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Scale box positions
As guitarists we tend to regard scales as patterns that can be moved up and down the neck depending on which key we're playing in.
We refer to these movable patterns as boxes or box positions.
The bottom horizontal line represents the bottom or sixth string, which is the thickest one. Each black circle indicates where to place a finger for each of the notes from the scale in question.
The asterix represents the start fret. For example, if you are to play using this box in the key of G, then your start fret would be the 3rd. Alternatively, if you moved everything up the neck by one tone (or two frets) then you would be in the key of A, at the fifth fret.
The notes with the lighter shading are root notes i.e. when in the key of G, they are G notes.
Below are nine boxes and two runs, numbered with the following key:
BOX 1 - Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 6th string
BOX 2 - Natural minor scale, root note on 6th string
BOX 3- Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 5th string
BOX 4- Natural minor scale, root note on 5th string
BOX 5 - Major scale, root on 6th string
BOX 6 - Major scale, root on 6th string (alternative fingering)
BOX 7 - Major scale, root on 5th string
BOX 8 - Major pentatonic scale, root on 5th string
BOX 9 - Mixolydian mode / scale, root on 6th string
BOX 10 - 'Blues' scale box, root on 6th string
Run One - Minor pentatonic
Run Two - Major pentatonic
Click here to download a PDF of all these boxes.
Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 6th string
Natural minor scale, root note on 6th string
Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 5th string
Natural minor scale, root note on 5th string
Major scale, root on 6th string
Major scale, root on 6th string (alternative fingering)
Major scale, root on 5th string
Major pentatonic scale, root on 5th string
Mixolydian mode scale, root on 6th string
'Blues' box, root on 6th string
Minor pentatonic run
Major pentatonic run
For modal scale boxes, see my 'Modes - Where are they?' tutorial.
You can also add this note to the natural minor scale, and on most occasions to any minor scale or run. Try using it often at first - and use your ears to decide whether or not it works.
Notes on where to use the boxes
If you've worked through my tutorials on 'How to work out scales', you will have the major, natural minor, minor pentatonicand major pentatonicscales in all 12 keys.
Place an asterix beside each scale that contains only 'natural' notes - no sharps or flats.
This will give you a series of scales which can all be played when in the key of C major (because it is the only major key with no sharps or flats).
This is what you end up with:
If we equate these scales to the ten boxes and two runs shown above, we arrive at the following positions:
This gives us a lot of scope for moving around the fretboard, whilst only using notes from the C major scale.
NOTE: When in a major key you can obviously play the C major scale. However, you can also sometimes play the minor pentatonic scale at the same position. This is most apparent when playing the blues, and can confuse players into thinking that a piece is in a minor key, when in fact it's not.
As your ears improve, you'll be able to hear whether or not this can be done over a particular progression.
I encourage you to try it all the time, particularly when playing rock or blues.
Note that this is not true in reverse i.e. if a piece is in C minor, the C major scale doesn't fit.
For more box positions checkout my 'Modes - Where?' page.
For seven top tips on improving your jamming and soloing checkout my 'Soloing & Jamming' page.
What is a scale?
How to work out scales?
Which chords to play?
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Linear Scale Patterns: How to Break Out of the Box Forever
Have you ever been mystified by the way some guitarists can soar freely up and down the fretboard, seemingly unrestricted by standard “box” scale patterns?
Apart from sheer speed and a knack for linking neighboring patterns, one secret weapon of these sick axe-slingers is a system of linear patterns. Since such patterns traverse the neck horizontally (up and down the fretboard) rather than vertically (across the fretboard), they might be just the keys you’ve been searching for to help you escape the tight, often limiting confines of boxes.
