Positions – Defining Melodic and Harmonic Spaces

One of the most basic things about music is the ‘space’ you are in. You may not be aware of it, but your ear develops very specific expectations about what it is going to hear very quickly when listening to music. Understanding how to control those expectations and match them with your technical abilities is critical to being a good musician. The most basic way that happens is through scales.

The 5 Pentatonic Boxes

Primarily used in Blues/Rock guitar, but equally useful if you are into world music/fusion. These are the pentatonic scales based on the major/minor scale (while in reality any scale with 5 notes is ‘pentatonic’).

The 5 Diatonic (Major) Scale Boxes

These are the five main scale boxes I use for most kinds of music. Combined, they can let you play any mode of the major scale in any key in any position on the fretboard. They also only space 4 fret spaces at a time, so you never have to overextend your hand to play themǃ

  1. Locrian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Mixolydian
  5. Aeolian

The Extended Diatonic Boxes

The Harmonic Minor Boxes

The Melodic Minor Boxes

The Isotonic Scale Exercise

This exercise deepens your knowledge of the boxes and begins to put you into more advanced melodic territory by making you aware of more modal sounds! Instead of spreading the boxes out in a lattice that covers the entire neck, you cycle through the boxes by centering each shape on a single root. For example, instead of starting the G Ionian box on G and then placing the A Dorian box on A in order to stay in the G scale, you play the G Ionian box on G, and then the Dorian box on G, and then the Phrygian box in G, etc.

Doing this over a drone will allow you to begin to become more familiar with modal sounds and prepare you to play in deeper and more complex melodic territory, in addition to strengthening your awareness of the boxes!

Other Lessons

Learning the Notes

Most guitarists don’t know where the notes are on the guitar, and it is extremely valuable and relatively easy to learn the notes when you learn your boxes. This video explains a simple system where you name the notes of the basic boxes as you learn them, and therefore build a base from which it is natural to learn all the notes on the entire guitar neck!

The Spider: Fundamental Melodic Guitar Technique Exercise

The technique with which all scales are played is found in this exercise. There are a lot of details, and it takes most beginners a few months to get this exercise down. It is undoubtedly the most important exercise for playing melodies on the guitar because it teaches you how to make single notes sound good!

The 12 Pillars – Fusion Melody Exercise – An exercise for expanding your awareness of melodic possibilities. Shift one single scale box through all 12 positions with a drone on and add the notes of the drone to your scale if needed. Be aware of tension and release notes as you move through new pitch spaces and Spend time in the tense and resting space. Write down cool things (even just slightly cool…you can improve on that later)