~ guitar method / movable forms ~

~ five scale shapes ~

~ movable barre chords ~

~ all become movable shapes ~

'how five patterns puzzle together forming a loop of shapes that conquer the range of our fingerboards ...'

In a nutshell. This next discussion surrounds the puzzle potential of our guitar fingerboard. In one view of the instrument, turns out that there are five basic shapes, fully movable, that form a 'loop of shapes' that gets us up and down the fingerboard in any of our key centers. From these scale shapes we derive most of our arpeggio and chord shapes. Here labeled as one through five, the looping property of the shapes allows us sequence them from any of the five starting points, i.e., 12345, 23451, 34512, 45123, 51234 etc.

key centers

While I learned these by rote from a mentor 40 years ago now we can reference these scale shapes from a variety of written sources with two cited here; from Americana legend Ted Greene's exceptional Chord Chemistry to instructional works attributed to Euro classical guitar master Andres Segovia.

Ted Greene
classical guitar
Andres Segovia

We eventually take a modal approach in the following presentation as we initially focus on the locations of the diatonic major scale. Once these pitches and shapes are under the fingers, we'll can segment them into their seven modal groups, locate common arpeggio shapes and chords at our leisure as they must say somewhere.

diatonic major scale
a modal approach

In this first idea, we first examine the locations of the available 'G' notes. These are the root notes, homeplates of our five shapes studies to follow. Next are the location for the root notes for 'E', the natural minor pairing with its relative 'G' major and the ancient home plates for our Americana guitar based blues. Thinking vertically here ... all right bring in the big screen. Example 1.

root notes
major minor relative pairing

Cool illustration huh? What was I thinking :) Regardless, those are our root home plates for the major tonality in the key center of 'G' and the root homplates for 'E blues.' So it just turns out that locating these homplates puts us in the ballpark to re-find any lick we come up with anywhere on the neck.

the 'other' national anthem

While all this is too cool and with no ding to G major, this 'philosophy of location' is one of two true cores of this work's approach and method for Americana blues guitar, where so much can rest on the one true pitch of that moment in the story. For in each of the various physical locations for the same note, their basic timbre is emotionally different, often dramatically different, and that's the beginning point of theory to something the artist needs to know; discover, learn, own to share.

blues guitar

For the jazz leaning cats reading here, these following five shapes, along with two basic ways to puzzle them together, form the pedagogical basis of the jazz guitar method in this work. So well worth the shedding to rote rote rote learn each shape :)

~ super theory game changer ~

In our music theory everything loops to closure. For any pattern we might ever devise of our pitches, if we run the pattern enough times, we'll always come back to our stating point creating the closure that often will tell us that yes, we sequenced the pattern correctly, in theory that is :) The following method discussiong the guitar's melodic pitch basis throughout the range of the instrument follows this loop to closure.

Shape #1 for G major, the 'arpeggio' shape. This first shape I call the arpeggio shape as it has a nicely symmetrical tonic arpeggio right down the middle. Examine this two octave diatonic major scale shape, get it under your fingers if necessary here and start to run the shape chromatically up and down the neck, keeping track of root pitches / key centers. Starting off on the major seventh pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic in the four fret span. Example 2.

'running the ... '
root pitch

Starting off on the leading tone F# and simply finding all of the pitches of G major in this one localized position. The closing Five (D) / One (G) is ancient and as solid a way to close a line we get. Here's the arpeggio from which I name this shape. Example 2a.

leading tone
localized position
Five / One

Cool huh? Smooth shape for sweep picking? Absolutely. It get's us right up to the Nine colortone in a hurry too !

sweep picking
color tones

Shape #2 for G major, the 'Two chord' shape. As it's knickname implies, this shape has a ton or two of the blues jazz world's Two chord Dorian flavor. 'Built right in' to the scale shape as folks used to say. While a fairly friendly scale shape fingering wise, a bit of a shift here or there as your chops desire. Fingerings eventually become more situational to a melody line and surely how fast the music goes along. Faster tempos require more thought to how a slight shift is best achieved. Faster tempos makes easier for booboo's need more planning. Find these pitches with notes and tab, click the music to hear core Dorian's minor modal magic right from the first few notes. Run this shape / pattern up and down the neck to rote learn the shape. Starting off on the major second pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic to G major in the five fret span. Example 3.