LINEAR SCALE PATTERNS
One common system for creating linear patterns involves grouping the notes of a scale in a series of symmetrical two string-set shapes and repeating them up the fretboard. FIGURE 1A applies this concept to the G minor pentatonic scale (G-Bb-C-D-F). All of the scale’s pitches are represented in a five-note symmetrical pattern established on the lowest string pair: the F and G notes (b7th and root) lie on string 6; Bb, C, and D (b3rd, 4th and 5th) on string 5. The same pattern is repeated on strings 4–3-two frets up from the starting point, or an octave up, and then again another octave up, on strings 2–1. This two-string-set system not only promotes fretboard memorization but also facilitates picking, legato patterns, and consistent fret-hand fingering—all of which will in turn increase speed as well as accuracy. Check out FIGURE 1B, in which each slide puts you into position for a smooth transition to the next string set.
FIGURE 2A applies the two string-set principle to the F major pentatonic scale (F-G-A-C-D). Again, the symmetrical nature of the pattern allows for consistent fingering and picking deployment, as shown in FIGURE 2B. Also, you can get extra mileage from these two patterns by using them for relative pentatonic phrases. (The G minor pentatonic scale is relative to the Bb major pentatonic scale, the F major pentatonic scale is relative to the D minor pentatonic scale, and so forth.)
The two-string-set system works beautifully for pentatonic scales, but it can be applied to virtually any scale. Granted, the more notes in the scale, the more involved the adjacent-string patterns will be. But with personalized fret-hand fingerings and shifting strategies, you’ll find the system to be highly useful for sailing up and down the neck and for conveniently getting from point A to point B. FIGURES 3A–H offer a number of linear patterns for a variety of scales. Play through them slowly and carefully, working out your own legato moves (slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs) as you go.
OTHER LINEAR CONCEPTS
A simple but often overlooked linear tactic is to play an entire scale on a single string. FIGURE 4 depicts the E Mixolydian mode (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D) dispatched legato-style along string 3.
FIGURE 5 presents a linear stratagem based on neighboring pentatonic patterns. Played exclusively along strings 1–2, the phrase traverses the top portions of the five box patterns of the A minor pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G).
Arpeggios also make great candidates in a linear campaign. FIGURES 6A–D show some useful patterns fashioned from the two-string-set concept. Don’t be fooled by the fact that three of them start on the given scale’s 5th degree—lining up the notes in this order affords clear symmetrical contours and results in a pattern that is extremely well suited for legato moves, as you will see and hear in the solo.
Now let’s put some of these linear patterns and concepts to use [FIGURE 7]. In this solo, we’ll rock out over a 17-measure progression in the key of G minor. Notice that this solo is divided into two parts: the first section (measures 1–8) rides a i-bVII-bVI-biii-V7 progression (Gm-F-Eb-Bb-D7). The second section (measures 9–17) opens on the bVI chord (Eb), and then returns to the i chord for an ascending chordal cadence (i-bIII-iv-bVI (Gm-Bb-Cm-Eb) before wrapping up with a V-i (D7–Gm) change.
After a couple of 16th-note scratches in the pickup measure, the solo opens with a snarling 6th-string G and a two-bar ascending run in G minor pentatonic (G-Bb-C-D-F). Carved from the pattern in FIGURE 1A, the passage leads to the target note, C (the 5th degree of the F chord), at the top of measure 3. From there, the melody cascades down a syncopated sequenced version of the major-pentatonic pattern in FIGURE 2A.
Measure 5 brings the Eb chord, for which we’ll deploy a palm-muted Cm7 arpeggio in linear fashion (see FIGURE 6B). The muting is released at the top of measure 6, where the ascending phrase segues to a descending Ebmaj7 arpeggio, courtesy of FIGURE 6A’s pattern. Use your 1st and 4th fingers to fret these widespread notes. Measure 7 contains the Bb change, as well as another sequenced phrase, this time riding the Bb major pentatonic scale (Bb-C-D-F-G) and shaped from the linear pattern in FIGURE 2A. The V7 chord (D7) marks the end of the first section, whereupon an emotive, Dadd4 arpeggio (D-F#-G-A) tumbles down the fretboard in linear fashion. This move is perhaps best explained as a four-note pattern (G-F#-D-A) played on strings 1–3 and repeated an octave below on strings 3–5.
