So part of running this site goes beyond just writing about guitar and giving some guitar tips. I run this website because I like the guitar and I like writing about it, but I also like helping people learn more about the guitar. Part of helping people learn more about the guitar is understanding what they’re having trouble with.

So I look at things people are searching for and try to write articles to address that. This is one of those articles.

This article is about combining the knowledge of finding notes on the guitar as well as various guitar scale patterns and how to use both pieces of knowledge to play in any key. All my articles on guitar scales, such as my minor pentatonic scales article, tries to make it clear that the patterns work in any position, but if they’re not clear, here’s some more information for you!

Just take me to the neck positions

C scale positions     D scale positions     E scale positions

F scale positions     G scale positions     A scale positions

B scale positions

Guitar Scale Patterns

If you haven’t already, go through my guitar lessons that outline all the various scale patterns for the guitar. Below are just some of the common musical scales that you’ll hear in popular music. At the time of writing, I don’t have a lesson for each scale, but I’ve linked to lessons where I have them:

The above is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a start (and, hell, it’s a good list for me to come back to for future lessons!).

If you haven’t read the above articles or know the patterns, read those before proceeding with this guitar lesson.

These Patterns Are Designed To Be Played In Any Position And In Any Key

Scale diagram showing the Em pentatonic pattern on guitar.As the heading says, you can play these scale patterns in any position. The name of each pattern is usually named after the corresponding open guitar chord shape, but that doesn’t mean that you can only play that specific key for a given scale pattern.

Take the E minor pentatonic scale pattern shown here as an example. This is based on the E minor chord shape. But you can play it anywhere on the neck. So, for example, if you play the E minor shape scale in fifth position, you’ll be playing in A!

So the next step is just finding notes, so let’s go over that.

Finding Notes On The Guitar

Finding notes on the guitar can seem like a daunting task, but it’s not that hard. In fast, here’s my lesson on finding notes on the guitar.

If you haven’t read the above lesson yet, do so before proceeding.

Once you know where all the notes are on the guitar fretboard, moving a given scale pattern to a new position is easy, and you’ll be suddenly playing in a new key!

So want to play a B minor pentatonic? Just find a B and play the right pattern. Want to play A Blues but don’t want to play it open? Find an A somewhere else and play the right pattern.

Let’s go through some examples.

Playing Scale Patterns In Various Keys Across The Fretboard

I’ve been playing guitar for more than 20 years, so I’ll be the first to admit that I take a lot of knowledge for granted. Saying “just shift to a different position” doesn’t always make sense to people, so I’m going to go through how to play common scale patterns in C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

Sorry, but I’m not going to do flats and sharps as well. If you want to play a flat or sharp, just shift up or down a fret for the given examples.

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of C

If you want to play in C, first you need to find a C on the fretboard. C occurs in a few different places on the fretboard.

As per the diagram, a C occurs on the following frets:

  • Low E string: 8th fret
  • A string: 3rd fret
  • D string: 10th fret
  • G string: 5th fret
  • B string: 1st fret
  • High E string: 8th fret

So, for example, if you want to play a C Blues pentatonic, you have five choices:

  • Play an E shape Blues pentatonic using the C on the 8th fret, E string.
  • Play an A shape Blues pentatonic using the C on the 3rd fret, A string.
  • Play a D shape Blues pentatonic using the C on the 10th fret, D string.
  • Play a G shape Blues pentatonic using the C on the 8th fret, E string.
  • Play a C shape Blues pentatonic using the C on the 3rd fret, A string.

If you want to play in C#, just shift everything up a fret and you’re good to go!

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of D

Playing any scale pattern in the key of D works the same way. First, you need to know where all the D’s are on the fretboard. Here’s another handy diagram.

But if you’ve already found all the C’s, just move everything up two frets.

A D note can be found on the following frets:

  • Low E string: 10th fret
  • A string: 5th fret
  • D string: open string and 12th fret
  • G string: 7th fret
  • B string: 3rd fret
  • High E string: 10th fret

That’s not too hard is it? So let’s say you want to play in D major. You can choose the following.

  • Play an E shape major scale using the D on the 10th fret, E string.
  • Play an A shape major scale using the D on the 5th fret, A string.
  • Play a D shape major scale either open or using the D on the 12th fret, D string.
  • Play a G shape major using the D on the 10th fret, E string.
  • Play a C shape major scale using the D on the 5th fret, A string.

