Playing the Fingerboard – The Monster Scale

Hopefully, the last few posts have taught you about modes and helped you understand how to see the different modes in actual guitar scales. Now it’s time to bring everything together.

All I ask of you in this post is to memorize three scale patterns. These three patterns will then connect to each other like a jigsaw puzzle in order to form the monster scale (as I like to call it). Guess what, if you’ve read the first two posts, you already know one of the three!

Yes, the first pattern to memorize is this Ionian pattern.


The second is a phrygian pattern. Remember, the phrygian mode takes the same form as a minor scale with a lowered 2nd.


Before you learn the third pattern, focus on those two. When you feel comfortable playing them both, it’s time to combine them. Phrygian is the mode you get by starting a major scale from its 3rd scale degree. Therefore, if you start the above phrygian pattern on the 3rd note of the above ionian pattern, you get this:


Do you see where I’m getting at here yet? By memorizing certain mode patterns you can piece them together like a puzzle.

Disclaimer: Please don’t get confused by the frets with two dots in them. No, the fret is not divided into micro-notes. I only included both dots to show that those notes are shared between the two patterns.

If you want to play in the key of G, all you have to do is position the first note of the ionian pattern on a G on the low E string. Once you do that, all of those above notes are fair game because they’re all in the key of G! Practice this combination of patterns as much as your brain can handle. Try playing up the ionian section of the pattern, but after you hit the last note play down the phrygian pattern. Come up with your own exercises, there are too many to count.

Yes you guessed it, once you have that under your belt it’s time to add another mode pattern. Now, you could start the next mode pattern from the note furthest to the right on the low E string, which corresponds to the 5th note of the major scale (which would be the mixolydian pattern). However, for visualization purposes I personally recommend skipping that one and adding the aeolian pattern. Don’t worry, the mixolydian scale will still be in there, but the aeolian pattern provides a more distinct way to divide this huge scale up in your head (you’ll see what I mean). Aeolian is also known as “natural minor”, and should be familiar to those of you who have practiced your minor scales. Since we’re connecting our notes on the low E string, we want an aeolian pattern that starts on the low E string. Here you go:


Start this pattern to the right of the 5th note on the low E string of the previous pattern. This is what it looks like:


Oh man, we’re getting serious here. So many frets! Every one of those colorful dots can be played in any one key.

“It’s like a whole new world!”

You didn’t think it ended there, did you? We now reach the best part of this whole mess of information. You know what’s cool about the musical scale? It’s cyclical! Once you get to the 8th note of the major scale, you begin playing that exact same scale in the next octave. Notice how on the low E string we have already covered eight notes. Do you know what this means?!?!? You can start this humongous pattern all over again:


Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beauty of the monster scale pattern. That black line on the bottom shows one place where the pattern repeats.

Hint hint:  Do you see how many frets that black line spans? The notes on the guitar repeat every 12 frets. That’s why the 12th fret is almost always marked with a special inlay. This means that if you know where all the playable notes in a key are up to the 12th fret, you know where those notes are across the ENTIRE fingerboard!

If this huge bunch of notes is intimidating to you, just break it down into the different mode patterns. Remember, this isn’t a scale pattern that you have to memorize and play from left to right, bottom to top. The idea is to get away from the mentality that you have to play a confined scale pattern that spans 4 frets while you’re improvising. Think of it as all of the “playable” frets on the fingerboard lighting up for one specific key. You are free to play any of those notes!

Remember, this pattern can be started from anywhere on the fretboard. Whatever note you begin that ionian pattern on represents the major key in which you are playing in. If you want all of these notes to correspond with G major, place the first ionian note on a G! Remember, guitarists read these scale diagrams from left to right, bottom to top. When I say the “first” note in a pattern, I’m talking about the bottom-most, left-most note of that pattern.

Whew. I did my best to explain that as clearly as possible, but if you’re confused about anything please let me know. I’m happy to answer any questions or respond to any issues you may have. I suspect I’ll work a little more on this topic in the future.