Look back over the previous measures and you’ll see a triplet-fueled pathway sprinkled with a few rests (for breathing) and ties (for syncopation). The second section, on the other hand, marks a rhythmic turning point: a stream of quarter-note triplets interspersed with swung eighth notes. In the opening measures of this section (9–10), selected notes from Eb Lydian (Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D) provide the melodic fuel, informing a phrase borne of the Lydian pattern in FIGURE 3E. Next, measures 11–12 revisit the rhythmic theme from the first section, as a speedy Gm7 arpeggio run spills into a slippery Bb major pentatonic passage that climbs back up the fretboard in a three-notes-per-string fashion.
Measures 13–15 marry the rhythmic themes from both sections in a tantalizing melodic recipe consisting of a Cm triad (C-Eb-G), the C Dorian mode (C-D-Eb F-G-A-Bb), and the Eb major pentatonic (Eb-F-G-Bb-C) scale. The Cm triad maneuver finds its origins in the neighboring-patterns concept explained in FIGURE 5. Whereas that example skipped along the top of pentatonic boxes, this lick skirts the 3rd- and 2nd-string portions of standard Cm triad patterns. Selected members of C Dorian supply the notes for the subsequent open-string passage, and Eb major pentatonics are spread out along the inner four-string set.
For the grand finale (measures 16–17), a pair of sequenced arpeggios (D7 and F#07) zip down the neck, and the solo goes out on a heavily vibratoed G and subsequent gliss.
A quick note on ‘boxes’
The guitar neck is long and the notes overlap from one string to the next. There is no way we can memorise all the patterns in one go.
- To make life easier for ourselves we divide all scales on the neck into 5 segments to make things more manageable.
- You can play every scale in each segment. We call these segments ‘boxes’.
For example, with no boxes, this is what the full neck diagram looks like for the E Minor Pentatonic Scale.
- This is overwhelming! So we do what we always do. We simplify.
- We break this long pattern into 5 shorter patterns. These 5 smaller patterns are called ‘boxes’.
So for each scale, we have box 1, box 2, box 3, box 4 and box 5. (After the 12th fret, the 5 box patterns repeat again.)
As you can see, the boxes overlap. The right side of box 1 is the left side of box 2. And so on.
- From a music theory point of view, the notes in all 5 boxes follow the same musical pattern. They are the same scale.
- But when these notes are laid out across the guitar fretboard the fives boxes look very different from one another.
- They all share the same musical ‘DNA’, but their appearance is different.
That means we have to learn multiple patterns to play the same scale in different positions on the guitar neck.
Don’t worry about learning boxes 2, 3, 4 and 5 right now. Just focus on box 1 for each scale.
Master box 1 of each scale before attempting others
In this article, to keep things simple, we’ve just used box 1 for each scale. This is how you should approach this too.
This is by far the best way to learn guitar scales. Just learn box 1’s for now, but know that there are 4 more boxes for every scale. You can move onto these in the future! 🙂
Ok let’s look at my favourite scale of all, the Blues Scale. This is why we learn guitar scales!
The Blues Scale
The Blues Scale is a very close relative of the Minor Pentatonic Scale. It sounds awesome in most rock, indie, country and blues scenarios.
It looks like this:
The Blues Scale
One of the coolest things about the Blues Scale is that you can often play it over both major and minor keys.
It won’t work over every chord progression, but it does work over lots. It’s a versatile scale.
If you’re trying to learn guitar scales this is a huge boost, because it makes everything easier.
If you want to learn guitar scales because you intend to play lead guitar you need to know this:
The easiest way to play lead guitar that will sound “good” is to play notes from a scale that matches the song’s key.
This is so important I’m going to re-type it!!
The easiest way to play lead guitar that will sound “good” is to play notes from a scale that matches the song’s key.
So if the key of a song is C Major, you will sound awesome if you play a riff or solo with notes from the C Major Scale. In this example, the key and the scale match. Voila! We have harmony.
