There are so many ways to play a given scale, and it’s useful to know as many as possible, in order to have something for every occasion. You’re probably familiar with the standard scale form that stays in a single position:
Three-note-per-string (which we refer to at PTG with the “3N/S” shorthand) scales are extremely handy for generating melodic sequences that are easy to play at higher tempos, and cover a greater range than position scales.
The natural progression from 3-note-per-string scales is 4-note-per-string (or 4N/S). Here is the G major scale mapped out as such, sliding with the 4th finger as it ascends:
Notice how the fingering shapes line up along the adjacent string pairs, with some position shifting — the low E and A strings have the same shape; the D and G strings have the same shape; and the B and high E strings share a shape. This makes the entire scale somewhat easier to memorize, but there’s still a fair amount there.
Now let’s look at the A minor scale in 4N/S:
This one’s a little tougher; A and D have the same fingering shape, and B and E’ share a shape. But that’s about it. Additionally, even with the position shifting and finger sliding, these are still not easy shapes to play, especially for people whose hands are not that large.
While it’s important to learn as many scale shapes and patterns as possible, as pointed out earlier, this is really only true as long as the patterns are simple to learn, convenient to play, and actually facilitate making music. There’s no point in learning a pattern that you can’t use for melodic material.
The 4N/S shapes are still worth learning, as they do give a greater melodic range to work with, and can be used for melodic sequences the same way 3N/S scales can. And the expanded fretboard navigation is valuable in greater fretting hand control.
But there’s also a happy middle ground worth learning, in combining 3-note- and 4-note-per-string patterns. This gives you the best of both worlds — there’s still a huge range of the neck that’s covered with the pattern, but they’re more playable by guitarists of most experience levels, and they don’t require huge hands to play.
Check out the G major scale, this time alternating 3 and 4 notes per string:
The great thing about this pattern is that it’s just a single pattern on the first two strings, duplicated across each successive string pair. You just have to learn the one pattern, and move it up an octave, then another octave. Simple.
And it’s the same case for the minor scale, just a different single pattern to learn:
As always, be sure to practice these patterns ascending and descending. Where the 4th finger is used to slide up in an ascending pattern, the first finger is used to slide down the descending pattern.
Let’s reverse the 3-then-4-per-string pattern, and try it descending:
Try the 3-4 pattern ascending, and the 4-3 pattern descending, and vice versa. Use any melodic sequences you can think of through these patterns as well. Until you’re comfortable with each pattern, use strict alternate picking throughout, then work in legato, palm muting, economy picking, etc. And of course, move the patterns around the neck, in as many keys as possible. Because of the greater range covered, there may be some limitations, especially with the high E string.
Here’s a sample scale run to try out:
Take it slow, use a metronome once the shapes are familiar, and come up with additional ideas and sequences to try. Good luck and have fun!