core Dorian
'running the ... '

Find the G major scale within the shape? Pitch and theory wise probably more A Dorian ... ? Who cares really as we've now got a solid link between shape #1 and #3, there's a super solid G triad right in the middle of this one, with G major still in ascendence :)

In this next idea we use the easy Two chord DNA of this scale shape to create a jazzy sorts of improve melody line and resolve to G major. So, thinking Two / Five / One in G or A-7 / D7b9 / G major 7. Example 3a.

Well kind of got carried away as we ended up back in shape # 1. Oh well that'll happen. Man do those arpeggios ever do tell the harmonic tale. Hip to b9 yet? Oh, and are the chords in the last idea movable shapes too? Indeed they are; root position chords that go to wherever we need them up and down the fingerboard.

Shape #3, the 'gospel butter' shape. What? Gospel and butter? Yea, I just can't decide which so I glue them together. For this scale shape is as happening as they get. As just a lazy, spoilt guitar player, if everything fits into a neat four bar package then I'm all for it. And this shape surely does. Starting off on the major third pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic in its four fret span. Example 4.

four bars ~ four frets
'running the ... '
major 3rd

Familiar? Cool. See the exact same arpeggio shape as from example 1a from above? Lots and lots of folk / country / bluegrass artists use this one shape down in open position where its shape sounds out the pitches of C major. Tons of miles in this for all of our styles really. The blues? Yes with some variations of course :)

open position

Regardless, it's a real burner for a lot of cats and super buttery for a lot of Americana melody coolness. In this next idea we simply sequence the pitches of the shape in thirds creating a commonly heard melodic idea throughout the literature. Basic G major scale motion descending in 3rds. Example 4a.

Americana melody
melodic sequences

Sound familiar? Really a very common idea through most of our styles. Of course, the thirds are big players in our theory scheming; melodies, arpeggios, chords, major or minor, advanced harmonic cycles. On and on really ... just knowing about them and being curious, we end up bumping into them just about everywhere in our musics.

major 3rd
minor 3rd

Shape #4 for G major, the 'bossa' shape. As in the Latin bossa nova style? Yep. For there's a 'major 9' chord shape built into this scale shape that owns the warmth of the original core bossa feel. With an alternating bass? Yep, One and Five just a string away. Here's the scale shape first, again G major starting on its 4th pitch 'C', stretiching a wee bit to cover all of what is available in this position. Example 5.

Latin bossa nova
'running the ... '
major 3rd

Tricky fingering? Don't fight it really. How a 'thing' gets played is all about where we find it, how fast, what follows etc. Chances are we won't ever really need the whole shape most of the time. Focus on locating the notes of the group, their letter names. That said, there's a fingering hand solution to this next chord, find the root with your middle finger and the rest should fall right into place. Same finger alternates our bass pitches. Here's the 'major 9' chord voicing that lives in the middle of major scale shape #4 with an alternating One / Five bossa bass motion. Example 5a.

about fingerings
pitch names
melodic sequences
'in thirds'

Handy bass motion huh? Yes the alternating bass is a big part of the bossa pocket. So the chord shapes come right out of these five scale shapes? Yep, many many do indeed. And if the shapes are movable are the chords all movable too? Pretty much. And if the scale shapes generate the chords then their arpeggios must be in there too? And of course movable? Yep, yep, yep the stars align. The whole tamale on the way to jazz guitardom?

alternating bass
scales ~ arpeggios ~ chords
whole tamale
jazz guitar

Shape #5 for G major, the 'blues and butter shape.' Saving the best for last? Pretty much depending. For this last idea is oftentimes the first scale shape many of us first learn when starting to make the magic. Here's the basis center of it all reduced to its five pitch pentatonic core for both major and minor placed at the 5th fret creating C major and A minor. Example 6.

