Outside the Box: 3-4N/S Major & Minor Scales

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:

GMaj_int GMaj_fing GMajor

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!

Back to Basics: What is a Scale?

While we’ve had a great deal of success and positive feedback with our e-book series over this past summer, with the books there is a certain level of knowledge presumed on the part of the reader, when it comes to discussing scale and sequencing techniques, and drawing out exercises to work on those ideas. But for players who are just starting out, terms such as “scales” and “triads” may not mean much, if anything.

Especially in English, where “scale” also means several different non-musical things, it’s easy to hear the term and recognize that it means something, and still not be entirely clear exactly what it’s supposed to mean. It’s not something on the skin of a fish or a lizard, and it’s not the device on your bathroom floor that you step on to weigh yourself.

Understanding that the word is derived from the Italian word for ladder (scala) might help in visualizing what a musical scale is and does. Many musicians who are experienced and knowledgeable about general music theory use the ladder analogy to explain the concept.

Visualize the scale as a ladder where the top and bottom rungs are the same note, but the top note is an octave higher. You can have up to a total of 12 rungs (not counting the top one), but usually between 5 and 8, with each ascending “rung” being a note in between. The value of this analogy is that it quickly reinforces the concept that like a ladder, you can move the scale around and use it anywhere, and it will retain its original configuration, as far as the spacing of the notes/rungs.

Scales are octave-repeating, so a scale that runs from C to C’ (one octave above) will retain the exact same pattern going from C’ to C” (two octaves above).

The notes of a scale are called steps or degrees, and each scale’s character and “flavor” is determined by the arrangement of the steps. Steps are counted in terms of whole steps and half steps (also known respectively as tones and semitones). A half step (or semitone) is equivalent to moving one fret up or down on the neck, so a whole step (or tone) is two frets.

The chromatic scale contains all 12 notes in the octave, and so is composed entirely of half steps:


Take out every other note, leaving six notes each a whole step apart, and you have a whole tone scale. Here are two ways to play the whole tone scale in a single playing position:



Scales such as chromatic and whole tone are part of a family of scales known as symmetrical, because the intervals between each note are exactly the same throughout the entire scale, thus dividing the octave equally. If you use every third note in an octave you have a diminished chord or arpeggio; if you use every fourth note in the octave you have an augmented chord or arpeggio. Chords and arpeggios (and triads) are derived from combining various degrees of a given scale.



Once you get down to patterns of just 3 or 4 notes, it’s difficult to classify them as “scales,” especially given the rather “rootless” quality all symmetrical scales share. The main thing with symmetrical scales is that every note is potentially a root note, because of the equally divided octave. So an A diminished scale (A, C, D#, F) can be played over a minor or diminished chord from any of the four notes in that scale, since it’s the same four notes in any case.

Don’t worry too much about learning or memorizing symmetrical scales just yet, but it doesn’t hurt to play the patterns a few times and listen to how they sound. It’s a different sound that what you may be used to, since most western music (rock, metal, country, blues, classical) is based on major and minor scales and harmonies. As this article is aimed more at beginning-level players, we’ll focus on those two types of scales for now.

Let’s use the old faithful C major scale as an example. Most rock, metal, country, and blues players will use 5- (pentatonic), 6- (hexatonic), and 7- (heptatonic) note scales in their playing. (You will frequently see the term diatonic scale used as well, to refer to 7-note scales. Technically, “diatonic” simply means “from a note to its octave note” and applies to all scales, but it is common usage to refer specifically to heptatonic scales as diatonic.)

Here is the C major scale in two octaves, played in the standard fashion in the 7th position:


Play the scale one step at a time, ascending from low to high, and then all the way back down, keeping the fretting hand locked into the position, which means each finger is assigned a fret along all 6 strings. So all the notes played on the 7th fret, regardless of string, will be played by the index finger (1), everything on the 8th fret is played by the middle finger (2), and so on. Check out the tab below for reference to fingering:


Let’s look at the scale one more time, with intervals (the distances between the notes) indicated:


The red “R” indicates the root note of the scale (in this case, C), and the intervals indicated on the black dots are their respective distances from the root note (as opposed to the distances from each other, which is a different matter). So the D note is a major 2nd (the Δ symbol represents major) from the C root note, the E note is a major 3rd from the root, the F is a perfect 4th from the root, and so on. (For a more detailed discussion of intervals, please check out the free cheat sheet on the Resources page.)

