fingerings fall well with the old swing/Gypsy picking technique. You have a really humble and balanced approach to explaining your preference which is a breath of fresh air compared to all those people who think what works for them must be what everyone else needs. I really enjoy your videos, you're a great inspiration 😊

  5. Paul McEvoy

    A gypsy jazz teacher strongly recommends the Segovia scales…not really for performance, just for knowing the guitar. I've been working on them for about a year and they help for some certain things…lots of shifting practice and they are little studies in fluidity. I like them more or less.

  6. Bill Dale

    Can I throw another viewpoint into the mix?

    If you imagine a guitar with many more than six strings, then every major scale can be produced from only one fingering pattern. The pattern repeats itself as you go across the strings, with a position shift happening every time there is a move from an interval of a fourth to that of a third, as in from third to second string in a six string guitar. You may have to shift back a fret from time to time, but this soon becomes automatic. In fact I am no longer aware of even doing this, it is so natural. Using one finger per fret, numbering the fingers as usual, we have the following pattern:

    1,2,4; 1,2,4; 1,3,4; 1,3,4; 2,4; 1,2,4; 1,2,4; 1,3,4; 1,3,4; 2,4; 1,2,4; 1,2,4; …

    Start anywhere and you get the major sale produced. For example to produce C major at the 7th position, the well known scale, the pattern is

    (1),2,4; 1,2,4; 1,3,4; 1,3,4; 2,4; 1,2,(4)

    To play G mixolydian the fifth mode of C major in the second position, the pattern is:

    2,4; 1,2,4; 1,2,4; 1,3,4; 1,3,4; 2,(4)

    This produces every mode of any major scale, including fragments. You can think of this as having a 6 string cutout or template which you move across the many-stringed guitar, until the pattern you want to start with is in the right position, then just play the pattern. Of course over time, the whole fingerboard becomes a total scale, and you can move around freely without really bothering about positions, but it is another way to look at it to get started.

    Very interesting video Jens, so you do not use economy picking? 😉

  7. caglayan yildiz

    I've been tuning the guitar in P4'ths (EADGCF) for 25 years now; and this tuning naturally combines "7 Position System" and "3 Notes Per String" where I don't need to switch position at all 😉

  8. evinite

    Hi Jens, I think I s;potted a small mistake in the 3 nps diagram, please correct me if I'm wrong; the D Dorian position has a Bflat on 13th fret of the A string. Thanks again, this lesson has been very helpful. It's rare that you get such a good summary and more importantly comparison between the different methods. p.s. already a fan of your blues scale shape

  9. Quantum Dave

    Btw check out the channel calked "move guitar forward" i learnt almost all my theory there so if i remember correctly he explains scales with the first system you showed!

  10. Kieren Moore

    Good discussion/comparison – thanks Jens. 🙂
    When did you change your Sheraton? Is that a 335 … (I obviously don't pay much attention to gear … :P) Cheers, Be well – K

  11. wikichris

    In an emergency I sometimes use one string and visualise the piano white keys with the groups of 2 and 3 black notes/gaps along one string.

  12. Quantum Dave

    As you said very correctly three notes per string is basically shredders homebase-to practice alternate picking even for doung satrianis legato runs three nites per strong is very comfi!But here is the thing Caged does few things wreally well first you see how chords sit within the scale you see how chords spread all over the neck and suppose i improvise in a A minor key then i can use minor A pentatonic as homebase but whenever i wanna spice it up i can add here and there noted from caged system completing it up to the A minor scale!So i find both systems very useful! To add one more thing Pentatonuc has 5 positions Caged has 5 positions so correspondence is perfect!

  13. guy bejerano

    I also learned how to play using the 7 scale shapes, you can also increase it to 12 positions but I believe it kinda pointless. in general I don't even use the 7 scale shapes, I just try to visualize the whole fret-board and play accordingly to chords shapes I come across. great video though made me kinda think about my approach in general and maybe mix it up really. cheers.

  14. John Harrington

    At 7:38 you show a fretboard diagram of all seven positions. Position six, The sixth one down from the top has an out of key note. It is on the 13th fret of the fifth string. Shouldn’t that note be on the 14th fret?

  15. Stephen Farthing

    Jens, thanks for yet another exceptional lesson. I play both bass and regular guitar and have quite small hands. Carol Kaye teaches a way used by many jazz players called thumb pivoting. Basically you use the thumb on your fretting hand as a pivot keeping it a couple of frets behind the index finger when moving up the fretboard. I find this quite useful for long stretches but the key is as soon as you have played one note take your finger off the fretboard before you fret the next. Also one really needs to use a strap to hold the guitar as, with this technique, you can’t take the weight of the guitar with the fretting hand.