five pitch core
major ~ minor

Look familiar? Pretty sure that A minor pattern was the first one I learned. And the C major is the shape used for creating all of the melodies in the 'songs' sections? Tis' is indeed, well after adjustments that is. Such as? Well, to make the 'blues and butter' we need the tritone color too. Add it in shall we? Sure. A one pitch, octave splitting tritone for the blues and a two pitch, tritone interval to make the butter. Example 6a.

Americana songs
adding pitches
a one pitch tritone
a two pitch tritone

So 'X' marks the tritone spots? Surely they do amigo, for both the blues and major scale colors come right forth when sounded with their five pitch basis. As this theory is also a 'super theory game changer', better split these up for clarity of discussion. Here's the full blues shape. Example 6b.


Look at all the black dots ! Wow, that all got thick in a hurry. So with the blues scale, at least here in Essentials and for emerging artists mostly, this one scale shape is the core of it all. Fully movable, we just move it where we need in terms of keys and chord changes of a song. In the olden days cats called it a 'box' scale. We can initially evolve our blues vocabulary of ideas by finding a lick from the box, then simply relocating that idea to other spots on the neck with the exact same pitches. Rarely will they have all of the black dots as shown above :)

reading notation
evolving a blues lick

What we discover oftentimes is that the same idea in different spots evolves; might sound a bit different, higher or lower in pitch, lends itself to other fingerings thus embellishments, surely other string bends and double stops associated with the same pitches. For the cats reading here who have the mojo to take blues licks right off their records, i.e., transcribing, finding the exact spot where they hear the idea is just part of the coolness of their discovery and surely ties into the way the blues has always been passed from one generation to the next.

pitch embellishments
string bends
double stops
generations of the players

Shape #5 for G major, the 'blues and butter shape.' Well we looked at the blues so I guess the butter is next. This last of our five basic diatonic scale shapes is probably the most common of them all. It's #5 because of the instrument itself; for blues and rockers you know the value of music 'in E' that lives at the 12 fret. Totally movable, it completes our five shape puzzle of the basic octave range of our guitars; open through the 12th fret.

This next idea evolves this shape from its pentatonic core from the example above. Thinking G major here at the 12 fret. If challenged by your instrument's ability to play this high up on the neck, remember this is just 'in theory' for now and that it'll also work down 12 frets, so open position too. Example 7.

Even with the one pitch off the 'four finger four fret' perfection, this shape, and really top to bottom and vice versa, gets the bulk of the work for Americana melody and soloing. And for any blues based blowing, shape #5 is probably the hands down all time winner. Remember, it has the core shape for 'E' blues too as the paired up relative to G major.

four fingers ~ four frets

So ... if we had a sixth shape. Well, since we're past the octave 'double dot' it just turns out that we're back to our starting point but now up one full octave; so our scale shape #1 would be the next in our puzzle of the the five shapes. After one then two, then three to four ect. They're a loop of five shapes that span the one octave and puzzle like this in the relative keys of 'G' major and 'E' natural minor. In this next idea we use the starting bass pitch of each shape to ascend the frets. Example 8.

everything loops

So for real, this is just one way to conquer this puzzle. There's many many additional approaches to this; additional shapes, always having three pitches per string, wider spans and there must be more. As we'll see in solving the next two puzzles, these five shapes have and will continue to feed the bulldog :)


The presentation of the scales shapes and their number sequence represents the relative key centers of G major and E natural minor, leaving 11 other key centers to be examined. So can we start at different points in the cycle, following the sequence and find the other keys? Yep, that is exactly how this system works.