Using “H” to refer to half steps, and “W” for whole steps, you can see that the pattern for the major scale goes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C’

  W  W   H  W   W  W  H

So if you take that W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern, and recreate it anywhere on the neck, starting from any note, you have a major scale in the key of that starting note. Move the pattern one fret down, starting at 7th fret low E string, and it’s a B major scale.


Start it on the A string at 7th fret, and it’s now an E major scale.


Use the tuning of the guitar to find same notes on adjacent strings to create more advantageous fingerings for the same patterns. Here is the above E major scale reconfigured for 3 notes per string, which allows for quick navigation across multiple positionsand greater range, as well as better speed and precision for melodic sequencing patterns derived from scales.


There are many entire books about scale theory, and right now we want to keep it at a basic level, so we’ll leave you with just one other important type of scale (and pattern) to check out. The natural minor scale (actually a mode derived from the major scale, but we’ll save modes for another post) is a vital melodic basis for rock, metal, and blues guitar soloing.

In order to keep all natural notes (no sharps or flats) for our minor scale, let’s move down to A minor to show that scale pattern. Because they use the exact same notes in the same order, just from different starting points, C major and A minor are considered relative keys, and can be played over progressions in either key. So A minor is the relative minor of C major, and C major is the relative major of A minor. (This is true of all keys associated three frets (1½ steps) apart:  D minor is the relative minor of F major; E major is the relative major of C# minor; and so on.)

For now, let’s stick with C major and A minor. Let’s break down the pattern of whole and half steps for A minor, as we did with C major:

[recreate C major / A minor text patterns in GIMP]

A – B – C  –  D – E –  F –   G  –  A’

  W – H – W – W – H – W – W

Right away, you can see and hear the difference made by re-organizing the pattern of half and whole steps. Notice how if you start from the third note (C) in the above sequence, the pattern of half and whole steps is that of the major scale. That illustrates the concept of relative major and minor keys, and serves as an introductory visual to how modes are derived (again, we’ll cover those soon).

Here is the A minor scale, in 5th position, using all 6 strings:


Here’s another way to play the scale, again using 3 notes per string:


A great exercise to get familiar with the scales, as well as general fretboard navigation, is to take a sheet of paper, and map out as many different ways as you can think of to show these scale patterns. Printable sheets of blank tab or neck diagrams (free) can be found on the Resources page.

Use different positions, different strings, different numbers of strings — instead of using five or all six strings to play a scale, use two, or just one. As long as the WWHWWWH pattern of half and whole steps is being observed, it’s a major scale; as long as the WHWWHWW pattern is being used, that’s a minor scale.


We’ll cover some more ground on different types of scales, and how to derive modes from them, in future posts. A lot of beginning (and even experienced) players are unwilling to learn much in the way of how scales work. That’s unfortunate, because a little bit of effort in that direction will save you countless hours of trial and error, and potential frustration. It can look intimidating at first, but with a modest amount of attention and patience, it is not that difficult, especially for people who are mathematically inclined. It’s also pretty cool to see, as you dig deeper into this area, how the pieces of the musical puzzle fit together.

So start simple, learn the basic major and minor patterns, and map out as many variations as you can think of. As you get more familiar with the sounds of the patterns, and not just the sequence of half and whole steps, refer back to the above diagrams to get familiar with the names of the notes, and more importantly, the intervals they represent within the scale patterns.

When it comes to learning the “secret language” of scales, modes, triads, chords, etc., intervals are really the Rosetta Stone of that entire discipline. Once you understand intervals, all those other concepts start falling right into place. Just take it a piece at a time.

Free Download Weekend!

Our new Master the Classics book, Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. This weekend (August 17-18), you can pick it up for FREE! Inside Out takes the classic Hanon piano exercises and adapts them for guitar in just about every conceivable layout.

Once the free weekend is over, Inside Out will retail for just $3.99. I guarantee you that no other Hanon for guitar book has this much material in it — even at twice that price.

If you’re not sure what the Hanon deal is all about, check out our 99¢ Hanon Sampler. In 17 quick pages, you will find:  an explanation of what the Hanon exercises are and why they can supercharge your guitar chops; a tab of Exercise #1; a brief explanation of intervals and tabbed interval studies (3rds through 7ths); and an intro to Exercises #2-20 (which are covered in full in Inside Out).