How to work out the key of a song
The easiest way to work this out is to look at the first and last chord of the song. (They’re often the same chord.) 99% of the time the key of the song will be one of those two chords.
A key-finding example
So for example, let’s say the first chord of the song is A minor.
This means that you can play any note from the A Minor Scale (or the A Minor Pentatonic Scale) and it will sound good. Some notes will sound better than others, but none of them will sound ‘bad’.
Let’s look at another example
Let’s say the first chord of the song was E major. You could play any note from the E Major Scale (or the E Major Pentatonic Scale) and it would sound good.
Depending on the track, you may also be able to play the E Minor Scale, or the E Minor Pentatonic Scale too. If it’s a rock track, the E Blues Scale might also work.
NINJA TIP:You can often play a minor scale over a major key. This will often sound good. This does not work as well the other way around! Try it and you’ll HEAR the difference.
How to practice scales
When we learn guitar scales the first thing we need to do is commit the scale pattern to memory.
- The easiest way to do this is to break the scale into bite-sized chunks. So first of all, focus only on box 1 for the scale.
- The notes of all boxes cover two octaves. So we can make things even easier by just focussing on the first octave of box 1.
So the easiest way to learn guitar scales is to ‘split’ the scale boxes into octaves 1 and 2.
An example of how to learn a guitar scale
Let’s use the G Major Scale as an example. Box 1 looks like this:
To begin with, focus on learning the first octave. This is the distance from the first to the second root note. In this box, for this scale, the first octave spans strings 6, 5 and 4:
After you’ve memorised this, move onto the second octave, which spans strings 4 to 1:
Important point: Note that the last note of octave 1 is also the first note of octave 2. There are 8 notes in each octave, but there are not 16 notes in total across two octaves. There are only 15.
Why learn this way?
To learn guitar scales we have to break things into bite-size chunks. It just makes things faster.
This octave-splitting method might not seem necessary for box 1 of easy patterns like the Minor Pentatonic Scale, but for more complicated scales/boxes with more elaborate patterns this approach can make things a lot more manageable and allow us to learn guitar scales quickly and more reliably.
Here’s an important piece of technique
Remember to use one finger per fret, like this:
It’s ok to use the pads (the fingerprints) to play notes when you play lead guitar.
This is something that should be avoided at all costs when playing chords, but when we’re trying to learn guitar scales it’s ok to adapt our fretting technique. In fact, it’s flat out beneficial! 🙂
Learn slowly and correctly to embed good muscle memory
When we learn guitar scales it’s very important to learn slowly AND correctly. You must resist the urge to play fast.Playing slowly and correctly is the best way to embed muscle memory. Playing quickly leads to mistakes, frustration and twitchy muscle memory. That’s not what we want.
Practice ascending and descending the scales, but also try doubling back on yourself in different amounts.
- For example: ascend two notes, then descend one, ascend two, then descend one (and so on).
- Then try ascending 3 and descending one.
These are useful ways to learn the scales rote, but of course let’s not lose sight of the final aim here which is to develop a sense of musicality.
Nothing will improve your ability to learn guitar scales and play lead guitar more than jamming.
It is essential that you play the scales over MUSIC.
Don’t become the classic bedroom guitarist. The type of people who simply learn guitar scales and patterns in isolation. No!
You need to develop a feel for these patterns. Play the scales over backing tracks (YouTube is filled with them) and reach out and connect with other musicians who live locally to you.
Playing with other musicians is transformative for your progress as a guitarist.
Jam exercise – Try this backing track
Hit play on the backing track below and play jam with some notes from the E Minor Pentatonic Scale:
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Continue reading on page 2:
Beginner Guitar Scales
Pentatonic Scale Patterns Box 2
Step Two to Guitar Solo mastery | Pentatonic Pattern Two Beginner guitar scales are the first step to mastering solo guitar.
Why are beginner guitar scales so vital for solo guitar and so popular with players and audiences?
Well, Ted Nugent puts it this way it is one of - " the sonic warfare elements".
