One of the coolest things about playing the guitar is that it is very shape- and pattern-oriented.
Learn a single pattern, say a pentatonic scale in a closed position, and presto, like magic you can move that pattern to other places on the neck. Play the same pattern and shape and you have a new pentatonic scale, based on the root note you are using to start the scale in this new position on the neck.
‘… six octave shapes … will unlock the individual fretboard notes to allow you to play any scale, arpeggio or chord from any root note.’
Now, to maximize the value of knowing your guitar scale, arpeggio and chord shapes, the real key is in knowing the notes on the fretboard which you can use as the root note and from which you can play these shapes. This brings me to the subject of this article: the six octave shapes that will unlock the individual fretboard notes to allow you to play any scale, arpeggio or chord from any root note.
Find Your Root Note Anywhere with 6 Octave Shapes
Each of the six patterns, shown below, interlock with each other. Each note points to another note on a different string, which is an octave higher or lower:
To start with, we will take the C major scale to avoid any sharp and flat notes, the C major scale being the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B.
If we take Octave Shape 1 (see diagram above), we find that the C note can be found on the 3rd fret of the 5th string (A), and also on the 1st fret of the 2nd string (B).
Octave Shape 2, which includes the C note found on the 3rd fret of the 5th string from Shape 1, also points to another note of C found on the 5th fret of the 3rd string (G).
Now use Octave Shapes 3, 4, 5, & 6 to find the other notes of C on the fretboard ending with the C note on the 13th fret of the 2nd string (B). This note is the octave of the C note we found using Shape 1 on the 1st fret of the 2nd string (B).
So, by using these six octave shapes, we are able to take any note on the fretboard and find all the other instances of that note on the fretboard, as we did with our example using the note of C.
Find the Rest of Your Guitar Scale
In the example below, we use the same six octave shapes to find all the D notes on the fretboard. You can see here how the shapes are consistent; they have just changed position on the neck based on the new note of D. Octave Shape 1 now starts with the D note on the 5th fret of the 5th string (A).
The goal here is to be able to take each note of the C scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) and find these notes all over the fretboard.
Once you are familiar with the octave shapes, a great exercise is to set a metronome at, say, 60 BPM, and then at tempo play all the C notes. Repeat this exercise for each note of the scale: D, E, F, and so on, steadily increasing the tempo as you improve. Saying the notes out loud as you work through the exercise will really help the learning process and re-enforce the note names and positions on the fretboard.
‘With time and practice, you will see the fretboard open up.’
With time and practice, you will see the fretboard open up, which will allow you a greater command of the scale, arpeggio and chord shapes you already know, and those you will learn in the future.
This article covered just one of the many benefits of knowing the notes on the fretboard. Stay tuned for future articles on more ‘Fretboard Fundamentals’.
Until next time …
David Minns – Orange County, California–based professional guitarist & instructor; MI Honors Graduate in 1992. Read more at virtualosoguitar.com.