Hanon Sampler is also free over the weekend. Whether you’re a beginner looking for material to build foundational technique, or an advanced player looking for great rut-busting melodic development, the Hanon exercises will add another dimension to your playing.

You don’t need to know any theory to use these books (or any of our books), just how to read tab! With our easy-to-follow methods, you’ll pick up the theory as you go along, without any studying, just playing!

So what are you waiting for? Go get the Hanon books now, while they’re free, check them out, leave a review on the Amazon pages!

Hanon Doubleheader for Kindle!

This week, we’ll be releasing two books based on the classic Hanon Exercises for piano.

The main book, Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out, features tab for the first 20 exercises. What’s more, we take Exercise #1, and expand it for the full range of the guitar neck, and show you how to work the exercise with various two- and three-string shapes, adjacent string pairs, position playing, changing key signatures, and much more! Scales, intervals, legato, economy/sweep picking are all covered, in over 100 pages of tab and analysis. The Kindle book features a link that you can use to access a free PDF version and audio files! Literally hundreds of hours’ worth of practice material at your fingertips, for far less than the price of a single guitar lesson!

The second book is an introductory sampler to Inside Out, and will give you a taste of what to expect from that book. In addition, the Hanon Sampler features interval studies that you can use and apply right away! Links to come this week, and free downloads for both books this weekend! Stay tuned!

Presto Excerpt

As you may have seen in the news, we’re in the middle of a brutal heat wave out here in California, making it pretty unpleasant to work or play guitar or do much of anything besides languish in front of a cool fan with a cold drink.

That said, we are still on track to release the next book in our Master the Classics! Series. Presto takes the classic Bach piece from the Violin Sonata #1 in Gm (BWV 1001), and works it every which way. The book will feature musical analysis of every part of the piece, and it is tabbed in two octaves, with plenty of great melodic shapes to learn and apply to your own playing. Best of all, there are dozens of exercises based on the music, featuring classic shredder techniques such as sweep picking, string skipping, pedal point, and more!

Whether you’re a novice player looking for tips on building technique, or an experienced shredder looking for more and better practice material, Presto will have something for players of all styles and skill levels.

So while we’re finishing up editing, formatting, and cover art, here’s another excerpt from the book:


The diagram below shows the G harmonic minor scale notes (other than open strings) from the 1st through the 12th frets:

G Harmonic Minor 01

Carefully observe how the scale lies across the fretboard, and see how you can create various useful fingerings for this scale, using any number of strings (including just one string). Here’s the tab for a standard six-string fingering at the 3rd position:


Here’s an alternate fingering that’s great for working up the neck quickly:


Use the suggested fingerings and slides, take it slow at first, and you should be ripping it up in no time.

A lot of the counterpoint and melodic motion in the Presto takes place within a single octave of the G harmonic minor, so these next few exercises will focus on a snapshot of the fretboard:

G Harmonic Minor 02

Here’s the tab:


Even though the shift to the B string is two frets, it should not be too difficult to handle. Run it back and forth until it’s fast, clean, and smooth. Since all four fingers are used at some point or other, it makes an effective warm-up exercise as well.

Now what if we start this scale sequence one scale degree down, like this?


Since it’s starting from the 7th degree of the scale, this is considered the seventh mode of the harmonic minor scale. It is commonly known as the Ultralocrian. Where the Locrian mode (seventh mode of the major scale) is spelled out (relative to major scale) R-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7, the Ultralocrian spells out (again, relative to major scale) R-b2-b3-b4-b5-b6-bb7; every note other than the root is flattened, and the 7th degree is diminished (flattened twice).

The harmonic minor scale and the Ultralocrian mode each have their own distinctive “flavor” that works well over certain types of progressions. It’s definitely worth the effort to get familiar with these scales.

Let’s run this up and back in thirds, along the D-G-B strings:


There are some twists and turns in there, so take it slow and use the recommended fingering. There’s a balance of one-string and two-string third intervals throughout, demonstrating the importance of learning intervals every way possible.


Hope you enjoyed the excerpt. Presto will be available on Amazon July 4th, and we’ll kick off the release with free downloads all weekend (July 4-7)! Stay tuned, and check in as this week moves along, as we’ll have an excerpt from the other forthcoming book as well.