The 5 Pentatonic Scale Patterns - Revisited
The pentatonic scale is simple, beginner simple. Only 5 notes arranged in easy to remember beginner guitar scales.
Yet it is the basic foundation of the Blues, Rock and Roll and a whole bunch of other types of music.
I think that's a great reason to start with the pentatonic scale patterns as opposed to the hundreds of other scale patterns that you could start with. Why complicate your life?
The pentatonic scale is the fastest way to sounding really good.If you arrived here first welcome - Click here to start with Box 1 here.
Here are the links to all of the lessons on the beginner scales
Beginner Scales one
Beginner Scales Two
Beginner Scales Three
Beginner Scales Four
Beginner Scales Five
Pentatonic Scale Patterns - Box 2.
Progress marches on.
To really get these patterns into your long-term memory, there is no substitute for practice.
This practice can take many forms.
First you want to just get the guitar scale patterns down so that you know what they are and what they look and feel like.
They need to be in your muscle memory.
Go slowly at first memorize how the pattern looks and feel without any metronome or drum machine.
At this point, they would be a distraction.
As soon as you know the pattern get out the metronome.
Set it at a slow speed and spent some time working at it.
Speed it up when it gets to be too easy.
This is a great metronome to use Just for that.
Metronome by BestMetronome.com
Now it's time to use a backing track in A or a drum machine.
Jam until it feels like second nature.
Here is the graphic and tab for pattern one to review and compare with pattern two.
See you at beginner scales - pentatonic scale patterns box 3 soon.
Links to useful websites
Gosk - Guitar Scales
Return home - from Beginner Guitar Scales
Scale boxes guitar
You’ll find a lot of stuff on the internet about breaking out of scale boxes; some players suggest learning the modes (more boxes?) or throwing other intervals into the mix (still a box), playing horizontally up and down one string (not practical), and even learning arpeggios (yet more patterns). These approaches are all well and good, but don’t really get to the crux of why it’s so hard for guitarists to break away from those incredibly comfortable box positions, especially those of the minor pentatonic variety. Let me just say that there’s nothing wrong with playing in boxes; many guitarists have made lifelong careers out of it, and it might just be that you’re not melodic enough, and you need a more melodic approach to scales such as this one. If that doesn’t do it for you, you might want to consider the following…
IN ORDER TO BREAK OUT OF SCALE BOXES, YOU NEED TO STOP THINKING IN SCALE BOXES.
Think about that for a second. What’s more, if you feel the need to break out of scale patterns and boxes, it most likely means that you’re ready to take your playing to the next level and see all the possibilities on the fretboard, rather than a few box patterns – some more discernible than others.
How do you stop thinking in scale boxes?
Good question. Up until this point, you may have reduced everything you know on the guitar to a pattern, which is somewhat like painting by numbers. What we need to do is wipe the slate clean and come up with a different approach that a) doesn’t involve boxes, and b) serves as a mental workout for us to find the notes we want without relying on a pattern to get there.
Let’s see what we can do with the A Minor Pentatonic scale to replace those boxes with some other way of finding the notes. The first thing we need to do is make sure we know where all the A notes are on the fretboard. Here’s a diagram to help you:
The next step is to play the root, the minor third and the minor seven on the same string all over the fretboard as follows:
As you can see, this is just enough of the scale to be dangerous but not enough to fall back into pattern playing. There are two things you can do here: 1) come up with a riff or lick and play it on every string, and 2) try moving around the fretboard using only the intervals above – the idea here being to force yourself into different parts of the fretboard without using a pattern or ending up in another box. Play around with this for a good while until you know what intervals you’re playing. Part of not thinking in boxes is stopping relying on boxes to find notes; here we’re locating notes by their interval name or distance in frets from the root. Once you’re ready to move on, add in the remaining two notes from the scale; practice finding them first using the following diagram:
The four and the five from a minor pentatonic scale are the ‘weakest’ notes, and once you know where they are, you’ll be itching to combine them with the other intervals. The key here is to keep on choosing what to play rather than reverting to boxes; in any case, you should see the huge difference in your perception of the scale.