    A second point is it’s advisable to do some strength building and stretching exercises. There is a decent guide here https://m.wikihow.com/Avoid-Pain-in-the-Left-Hand-While-Playing-the-Guitar

  16. Toro 270500

    Thanks! Ive had a hard time figuring what system to use. Just trying to get few 3nps position under my fingers.

  17. Markus Teuton

    Hey Jens, I just got into Jazz guitar 5 months ago because I’m training to be apart of the big band at my school. I’ve been using the basic jazz guitar chord voicings but I’ve been told that I need to use shell voicings or drop 2 voicings. Will using the basic voicings still work and how can I get better at comping if there’s nobody to play with around?

  18. Nicolas REMY

    Hi! To answer your question, It’s been more than a year now that I’ve switched for the perfect 4th tuning. The 7 position and 3nps system you talk about blend together in it. In fact 2, 3 and 4nps doesn’t work anymore in positions, but they follow a logical pattern order (Derryl Gabels’ mnemonics) that is strictly the same from an octave to another. Coupled with a consistent use of 2-1-2 and 3-1-3 shapes for pentatonic, triads and arpeggios, layered on a single octave that I can repeat (like a piano player would do) and you get my system. Then, I also use single string scales a lot, and intervals recognition in a single octave (Tom Quayle system), very effective for that kind of tuning when you want to improvise freely with no patterns memorized. By the way, fantastic YouTube Chanel you have here!

  19. Doug Kearns

    This 7 position system is an abbreviated form of Bill Leavitt's 12 position system. This is detailed in his A Modern Method for Guitar (Berklee Press) book series.

    I'm not sure if it originates with him but I don't have an earlier reference. Like most of these things it's probably as old as the guitar itself. 🙂

  20. thekriskokid

    This sounds similar to the Warren Nunes solo pattern system. He teaches 7 diatonic patterns, and then teaches how to connect them through key changes. However, his system does use 3 notes per string, as did my jazz instructor. Similar but different. Also, 3 per string seems to work better for speed. (Although I'm not super fast, it did improve my speed.) Also, 3 per string is what others like Frank Gambale uses for sweep picking.

  21. Rob the Quiet

    Nice lesson, Jens. I was introduced to the Segovia scales when my instructor handed me a thin book with the strict fingerings. I found it to be incredibly constricted and a poor way to understand moving through chord changes. Rather like simulating a conversation by reading a newspaper to a colleague. There is a Joe Pass lesson around YouTube that really helped me think of chords as moving lines, but whether or not there is a system to it, I have no idea.

  22. Gregory Hasson

    Jens, I like 3nps for Major and Melodic minor, but its not as comfortable for harmonic minor. What shape or system do you use for harmonic minor? thanks!!

  23. Ross Helmot

    Hi Jens, interesting video. I think the 7 position scales are derived from the Berklee system (William Leavitt). The system actually ended up with 12 fingerings for the major scale based on 4 types. Type 1 was with 1st finger stretches, type 2 & 3 no stretches (these are the same shared shapes of 7 position & CAGED) & type 4 used 4th finger stretches.

    Effectively you end up with 7 positions. Personally I've gone away from these & moved more to the CAGED system as a simple overview but as these have been well drilled into me in the past they sit in the background. They are really handy with some melodic minor fingerings.

    I'm not sure where CAGED started or who is credited with it (interested to know if anyone has history) but the first knowledge I have of it is with Joe Pass. I know Barney Kessel talked of a 4 structure concept similar to CAGED and I've seen some bluegrass guys using 3 structures. I guess in the end it's what suits you and the music you are making.

  24. Ken Peters

    I think you have a wrong red dot on the 3nps where you start with the note D on the E string.

  25. David Beebee

    Aha the scale video! 🙂 Awesome Jens. Interestingly I don't really use any of those atm, however I do recognise the 7 position you describe in my early days. Back then I really struggled with the muscle memory for 3nps and like you bypassed the caged thing entirely. For me however, it all started clicking with the Krantz/Quayle 2-point interval geometry a few years ago. Boiling everything down to discreet 2-point interval shapes to map the neck made most of the need for large scale systems disappear and helped my jazz and changes playing improve enormously. I guess all systems have their merits though and it's definitely not a zero sum game. 3nps can help speed and technique, caged can help rock/pop/country players outline changes, but for me the 2-point interval approach seems the purest, most direct line to seeing and finding harmony on the fretboard – which for jazz was mega helpful. Keep up the great work dude.

