3-Notes-Per-String Major Scale Shapes | Secret Weapon (TAB + Practice Tracks)
The 7 three-note-per-string major scale guitar patterns - Beginner-friendly lesson | Learn to play guitar faster & better
In this lesson, you're going to learn the seven 3-notes-per-string major scale shapes. Looking to improve your guitar playing?
You're in the right place. Because for any guitar player looking to upgrade your playing skills, scales are your best friend.
And to maximise your guitar playing gains, it’s a good idea to learn as many different ways of playing a scale as you can get your fingers around.
The truth of the matter is, depending on how you want to enter or exit a lick, solo or arpeggio you're playing, you’ll have more options when you’re not limited to knowing just one scale pattern.
3-Notes-Per-String Major Scale Benefits
So what are the 3-notes-per-string major scales shapes (3NPS)? These scale sequences are patterns that give you an alternative way of mapping out the notes of the major scale on the guitar fretboard.
Popular with lead guitarists, they give you extended fretboard note access without having to move your hand around too much. As a result, this enables you to achieve economy of movement, hone your technique, and ramp up to impressive playing speeds.
Before we get to the 3NPS scale patterns, let's have a refresher on the major scale.
What Is The Major Scale?
The major scale is the Daddy of all scales and is one of the scale patterns beginner guitar players should learn first.
What's the big deal with the major scale I can almost hear you thinking?
The major scale is so important, because all the chords, licks, riffs, arpeggios and scales you will play on guitar are derived from it. The happy sounding major scale (aka the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do scale) contains 7 notes and has the interval formula:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
The scale is made from a series of fixed intervals of whole steps (tones), and half steps (semitones), like so:
Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Tone - Semitone
Here’s another way you’ll see the major scale intervals presented, where W = whole step and H = half step:
W - W - H - W - W - W - H
Now you're up to speed on a few ins and outs of the major scale, let's dive into the 3NPS major scale patterns
All of the patterns, as usual with scale box positions, are totally movable. So feel free to move them up or down the fretboard and play in whichever key you want. Many guitar players believe an added bonus to these patterns is they are often easier to memorise.
See what you think.
The Seven 3-Note-Per-String Scale Patterns
Scale Shape 1 | Pattern 4 in C Major
Scale Shape 2 | Pattern 5 in C Major
Scale Shape 3 | Pattern 5 in C Major
Scale Shape 4 | Pattern 6 in C Major
Scale Shape 5 | Pattern 1 in C Major
Scale Shape 6 | Pattern 2 in C Major
Scale Shape 7 | Pattern 3 in C Major
The nifty thing about breaking a scale up into seven shapes (rather than the usual five scale patterns) is they start on each of the 7 consecutive major scale note degrees. What this means in the key of C for example, is the fifth scale pattern down is actually shape number 1.
Why is this? It is owing to the fact the lowest note in this pattern starts on the C root note.
I choose to start with shape 4 in the diagrams above (F root note = the 4th note in the key of C major) because they are easier to digest visually in this order.
Let’s get to some practice tips to make light work of your scale practice.
Practice Tip #1 - Break It Down
Don’t think you have to go into overload mode and attempt to memorize all of the patterns in one fell swoop. Learning at least one or two is a wise move that’ll stand you in good stead for the future.
I recommend you start with pattern number 1, considering that it starts on the root note. (See the TAB below). Your finger stretch will improve tenfold when you throw a 3NPS pattern into your practice regime.
Fingerings: When playing the scale shapes, the numbers in the circles tell you which finger to play the note with: 1 = first (index) , 2 = second (middle), 3 = third (ring), 4 = fourth (pinky).
Fig 1.2 - Suggested fingerings used in 3-note-per-scale pattern 1
Practice Tip: Experiment with using fingers 1-3-4 also on the E and A string two whole step stretch, as some guitarists prefer to. I personally use fingers 1-2-4. The trick is to decide quickly which fingering works for you - then stick to it.
No chopping and changing, as this only will slow down your progression.
Fig 1.0 - 3-notes-per-string major scale pattern 1 - Alternate picking direction shown
Practice Tip #2 - Picking Direction
Many guitarists use economy picking on 3NPS patterns. That is to say they pick Down-Up-Down on the starting string, then Down-Up-Down on the next (see the tablature below in fig 1.1 where the economy picking stokes are illustrated above the tablature staff). They believe playing two downstokes in a row as you change string helps you gain playing speed.
I advise you to stick to alternate picking, at least until you become familiar and proficient at playing the shapes. With practice and good technique, you can shred as fast as you like with alternate picking, just look at guitar players like Paul Gilbert if you need proof.
At the end of the day, experiment with both picking techniques and stick to what feels natural to you.
Warning: Don’t randomly change between economy and alternate, chose one, and stick to it.
(See the TAB above in fig 1.0 where the alternate picking stokes are shown above the TAB staff).
Fig 1.1 - 3-notes-per-string major scale pattern 1 - Economy picking direction shown
Practice Tip #3 - Focus On Technique
Remember good technique should always be your key practice goal. See this article for some effective practice tips to help you improve fast and avoid wasting practice time.
Practice Tip #4 - Watch Your Timing
Always use a metronome set to a slow steady speed to start with. Gradually increase the speed and practice to a backing track. Start with the simple practice audio tracks coming up.
1) Tempo Change - Gradually increase your metronome speed in increments of around 5bpm. Play reps of 30 seconds, 60 seconds and/or 2 minutes in each tempo.
2) Change Key - 6th Root: Once you have the scale nailed playing the scale shape forwards and backwards, try playing in different keys. Play the 6th string root patterns in these keys: C (fret 8), B (fret 7), A (fret 5), G (fret 3), and the big stretch, F (fret 1). Practice other keys when you see fit.
3) Change Key - 5th Root: Practice the 5th string root scale patterns in these keys: F (fret 8), E (fret 7), D (fret 5), C (fret 3) to start with. Add on keys further up the neck when you see fit.
3) Randomise - When applying the scale to music and improvise, play the notes in different orders.
Audio Practice Tracks
This first audio track features the 3-notes-per-string C major scale pattern one played at 50bpm. Play along to the track using eighth note values. Use this practice track as a warm up piece to add to your practice routine. Watch that picking technique.
In this second audio track, the scale is played at 60bpm. Practice playing the first octave of the scale before adding on the rest. Focus on good timing.
On the third audio track, the two octave 3NPS major scale is played at 70bpm. If you're a beginner player, this will feel rather tricky to play cleanly, so stick to the slower tempo tracks and work your way up.
This final fourth audio track is is played at 125bpm. Don't attempt this speed unless your playing technique is solid. There's no point in playing fast if it sounds messy and inconsistent.