A great way to master any scale on the guitar is to play patterns within the scale. Learning, memorizing and playing through a scale in ascending and descending order is a very important and necessary process that is required to become familiar with the scale. However, when you really want to test your knowledge of the scale and explore more possibilities, patterns can be a great way to achieve this. A pattern within a scale usually involves playing the 1st note of the scale, then moving up a certain scale step, then playing the 2nd note of the scale, moving up the same scale step, then to the 3rd note and so on.
A scale step is simply the distance between 2 notes in a scale. If we were in the key of C and we wanted to play the scale in a typical asscending order, we would start with C, go up 1 scale step to D, another scale step to E, then F, G, etc. If we were to play the starting note of C and then play the next note up 2 scale steps, we would be playing an E. Even though we have only moved 2 notes away, we have actually played a 3rd. This is because when refering to intervals, we include the 1st note as 1. Therefor in the key of C, C to E is a 3rd, C to F is a 4th etc C to G is a 5th.

If we want to play a scale in 3rds, we typically play the 1st note, then the 3rd note. Then we play the 2nd note, then the 4th note. Then we play the 3rd note, then the 5th note. And so on.
A G major scale played in 3rds would look like this:

G (1) – B(3) – A(2) – C(4) – B(3) – D(5) – C(4) – E(6) – D(5) – F#(7) – E(6) – G(8, same as 1) – F#(7) – A(9, same as 2) – G(8, same as 1)

A G major scale played in 4ths would look like this:

G(1) – C(4) – A(2) – D(5) – B(3) – E(6) – C(4) – F#(7) – D(5) – G(8, same as 1) – E(6) – A(9, same as 2) – F#(7) – B(10, same as 3) – G(8, same as 1)

Let’s look at how we would play a major scale in 3rds in 2 different positions. You can apply this theory to every major scale position. In fact, you can apply the theory to any scale that you know.

The scale we will be using is G major.

Here is the scale played in 3rds:


Here is another shape of the same G major scale:


Here is this shape played in 3rds:


It can take quite a while to get comfortable with practicing scales in this way. Technically it is harder as there is more string changing involved and the finger movements are generally less predictable. But after a while, you will start to anticipate the intervals and your fingers will automatically know where to go. It is also a great way to train your ears to hear intervals that are not as predictable as the regular intervals of an ascending/descending scale.

Practice different patterns for different scales. You will be limited to the scales you know. Generally speaking, the larger the interval you choose to implement in the pattern, the harder and more unique sounding the pattern becomes. Playing a scale in 3rds is a great pattern to use as it is quite a good sounding pattern that has a lot of musical relevance to solos and melodies etc.

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Genaaron Diamente
Genaaron Diamente

I play guitar. I teach guitar. I like making music. I'm trying to build this site up to be a valuable resource for guitar students and teachers.