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 – Modes on the Guitar

Now that you know about what modes are (and totally didn’t skip through that entire post), it’s time to apply that knowledge to the guitar itself. Keep in mind, the goal of this post is to get you to begin thinking in terms of modes on the guitar. Don’t get too caught up in the theory behind it, as the post following this will bring everything together.

The beauty (or curse) of stringed instruments is that there are multiple ways to play any given scale. This is a very important concept to understand if you want to play across the whole fingerboard. Certain scales span across more frets than others, and all scales have their place. Either way, let’s take a look at one of the most common major scale patterns. Again, let’s assume the key of C.

C major

Diagram of a common major scale pattern on the guitar.

The letter names for C major are included for demonstration purposes, but this shape can be played anywhere on the neck to play in any key.

For those of you that are confused at what you’re looking at, this is a scale diagram meant for the guitar. Imagine that the grid is your fretboard, where the horizontal lines are strings and the vertical lines are the frets. The bottom horizontal line is the low E string, then the A string, D, G, B, and finally the top line represents the high E string. The C’s are highlighted in red because they represent the root note of the scale.

As I mentioned before, if you know how to play this basic major scale, you can play ANY of those modes I mentioned in the last post. It all depends on what your starting note is.

For you visual people, I’ll highlight all the D’s in the pattern instead of the C’s. Remember, the highlighted circles are your root notes.

D Dorian

Diagram of a C major scale on the guitar with D’s as root notes.

By playing this scale with the D’s as your root notes, you’re playing the D dorian mode.  I could go on to highlight the E’s, F’s, G’s, A’s, and B’s, in order to show you the other modes, but I think you get the point. Here, let me drill it into your head even more, this time using pretty colors:

If you start the pattern from the first scale degree (in this case, ), it’s C Ionian.

If you start the pattern from the 2nd scale degree (in this case, D ), it’s D Dorian.

If you start the pattern from the 3rd scale degree (in this case, E ), it’s E Phrygian.

If you start the pattern from the 4th scale degree (in this case, F ), it’s F Lydian.

If you start the pattern from the 5th scale degree (in this case, G ), it’s G Mixolydian.

If you start the pattern from the 6th scale degree (in this case, A ), it’s A Aeolian.

If you start the pattern from the 7th scale degree (in this case, B ), it’s B Locrian.

Got it?

Uh, alright…but I’m still playing over a span of 4 frets. Eddie Van Halen uses more than 4 frets. How can I be Eddie Van Halen with 4 frets?

Baby steps. I know all I’ve done so far is make your pleasant little major scale more complicated, but don’t worry, you’ll thank yourself for understanding this concept later. If you want to cover more frets in one scale, you’ll have to play more notes on each string. Let me introduce you to another major pattern that I personally use the most. Are you ready to stretch your fingers a little?

My personal favorite major scale pattern. Remember, by starting on the red notes, you're playing in the Ionian mode.

My personal favorite major scale pattern.

Side note:  Whenever I learn or show someone a new scale or scale pattern, I always imagine the music from Ocarina of Time after you learn a new song on the Ocarina.


You’ve learned Dan’s Favorite Major Scale Pattern!

Sorry if you don’t get that reference. ANYWAY, the idea of this pattern is to play three notes on each string, which successfully covers a whopping six frets when played over two octaves. Again, each red circle represents the root of the scale. If you’re playing a C major scale, each red circle is a C. If you’re playing an F major scale, each red circle is an F.  It all depends where you are on the fretboard. Again, all of that mode stuff applies to this pattern as well. If you start it on a D, it’s D dorian, blah blah blah.

Okay, that pattern covers more frets, but it’s annoying to play and sounds exactly the same as the first pattern!

Well, the purpose of this pattern isn’t just to be annoying and look more impressive to play. Think of this scale as the foundation, the starting point, or home base when playing across the whole fingerboard. I’ll explain in the next post, but for now I strongly encourage you to practice this scale. Here is my suggestion for which fingers to use where.

Major form with numbers

Major scale pattern with numbers to indicate which fingers to use. 1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger, 4 = pinky.

If you aren’t used to playing scales like this, you will most likely have trouble with those first 6 notes on the bottom, where you have to stretch apart you index and middle fingers. Just keep at it and it will feel natural in time. Check the next post where I explain why this is my favorite major scale pattern, and how you can piece it together with the patterns of other modes to cover the entire fretboard!

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!

Playing the Fingerboard – Introduction


Let’s say you’ve learned your basic scales and that you’ve been feeling more comfortable improvising with them. You start to feel pretty good about yourself as you fiddle around on one scale. That is, until you come across a video of a Joe Satriani and you notice that his hand is flying all over the place on the fingerboard.

But…the scales I know only span 4 or 5 frets. How am I supposed to play like that?!

This three-part mini-series will describe the methods I personally used to learn how to break out of that five-fret box and start utilizing the rest of the guitar fingerboard.

The first post will deal with a very useful music theory concept, modes. The second post will demonstrate how to utilize the “mode” idea on the guitar. Finally, the third post will connect the modes together in such a way that the entire fretboard lights up before your very eyes, displaying each note you can play in a particular key (well not physically, but it will in your MIND). I’ll link this little list of contents below to each post as they are completed, so check back soon!

Part 1:  Scale Modes (Useful for non-guitarists too!)

Part 2:  Modes on the Guitar

Part 3:  The Monster Scale