  26. DESIENASHOES

    I do play 7 position one– Frank Gambale technique book style 🙂 and also scale fragment system

  27. Guitarversum Sandra Sherman

    Now where are the Tabs? 😂 Just kidding. Excellent video. I like how you explain the advantages and drawbacks of the different systems.

  28. Rodolfo Amaral

    In my opinion thinking in big scale shapes are good to play modal stuff, but at the same time they are not efficient to play bebop like styles due the fast harmonic rhythm. In this situation, I prefer to think in small shapes and try to connect the dots.

  29. Gonzo Bonzo

    For me its easier the caged system since it relates to the 5 pentatonic shapes. it´s probably not efficient for some styles like metal or jazz, but for blues or classic rock I think it works great. Congratulations for this interesting video.

  30. Zenzodiene

    Hahah but saxophone players don't have to play any chords :P. I use the CAGED method for a number of reasons:

    – A lot of education material uses the CAGED system to teach so there is a lot of info about it (can be a con tho).
    – 5 shapes vs 7 shapes. Less to memorize, there is already so much stuff to memorize, why create more…
    – Easy to see the intervals since the scale shapes are based on the chords. Makes for melodic soloing instead of the more shred 3nps shapes IMO.
    – Places an emphasis on chords/triads and thus the chord tones which are really really important in jazz. Charlie Christian, Herb Ellis also focused on chord shapes instead of pure scales. Wes too, used a lot of triads.
    – There are enough good jazz players using the caged scale shapes: Jimmy Bruno (although he says he doesnt use it), Barry Greene, Joe Pass, Ron Eschete etc.

    Some cons:
    – There are 5 chord shapes but drop2/3 has 4 chord shapes… This can screw up the "beauty" of the CAGED system.
    – The 5 positions feel like boxes: 3nps has a more horizontal approach IMO.
    – The C and D shape really look alike. The G and A shape really look alike. Sometimes I think there are only 3 shapes: E D A
    – There are a lot of "versions" of the caged system. I think knowing the intervals of each note is really crucial. Some methods don't underline this enough.

    In the end they are only training wheels IMO. You should think C major and the whole fretboard should light up with all notes where the chord tones are brighter than the passing tones etc…

  31. Mike Wicks

    The best system to use is the one that most easily helps you express the musical idea that you are trying to convey – what ever that is!

    Personally I dislike rigidity – develop your own system! (which admittedly, is likely to have some, all or no proportions of each of the systems you describe Jens)

    Also I’m not a fan of “boxes” – boxes lead to closed minds I feel!

    Top stuff again Jens – I especially like the look of horror on your face on the thumbnail in YouTube of this video!

  32. ARTI Vrolijke Kunst

    Hello Jens. I am using the 7-positions for playing the major scales. Just recently I began using the 7-positions system with 3 notes on every string. I adjusted the old one to the one with the 3 notes per string. Just some changes on the 2 highest strings were needed. I end up with exactly the same fingerings that I found on your website. Some stretches on the high strings are a little tough, but with some practice this will be no problem anymore.

    I like your videos very much. Keep up with the good work!

  33. Bruce Nguyen

    There is a mistake on 5th string on the second to last diagrams. Should be B natural and not B flat. I played through all the diagrams and I found 3NPS to be easier to understand.

  34. ludwig amadeus

    I don't really understand the utility of these systems to be honest. For every one-octave scale (or any pattern really) you have exactly 3 ways of playing it: left (e.g. for c major scale that'd be c = 1st finger with stretch), center (c = 2nd finger, the usual basic one), right (c = 4th finger). Then everything else, be it in one position or not, is just a combination of these three or fragments of them.

    Also, I tend to treat the 3nps as more of a technical thing I guess? Like, I don't really get the comparison between what's supposed to be a fretboard visualisation technique (if I understand stuff like caged correctly) and a specific playing technique (or rather, I get it, but it feels a bit wrong). And then it's more useful if you're switching position anyway, so it's more beneficial to play 3nps shifting constantly if you want to learn the fretboard, no?

    Also, I'm confused by that example where you derive a maj7 chord fingering from the scale fingering. Like, aren't you supposed to learn that as two separate things anyway? I don't really get that connection and why would anyone think of it that way.

    In short, when people starting talking about this stuff I always feel like we speak different languages. 🙂

Leave a reply