Approaches to Guitar Scales

Scales on the guitar, along with arpeggios and chords, can be played a number of different ways.

This page will help you through the most practical and efficient guitar scale approaches. The approaches have been categorized into two sections: position playing and position shifting.



 Position Playing


The approach to position playing is relatively straightforward. It divides the fretboard into 7 different scale shapes. Position playing is similar to the caged system, but with 2 additional shapes.

Positional playing demands that your second and third finger are permanently assigned to neighboring frets when moving across the fret board. This approach truly keeps your hand in one position while navigating across the fretboad. It is a very traditional approach to playing scales.

The links below include all 7 positions for each scale type. It is especially important to follow the fingering included in the diagrams, as they will highlight the nature of position playing.


Major Scale – position playing

Harmonic Minor Scale – position playing

Melodic Minor Scale – position playing




 Position Shifting


Position shifting can refer to a few different approaches. It can describe simply shifting between the positions described above (and included in the position playing links), which maintains that after shifting your second and third finger must remain assigned to two neighboring frets.

It can also be used to simply describe moving horizontally across the fretboard, with varying fingering approaches (this is the fingering style that will be included in the position shifting links).

Similar to the arpeggio approach, these position shifting scale approaches will be thought of based on how many notes per string are played.

The two main approaches we will take to shifting positions are:


2 – 3 – 2 scales

3 – 3 – 1 scales


2 – 3 – 2 scales describe playing 2 notes of the given major or minor scale on a single string followed by 3 notes on the next string and 2 notes on the string after that. The shifting takes place such that you can begin the scale an octave higher beginning with the same finger you started with. The example below illustrates beginning the scale with your second finger, and shifting on the 6th scale degree (in this case A). Following this fingering allows you to intuitively shift and continue the scale an octave higher.

Eg. C major






3 – 3 – 1 scales describe the distribution of notes in the same way as 2 – 3 – 2 scales. The same concept for maintaining the same starting position for each octave applies as well.

The example below illustrates beginning the scale with your first finger and shifting on the 7th scale degree (in this case B). Following this fingering allows you to intuitively shift and continue the scale an octave higher. The 3 – 3 – 1 approach has a slightly different feel in the hand and creates different sonic possibilities (ei: more legato opportunities).

Eg. C melodic minor






Check out the links below for complete coverage on both 2 – 3 – 2 and 3 – 3 – 1 scales:


Major Scale – position shifting

Harmonic Minor Scale – position shifting

Melodic Minor Scale – position shifting