Presto Change-o

The next two PTG books for Kindle are scheduled for release on July 4, with free downloads available for that entire weekend (July 4-7). One of the books is based on the Presto movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata #1 in G minor.

This one is going to be a shredder’s paradise — the piece itself is technically and musically complex and rewarding, and the book also includes dozens of exercises derived from the work. These exercises range from sweep and economy picking to pedal point to developing melodic contour. This book is ambitious in scope, and will give you tons of technique and theory knowledge while you play. And even after the free download weekend, it will be priced at only $2.99, far less than the price of a single professional lesson.

And I promise you, this one book contains months, perhaps years of valuable knowledge that you can apply to your own playing right away.

So I’d like to give you a preview of what you can expect from the Presto book in a couple of weeks.

Let’s take a look at the first few bars of the piece:


The Presto starts off with some nice arpeggio work. You can see we have this tabbed for economy and sweep picking, but initially you should run through it with strict down-up alternate picking until you have the forms and fingerings down.

Check out the sweep arpeggio fingerings tabbed below for G minor and G major:


You can pick the hammered notes if you prefer, but if your hammering technique is tight, it will actually sound smoother and cleaner as you set up to sweep through the rest of the arpeggio. This is a great introductory exercise to sweep arpeggios, and one that you can break down into its component parts, and incorporate into your soloing and melodic playing.

We’ll have more excerpts in the weeks to come, so play hard and stay tuned!

3N/S Patterns: Harmonic Minor

The harmonic minor scale is actually easier to play in position than as a 3-notes-per-string (“3N/S”) pattern. But because these patterns have so many cool uses for melodic sequencing, and are helpful in traveling up and down the neck, it’s worth learning.

If you’re not familiar with the harmonic minor scale by name, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard it here and there. It is not commonly used in pop music, but is frequently found in metal and classical. Guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen have built careers on the virtuosic, heavy classical sound of this scale.

Spelled intervallically, the natural minor scale (in relation to the major scale) goes: 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7. So the 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees of the major scale are flattened to make a natural minor scale (aka Aeolian mode).

The harmonic minor scale is the same as the natural minor, except that the 7th degree is not flattened, only the 3rd and 6th degrees. This creates a wider interval between that b6 and the Δ7 (the delta Δ can be used to denote major), which creates the melodic tension most associated with the harmonic minor scale.

Check out the diagrams below for notes and intervals in the scale:


Here’s the tab and .wav for the scale:


HMinor Scale

It takes a bit of back-and-forth shifting going from string to string, but once you get the shape down it’s not too bad. As always, take it slow at first, use strict alternate picking, and observe what each hand is doing as you shift and move from one string to the next.

The practice sequence below moves along the scale in thirds, ascending then descending. Check the tab and .wav files:


HMinor Seq (60bpm)   HMinor Seq (120bpm)

We’ll post some more ideas for melodic sequencing with 3N/S patterns soon, but in the meantime, try all of the sequencing ideas we’ve gone through so far on all of the scales (blues, major, minor, harmonic minor) we’ve looked at. Interval studies (such as the sequence in thirds tabbed above) are especially useful in discovering patterns within these larger scale patterns.

3N/S Patterns: Minor Scale

In looking at 3-note-per-string (aka “3N/S”) scale patterns we’ve touched on blues and major scales. Let’s take a look at the natural minor scale next. We’ll use the A minor scale, since it’s all natural notes (no sharps or flats), and the A minor scale is the relative minor of the C major scale. (Conversely, C major is the relative major of A minor.)

Here is the scale, spelled out in notes and then in intervals:


To add a little bit to the reference to modes from last time, since we know that a mode is a scale starting from a given tone, and there are seven tones in a major scale, then there must be seven modes, right?  This is where that “relative minor/major” idea comes in; if you count through the respective scales, you can see that the minor scale is the 6th (or Aeolian) mode of the major scale, which is A.

Here’s the tab and .wav file for the A minor scale:


Minor Scale

You’ll have to shift a little bit moving from the G to B and B to E strings, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Check out the Modes cheat sheet on the Resources page for diagrams that are useful for visualization.

Here’s a cool melodic sequence to use on 3N/S scale patterns. It ascends through the scale pattern with a four-note sequence that goes (numbers indicate scale steps) 1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, etc. Descending the pattern goes in reverse, 3-2-1-3.

