Major Scale Fingerings (Positional, CAGED)

Playing music on the guitar well often demands that we play along the string (shifting). Certain musical gestures cannot be attained through positional playing alone, and often fingering a passage along the string simply feels better than the positional alternatives.

However, positional scale and arpeggio studies are essential to developing an understanding of the symmetry and organization of the fretboard. Also, a positional approach provides the consistency required to develop the kinesthetic-visual-aural associations that improvisation demands.

The PDF files below present 5 fingering patterns (or regions) for the C Major scale. The regions are named for the lowest scale tone in the given position. For example, Region 7 begins on the 7th scale degree. Study of these 5 simple shapes will lead to mastery of major scale harmony as applied to the guitar.

A few things to consider while practicing these scales/arpeggios:

  • They are movable to other tonal centers. The white dots/notes provide visual cues.
  • They can be chromatically altered to produce other scales and modes. For example, lower the third, and you have Jazz Minor sounds (ascending Melodic Minor).
  • In the beginning, it is most effective to practice improvising over a given chord progression within a single region. Later, when all 5 regions have been assimilated, one can move between the others freely, shifting at will.

Chord Inversions, Arpeggios, Scales: Combined Practice

Here is a useful exercise that combines 7th chord inversions and arpeggios with scales, allowing you to kill three birds with one stone in your practice.

The diamond-shaped white noteheads are the “main” note, the one you should have in mind while playing the other components of the exercise.

The idea is to blend chord inversions, arpeggios, and chord scales, or modes, into one stream of thought.

Try developing this concept within a jazz standard. Here’s an excellent chord progression:

Isfahan by Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington in the Key of D♭ (Original Key)

Try it in the key of C for some perspective and more guitar-friendly roots:

Isfahan by Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington in the Key of C (Easier Key)