There are in fact two favorable outcomes from this exercise; the first is that even if you drift back into boxes, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re playing rather than having the scale box dictate it to you, the second is that you’ve hopefully opened your mind’s eye view of the fretboard to possibilities other than a box shape.
This works with pretty much any scale, so feel free to try it out with any other patterns you feel trapped in.
Major Scale Positions - Play Across The Entire Neck
Stringing the Positions Together
What we've done here is start a new box pattern at each degree of the F♯ Major Scale, creating one large pattern across the neck...
The best way to link up these positions smoothly and seamlessly is to start by connecting the boxes two-at-a-time.
For example, start by connecting the 1st and 2nd positions. Then the 2nd and 3rd. Then 3rd and 4th etc. until you reach the 1st position again.
Then, try connecting three-at-a-time. 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions. Then 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Then 3rd, 4th and 5th etc.
Using this process, you'll soon have the entire, neck-wide pattern memorised.
Remember, once we get passed the 7th position, the sequence repeats... until we run out of neck!
Try challenging yourself to "land" on different tones within the pattern. For example, you could move from root to root throughout the connected sequence. This is great for building your spatial awareness of related notes.
The next stage is to practice this same sequence on other roots. For example, A Major...
When the root note changes, the entire pattern moves with it. The important thing is you can gauge the position of these root notes from the individual position patterns you learned. So spend time learning each position pattern by heart before you attempt to link them together.
Also, as well as linking the Major Scale positions together into one large pattern like above, try creating your own larger patterns by linking two or more positions together (for example, three-notes-per-string). This will allow you to use runs and other scale techniques in more economical spaces on the fretboard, especially at higher frets. More help with that in the next part.
Expanding Out Of "Box Think"
Box scale patterns are useful for three main reasons:
1) They help you see convenient chord shapes that can be built around the scale you're playing (since chords essentially use the same intervals). We looked at this in part one, pulling related chord shapes out of the scale patterns.
2) They allow you to create scale runs in a confined area which is useful for quick legato playing and arpeggios (more on these in their own lessons).
3) At first, they help you break down the large scale pattern into "bite sized" chunks. You can move between the boxes and keep your bearings (since you now know each scale degree's box pattern and where it lies in relation to the next/last!)
However, when soloing, you'll eventually want to have the option to play across larger fretboard areas. This is about smooth, fluid movements right across the fretboard and wider interval movements across each string. Sliding is one way to utilise these wider movements, but also regular picking higher up the fretboard where the fret spaces are narrower (e.g. you may be able to span 8 frets between your index and pinky finger rather than just 4 or 5).
To help connect these boxes in your mind, we need to work on the interval relationships of the scale in various positions on the fretboard. We touched on this in the major scale lesson, but now we know the scale across a much larger area, these interval relationships can now be visualised across the entire fretboard.
Let's look at some examples, going back to that large F♯ Major Scale pattern. Don't worry, you won't have to do this for every scale you learn since many scales share the same core intervals...
Root - 3rd degrees.
The major 3rd is responsible for giving the scale its major quality...
Root - 3rd - 5th degrees.
These make up a major triad/arpeggio...
Root - 3rd - 5th - 7th degrees...
We can see the root is a semitone (1 fret) above the 7th. Therefore, you'll know wherever the root appears, the 7th will be right behind it. Together these make up a major 7th (maj7) chord/arpeggio...
So, you get the idea - explore different degree/interval relationships across the wide scale patterns and relate them to the positions from earlier - this allows you to effectively "connect the boxes".
For example, you could play a wide run, ending up inside the 6th position box where you could then play around just in that box pattern for a few bars. This gives your soloing a dynamic edge, because both styles of playing - boxed and wide movements - produce different sounds, even though you're still playing the same scale!
If you want to learn how to use these patterns to unlock more scales, and learn how they connect to related chords, take a look at my Ultimate Roadmap book.
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