Two Notes Per String Scale Patterns

An Alternative Way To Play Scales On Guitar

In this tutorial, we're going to introduce an alternative way to play scales on guitar; firstly, we'll brush up the classic 4 frets box and 3 notes per string pattern, then we'll see what happens playing only 2 notes per string.

As an example, we'll use the C major and the C minor scales.

4 Frets Boxes

The common approach for playing scales on the guitar is to play them in a four frets box shape; this kind of fingering is handy because all the frets are in the reach of a finger, without the need to shift the left hand up or down the neck.

C major scale 4 fret box

C Major Scale 4 Frets Box Pattern

C minor scale 4 fret box

C Minor Scale 4 Frets Box Pattern

It's common to say "one finger for fret", meaning that the index finger will press notes on fret 1, the middle finger on fret 2, the middle finger on fret 3, and the pinkie on fret 4.

3 Notes Per String

More technical guitar players have then invented the concept of 3 notes per string pattern.

With this kind of fingering, we play exactly 3 notes on each string; this requires a little bit of stretch because the patterns span more than 4 frets, but the advantages are remarkable: having the same number of notes on all strings allows easier alternate picking schemes (down, up, down, change string with a down-stroke, up, down, change string with a down-stroke, and so forth).

Three notes per string shapes are incredible useful also for legato: in this case, we only pick only the first note on each string, and play the other two with a hammer-on. This provides a handy rhythmic division, especially with triplets.

C Major Scale 3 Notes Per String Pattern

C Major Scale 3 Notes Per String Pattern

C Minor Scale  3 Notes Per String Pattern

C Minor Scale 3 Notes Per String Pattern

What Happens When We Play 2 Notes Per String

Today we're going to study a new kind of scale pattern, a pattern that uses two notes per string (note: on the 1st string, high E, we stop at F note because we reached the border of the neck; we have to play the other notes horizontally along the 1st string)

C Major Scale 2 Notes Per String Pattern

C Major Scale 2 Notes Per String Pattern

C Minor Scale 2 Notes Per String Pattern

C Minor Scale 2 Notes Per String Pattern

Here's the strangeness of this pattern: when we play ascending, we go up with the pitches, but we go down the fretboard. Conversely, when we play from an highest pitch toward a lower one, we shift the left hand up along the fretboard. Isn't it curious?

Apart from this peculiarity, two notes per string shapes have some nice advantages:

  • No finger stretches are required; we can even use only the index and middle or ring finger.
  • This kind of fingering force us to move up or down the neck, escaping the four frets box cage.
  • We can see clearly the chord triads generated by the tones in the scale:

Chord in Scales Visualization

This is the coolest effect of playing 2 notes per string: all the chords generated from the scale are clearly visible and highlighted along the scale. We can easily build a triad from each degree of the scale.

  • I C maj (1,3,5) C E G
  • ii D min (1,b3,5) D F A
  • iii E min (1,b3,5) E G B
  • IV F maj (1,3,5) F A C
  • V G maj (1,3,5) G B D
  • vi A min (1,b3,5) A C E
  • viio B b5 (1,b3,b5) B D F

Have a look at the images below:

C Major Triad

C Major Triad

D Minor Triad

D Minor Triad

E Minor Triad

E Minor Triad

F Major Triad

F Major Triad

G Major Triad

G Major Triad

A Minor Triad

A Minor Triad

B Diminished Triad

B Diminished Triad

See? All the chords generated from the scale are laid out in a clear way. Beautiful!

I'll leave it to you, as an exercise, to do the same with the C minor scale.

For your convenience, here are the chords generated from the C minor scale:

  • I C min - (1,b3,5) - C Eb G
  • iio D b5 (1,b3,b5) D F Ab
  • III Eb maj (1,3,5) Eb G Bb
  • iv F min (1,b3,5) F Ab Cv
  • v G min (1,b3,5) G Bb D
  • VI Ab maj (1,3,5) Ab C Eb
  • VII Bb maj (1,3,5) Bb D F

Exercise On Two Notes Per String Patterns

This alternative way to play scales should give you new material to experiment with.

The problem with scale patterns is that often muscle memory takes control over melodic sense, and we find ourselves running up and down a fixed shape repeating unconscious schemes.

Forcing ourselves to play only two notes per string is a way to break these fixed paths and spark our creativity.

Here below you find a small exercise created on these concepts, feel free to play it up and down, introduce variations and rhythmic changes, and of course, have fun!

two notes string exercise

Share with your fellow guitar players!

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