How to Play Three-Notes-Per-String Patterns on the Guitar

There’s more than one way to break the major scale notes on the guitar into pattern pieces. The patterns you see here take on different forms than the five major scale patterns, but they still use the same notes.

You don’t have to memorize or even use the patterns described here, but it’s recommended that you experiment with them to see how they feel. Consider it an exercise in exploring your options. If you find that you prefer playing major scales in this way, then go ahead and do so.

What’s nice about the seven patterns shown here is that each one starts on a different scale degree on the 6th string, with all seven scale degrees getting touched. This doesn’t happen when you divide the neck into five patterns.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Just to be absolutely clear, these patterns aren’t new scales. They’re the very same G major scale notes, except that they’re arranged in patterns with three notes per string.

Here is an example of how to finger one of the three-notes-per-string patterns.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Here, the numbers represent the four fingers on your fretting hand. Basically, you have three possible three-note groups in all seven patterns. When the notes span four frets, you can use fingers 1-2-4 or 1-3-4. When the notes span five frets, you use 1-2-4, with your first two fingers stretching a whole step.

Don’t think of these sample fingerings as strict rules you have to follow; they’re really just a starting point. You may find that you can play these patterns better by using a different fingering, and that’s perfectly fine. If you don’t like the long stretches that three-notes-per-string patterns make, you may choose to use five patterns. That’s also fine. Just find what works best for you.

Continue to connect the seven three-notes-per-string patterns until you either run out of frets or can’t reach any higher. When you’re ready to move on, start the seven patterns in other positions and play them in new keys. Don’t forget to try playing along with some accompaniment as you go. As you continue learning based in the major scale, you’ll find that some players compose using three notes per string.

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