One Octave, Three Strings

Most people will tell you that a guitar has six strings.  Some even have seven or eight.  I prefer to think about the fretboard as if it only has three.

I’ve always had what I’d consider to be a good memory but remembering scales across all six strings has always been a challenge for me. I could remember the patterns across a few strings but I struggled to find my way all the way across the fretboard.  I’m still not great with patterns going across the fretboard but I found a way to navigate across the fretboard without memorizing those patterns.

Studying with Jared Meeker changed all that.  He pointed out the now-obvious fact that one can navigate the fretboard by taking advantage of one-octave patterns.  The minor pentatonic shape below probably looks kind of familiar.

Basic pentatonic pattern

You’ve probably played it a bunch of times running through the pentatonic scale.  The good news is that you can just take this three-string template and apply it diagonally across the fretboard.  In the figure below, you can see that pattern repeated three times: The first on the E/A/D strings (outlined by the blue box), the second on the D/G/B strings (in the orange box), and the B/E strings (in the green box).  It’s not perfect because the G/B string transition (a.k.a., the “warp refraction threshold” 🚀) but it still helps simplify the view of the fretboard.

Pentatonic scale diagonally across fretboard

So how does that help given the pattern above spans five frets on many strings?  It might be manageable high up on the neck but it’s a big stretch in most positions.  The solution: Slide into the octave.  Rather than fretting the last note of this pattern with your third finger, slide the first finger up two frets.  That leaves you in position to repeat the pattern on the next set of strings.

When you connect the patterns together across the fretboard, it looks something like this with the slides:

This approach doesn’t just apply to pentatonics.  It works equally well with any other scale.  Once you have the pattern for one octave, you can apply it diagonally to use it across the entire fretboard.  This approach also makes it easier to know where your root is because it’s the starting point for the pattern.

Next: Applying this approach to learning the modal scales.