Guitar Fingering Guide

How To Fret Scales and Arpeggios

Playing scales and arpeggios is an exciting technique that fascinates millions of guitar aficionados. Pentatonic scales, diminished arpeggios, major and minor triads, an infinite palette of colors lies on our fretboards.

In this post, I want to give some answers to a question often asked:

What is the correct fingering for this scale/arpeggio?

We're going to analyze the various fretboard pattern options for a given scale or arpeggio: 4 frets box, 3 notes per strings, diagonal arpeggios, even 2 notes per string shapes.

Here's the demonstration video for this tutorial:


How To Finger Scales and Arpeggios | Introduction

left hand fingers As a quick refresher, here below you find a diagram that shows you the standard convention for denoting the fingers of the left hand (or right hand if you are a left-handed guitar player):

  • 1 = Index finger
  • 2 = Middle finger
  • 3 = Ring finger
  • 4 = Pinky finger

The thumb, denoted with T, unless you are Django Reinhardt, is not used; but this is not a set-in-stone rule, if it works for you, feel free to use this finger too.

How Do I Know With Fingers To Use?

First of all, you should know that there are not many strict rules for fingerings. The only rule is "efficiency of motion".

This translates to using one finger per fret: as we have 4 fingers, and most of the scale patterns are 4 frets wide, each finger must take care of one fret only, limiting the movements of the left hand at the minimum, saving energy and time, thus allowing precision and speed.

There are scale exercises specifically conceived for developing dexterity and agility in all fingers (pinky too!)

Of course, particular patterns like arpeggios or 3-notes-per-string are larger than 4 frets, so a certain amount of stretch is required. But the efficiency rule still applies: you want to keep left-hand shifting as small as possible.

If an arpeggio extends from fret 3 to fret 7, we could use the index finger on fret 3, the pinkie on fret 7, and the middle finger for the frets between 3 and 7, keeping your left hand in place all the time. In the video you can observe a practical application of this suggestion.

Left Hand Fingering for Different Fretboard Patterns

Here below you find some fingering suggestions for various scale and arpeggio patterns.

For the purpose of this tutorial, we're going to use the G major scale and the G major arpeggo. My complete ebook Scales Over Chords shows you various fretboard patterns for more than 30 types of different scales. Check the ebook here

G Major Scale 4 Frets Box

G major scale four fret box

This is the most common way to fret a scale. The majority of scale types fit exactly a fretboard area four frets wide; some scales, like the minor scale, require 5 frets; with this configuration, using one finger for fret is the natural approach.

G Major Scale 3 Notes Per String

G major 3 notes per string

3 Note per string patterns require a bit of stretch but they provide the advantage to have an equal number of notes on each string (3).

This symmetry is helpful in many shredding techniques, such as legato and fast alternate picking.

In fact, with legato you pick the first note, and you do an hammer-on for the other two. This process repeats for each string.

G Major Scale 2 Notes Per String

G major scale 2 note per string

This is an uncommon way to fret a scale, but it helps move along the fretboard horizontally and come out with new ideas. Also, this kind of shape highlights really well the chords contained in the scales; you can learn more about this like in my two notes per strings tutorial.

G Major Arpeggio 4 Frets Box

G major arpeggio four fret box

The logic for this pattern is the same for 4 notes box scale shapes. In this case you only play the tones of the arpeggio. The most difficult part in playing arpeggios occurs when you need to play two notes on the same frets of adjacent strings, with the same finger.

This movement involves the finger rolling technique, in which you use the tip of the finger on the lowest string, and then you roll onto the flat of your finger to play the note on the higher string.

G Major Arpeggio Big Stretch (2 variations, index and middle)

G major arpeggio stretch

Another way to play arpeggios is to use a shape extended more horizontally. Again, this requires a bit of left-hand stretch, but once you acquire the proper flexibility this kind of shape allows you high speed and precision. Always remember to use one finger for fret so that you don't have to shift your left-hand too much.

G Major Arpeggio Diagonal

Diagonal arpeggios are a cool way to use the whole fretboard and get unstuck from fixed patterns. Basically, you play the same pattern on different octaves, by shifting the schema up to the neck. Pay attention to the distance between the G and B strings, that is 4 half-steps instead of 5 half-steps; this requires shifting the pattern in the last octave one half-step higher.

Usually, the one octave pattern that will be repeated along the fretboard can be played in two ways: compact and extended.

G major arpeggio diagonal
G major arpeggio diagonal stretch

Guitar Scales and Arpeggios Fingering: Conclusion

I hope I gave some useful suggestions about the best way to fret a scale or arpeggio. Remember, these are just general directions that you can adapt or change as you need.

But please, be sure to train all your fingers: a weak pinky limits severely your ability to play interesting patterns.

Often, we tend to follow the path of least resistance and do only what is easy. I suggest forcing yourself to use always all your four fingers; with time and patience, you'll be amazed by your skills level.

If you want to stay updated on new tutorials, subscribe here: you'll also get access to the free download area, that contains many scales, chords and theory pdfs to download for free.