Take it slow, use alternate picking (starting with a downstroke) and a metronome, and pay attention to those shifts on the upper strings. Use the .wav files for reference:


Minor Seq (60bpm) Minor Seq (120bpm)

Stay tuned, there’s another 3N/S pattern to cover, as well as more melodic sequences to use, and we’ll also be covering some ideas to improve your acoustic fingerstyle playing!

3N/S Patterns: Major Scale

Let’s continue our series on 3-note-per-string (referred to here as “3N/S”) by looking at the major scale. We’ll revisit the C Major scale, since it is comprised solely of natural notes (no sharps or flats). Check out the diagrams below, showing the scale spelled out in notes and then in intervals:

notes(2) intervals(2)

Notice that these aren’t “root-to-root” scales encompassing multiple full octaves, they are two octaves and a perfect fourth, roughly 2½ octaves. This is simply to make the most out of the position being played in, as there are only a couple of minor shifts involved.

For people who aren’t familiar with the concept of modes, there’s no time like the present to bring it up. A mode is just a scale sequence that starts from a given note in the scale. So if you start from C (the root), that’s the C Ionian mode (as well as the C Major scale). If you go from D to D’ (one octave up), that is called D Dorian. E to E’ is E Phrygian, and so on. The positions can be (and are) extrapolated along the neck.

We’ll go over modes in depth in a future series, in the meantime, check out the Modes cheat sheet on the Resources page for a quick overview. Modes are an incredibly useful tool in developing a melodic and truly musical style.

Check the tab and .wav file below. As always, use alternate picking (starting with a downstroke) and use a metronome. Notice that the sequence comes back down through the scale in the next position, which again would be the D Dorian mode:

Major Scale 01

Major Scale

The strength of playing scales this way is that they are useful in a huge variety of melodic sequencing patterns,  The sequence shown below is a great example of what can be done, it ascends four notes at a time through the scale. Try both ascending and descending, and listen to the accompanying .wav files for reference:

Major Seq 01

Major Seq (60bpm) Major Seq (120bpm)

Work it around in as many positions as you can think of, keeping in mind where the root note is located. We’ll review another scale and cool melodic sequence soon.

3N/S Patterns: Blues Scale

Recalling the Scales and Intervals series from a few weeks back (and we will be looking at the various intervals in the coming week), learning and memorizing scale patterns is probably the best way to build an arsenal of melodic licks.

As we’ve alluded to before, one of the most efficient ways to learn scales and cover some real estate on the neck is to use 3-note-per-string patterns. (“3N/S” seems like a convenient shorthand to use, hence the post title.) These patterns lend themselves very well to a variety of rhythmic and melodic sequences, many of which we’ll cover soon.

But first, let’s take a look at some scale patterns, starting with the blues scale. Unlike the diatonic major and minor scales, which have seven notes, or the five-note pentatonic scale, the blues scale has six notes (hexatonic). It is the pentatonic minor scale with an added flat fifth; intervallically, it’s spelled 1(R)-b3-4-b5-5-7.

Here’s the usual positional layout for the A minor blues scale, covering the first two of the five box positions:

Am Blues Scale

This is great if you want to remain in position, but if you want a convenient way to navigate, and come up with melodic sequences that are more efficient and easier to play at higher tempos, then the 3N/S style is really useful. Here’s how the blues scale looks in 3N/S:

Am Blues

It’s really just the same two-string shape, repeated three times across the neck, with position shifts. Just play the first two strings a few times at first to get the shape down; the first three notes are likely to be awkward to play at first, since about the only way to play that part is by using the third (ring) finger, a 1-3-4 fingering. Consider it a good way to get that tricky 3-4 fingering combination into shape. Play the shape ascending, and then back down, per the tab below:


If it’s too much of a stretch to start down at the 5th position, move the whole shape a few frets up.

Practice the entire sequence in a few different keys, in various positions along the neck. The first note is the root note, so if you start the sequence at the 7th fret of the low E string, it’s in B minor, 9th fret would be C#m, and so on.

Try this melodic sequence using the 3N/S pattern in sextuplets:


Use strict down-up alternate picking, take it slow at first and build up speed. Use a metronome to track your progress.

Stay tuned, we’ll have some other 3N/S scale and modal patterns over the coming week, as well as some sequences to try out on them!