Until then, let your fingers run free.


Playing the Fingerboard – Scale Modes

When it comes to learning a musical concept on any instrument, I’m all about laying down the foundation with a little music theory. Love it or hate it, breaking something down to basics is almost always the more profitable method in the end. For this particular lesson, the theory concept I’d like to go over is modes.

What are modes? Explain!

First, let’s state the obvious. In music you have scales, which are patterns of notes played in ascending or descending order (COUGH, Basic Scale Theory). Normally when you practice a scale you play the notes in order, starting and ending on the note that the scale is named after. If it’s C major, you start and end with C. If you forgot what a C major scale sounds like, listen to this clip:

The notes you’re hearing are – C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C

That’s all fine and dandy, but let’s say you’re feeling rebellious. You’re tired of starting and ending the C major scale with C, and you want to play the scale starting and ending with D. Ever wonder what that would sound like? Check it out:

The notes you’re hearing are – D   E   F   G   A   B   C   D

You’re using all of the same notes from C major, but it doesn’t quite sound the same anymore. It sounds kind of….off. It’s almost like trying to read a sentence by starting with the second word and ending with the first word. Don’t worry, you didn’t break the C major scale. You are hearing one of the seven modes within the scale. If you compare the notes of this mode with the D minor scale (which are:  D   E   F   G   A   Bb   C   D), you will notice that the 6th scale degree is raised one half step. So, if you play a C major scale by starting and ending with D, you are hearing a D minor scale with a raised 6th. This type of minor scale is also known as the dorian scale. In the sound clip above, you are hearing the D dorian mode.

Interesting, but why do you call it a “mode”? Isn’t it still a scale?

In my experience, people use the terms “mode” and “scale” almost interchangeably whilst speaking in music geek jargon. To me, it’s all about reference. D dorian itself is a scale, but it happens to contain the same notes found in C major. Therefore, D dorian is a mode within the C major scale. Both terms are correct, but one is more specific than the other.

Wow, great explanation! So what are the other six modes?

Thanks. As I mentioned, there are seven modes within a scale, one mode for each note in the scale. The modes made from the major scale are called major modes. There are other sets of modes out there that are based on different scales, but let’s focus on the major modes for now as they are the most widely used and easiest to start with.

Here is a list of each mode found within the C major scale, along with quick descriptions and audio clips.

Ionian:  C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C

– Also known as C major

Dorian:  D   E   F   G   A   B   C   D

– A D minor scale with a raised 6th (it would normally be Bb)

Phrygian:  E   F   G   A   B   C   D   E

– An E minor scale with a lowered 2nd (it would normally be F#)

Lydian:  F   G   A   B   C   D   E   F

– An F major scale with a raised 4th (it would normally be Bb)

Mixolydian:  G   A   B   C   D   E   F   G

– A G major scale with a lowered 7th (it would normally be F#)

Aeolian:  A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A

– Also known as the natural minor scale

Locrian:  B   C   D   E   F   G   A   B

– A B minor scale with a lowered 2nd and a lowered 5th

The best thing about this is that if you know how to play a C major scale, you technically know how to play ALL of the scales listed above. All you have to do is start and end the C major scale on different notes.

To make this a little more clear, let’s use a scale with a few accidentals. Here are the seven major modes in E major.

Ionian:  E   F#   G#   A   B   C#   D#   E

F# Dorian:  F#   G#   A   B   C#   D#   E   F#

G# Phrygian:  G#   A   B   C#   D#   E   F#   G#

Lydian:  A   B   C#   D#   E   F#   G#   A

Mixolydian:  B   C#   D#   E   F#   G#   A   B

C# Aeolian:  C#   D#   E   F#   G#   A   B   C#

D# Locrian:  D#   E   F#   G#   A   B   C#   D#

Alright, so by starting and ending a scale on different notes, you make seven different modes that have cool sounding Greek names. How does this help?

This all may seem fairly pointless, but I can assure you that it’s very helpful for learning how to play across the entire guitar fretboard. I further explain how in this next post!