Just like when you’re playing in C, if you want to play in D# or Db, just move everything up or down a fret as per the instructions above.

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of E

If you’ve found all the D notes and you’re comfortable, move up two frets and you’ll have all the E’s. Like the D, E has open strings so you have an extra option for note finding.

Again, here’s a diagram as well as written locations.

An E note can be found across the fretboard in these locations

  • Low E string: open string and 12th fret
  • A string: 7th fret
  • D string: 2nd fret
  • G string: 9th fret
  • B string: 5th fret
  • High E string: open string and 12th fret

This is pretty easy, right? You’re probably getting this already, but let’s say you want to play an E minor pentatonic scale. Here’s where and how you can do it.

  • Play an E shape minor pentatonic scale either open or on the 12th fret, E string.
  • Play an A shape minor pentatonic scale using the E on the 7th fret, A string.
  • Play a D shape minor pentatonic scale using the E on the 2nd fret, D string.
  • Play a G shape minor pentatonic scale using the E on the 12th fret, E string.
  • Play a C shape minor pentatonic scale using the E on the 7th fret, A string.

And I’ll say it again, if you want to play in Eb, just shift down a fret and you’re good to go. How easy is this?

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of F

If you’ve gotten it by now, you’re welcome to stop reading here. But if you’re still having trouble, I’ll continue to go through where to find natural notes across the fretboard. I’m going to stop listing shapes and positions though.

If you’re having trouble with what scale shape to play in a given position, just shift up and down from a position you already know.

For example, you know E from the last example. For F, just shift up a single fret and you’re good! Here’s all the F’s if you need it though.

F notes can be found:

  • Low E string: 1st fret
  • A string: 8th fret
  • D string: 3rd fret
  • G string: 10th fret
  • B string: 6th fret
  • High E string: 1st fret

As mentioned, I won’t go through what position to play and where, just use the prior examples. In general though, you’ve probably noticed that for roots on the following strings, you can play the following shapes:

  • Root on the E string: play an E or G shape scale
  • Root on the A string: play an A or C shape scale
  • Root on the D string: play a D shape scale

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of G

Let’s keep going! Again, I’m not going to go through what pattern to play and where, I’ll just point out where to find the G notes across the fretboard. I’m assuming you’ve gotten a hang of this!

 

If you’re looking for G notes, go to:

  • Low E string: 3rd fret
  • A string: 10th fret
  • D string: 5th fret
  • G string: open position or 12th fret
  • B string: 8th fret
  • High E string: 3rd fret

And that’s all the G notes on the fretboard. I’m not going to list out the correct scale patterns to play, but take a look at the last example for a general outline.

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of A

We’re nearly at the end of this. Let’s look at everywhere you can find an A note on the guitar neck. I’ve said it before, but really all you need to do is shift up 2 frets from where all the G notes are.

Here are the A’s:

  • Low E string: 5th fret
  • A string: open position or 12th fret
  • D string: 7th fret
  • G string: 2nd fret
  • B string: 10th fret
  • High E string: 5th fret

And that’s where the A notes can be found on the guitar. Shred away!

Playing Scales On Guitar In The Key Of B

And finally we’re up to B. You’re welcome to skip this section as you’ve probably figured it out, or just read on to make sure you have it right.

 

Here are all the B notes:

  • Low E string: 7th fret
  • A string: 2nd fret
  • D string: 9th fret
  • G string: 4th fret
  • B string: open position or 12th fret
  • High E string: 7th fret

And now you’ve found all the natural notes on the guitar neck. Well done.

And That’s How You Combine Scales And Note Finding On Guitar

Well done if you’ve gotten this far… I know some of this lesson was repetitive, but I’ve written it all out for the sake of people who have had some trouble combining note finding and guitar scales. If that’s you, not to worry, hopefully a bit of detail helps.

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what position to play and where, go back to your basics of note finding on the guitar:

  • Start on the low E string, pluck it while open and say “E.”
  • Move up one fret, and say “F”.
  • Keep going, do the second fret and say “F sharp.”
  • Do this up the string.
  • Do the same on the A string.
  • And so on.

From there, practice your scale patterns in different positions.

  • Start open and say “E minor pentatonic” (or whatever scale you’re playing) and play an open E minor pentatoninc.
  • Move up to F, say “F minor pentatonic” and play it.
  • Do this up to the 12th fret.
  • Go to the A string and do the A pattern, moving up the neck.

This is one of those things that you simply need to drill in.

Good luck, you’ll get there!

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