12 keys

Following the cycle of fifths to organize our keys, the following sequences of scale shapes create the following key centers over the first octave range of our fingerboard. Here presented in a numerical shorthand of sorts, click their link to go to their full presentation as key centers, their pitches, arpeggios and chords and sequencing of the five shapes. Example 9.

cycle of fifth's

In the following idea we look at the 12 relative key centers and puzzle out the five movable shapes to find their pitches over the first octave of the fingerboard. Open shapes with open strings are ommitted here. The open circle notes are the root pitches of the major key associated with each group. Example 9a.

key centers
why major ?

key center

scale shape sequence

C major / A minor

4 5 1 2 3

G major / E minor

1 2 3 4 5

D major / B minor

3 4 5 1 2

A major / F# minor

5 1 2 3 4

E major / C# minor. Open circles are for the pitch E, root of the major scale. Locate your C#'s in these shapes and they will be yours forever.

2 3 4 5 1

B major / G# minor

4 5 1 2 3

F# ~ Gb major / D# ~ Eb minor

1 2 3 4 5

Db major / Bb minor

3 4 5 1 2

Ab major / F minor

5 1 2 3 4

Eb major / C minor

2 3 4 5 1

Bb major / G minor

4 5 1 2 3

F major / D minor

2 3 4 5 1

C major / A minor

3 4 5 1 2

So that's the whole tamale for our ancient diatonic scale run through equal temper tuning to create our modern pitch resource. Actually, our guitar's early ancestor the lute, whose fret positioning is measured into place by the mathematics of what is termed 'the rule of 18', had this same 12 key pitch ability. According to a method book credited to the father of famed astronomer Galileo, the lute, of say the 1550's, had equal temper tunings ability; anything from anywhere? Yep, any lick, ditty, riff scale, arpeggio, chord and beyond equally available from the original 12 pitches as brought forth by Pythagoras. Nice.

wiki ~ Vincenzo Galilei

Two melody puzzles. Well ... I just gave the first one away in the last example. The puzzle is simply that from any of the diatonic pitches of G major / E minor we can find on the high 'E' string, we've got something 'below it' on the adjscent strings to help us find additional pitches of the key center if needed for the melodic idea we are creating. For as the lines get faster its nice to have the pitches handy :)


Might this work the same with the low 'E' too ? Absolutely. Throw in the fret markers / edge of the neck dots and the fretboard really begins to constellate for those so inspired.

open string pitches
the dots

And for the second puzzle ? Here's where the rote memorization shedding of the individual shapes one by one becomes a blessing to solve and understand the magic of the second puzzle.

levels of shedding


Puzzle # 2 ~ anything from anywhere. The theory of this puzzling of the shapes revolves around developing the ability to have the pitches of each of our relative paired key centers in a localized position on the fingerboard. So realistically within a five or six spanning of frets. Might as well puzzle this out for back where we started in G major by using scale shape #2 in G major / E natural minor in and around 5th position. Example 10.

true monster

Cool and familiar? Cool. So now the idea is to find the other 11 key centers in this 'localized' area of the fingerboard using the other four scale shapes. Which with a bit of a shift here and there gets us to the 'anything from anywhere' plateau of pitch relativity for the modern guitarist. Following our cycle of 5th's our major key center series follows these root pitches; G, D, A, E, B, F# / Gb, Db, Ab, E, B, F and C.

localized playing
modern guitarist

Here are the first three key centers in a localized 5th position; D, A and E. For with a stretch here and shift there, all the stars can align. Please note that while all of the pitches of a key center are included in the scale shape grid, the notation is simply a one octave core for the pitches of each key. Remember and note that the only thing that changes for each of the five scale shapes is the fret position where we locate it. Example 10a.

localized playing
modern guitarist

Our next group of keys are; B, F# / Gb and Db. Note the gradual drifting up the neck to find this solution to our puzzling of the shapes. Example 10b.

localized playing

So shape # 5 twice in the last idea? As a possible solution sure why not. Whatever is handiest n'est-ce pas? Rule of thumb; faster tempos often require handy solutions rote learned. Surely as the shedding locks in we each find our faves. This exercise is equally about learning the key centers on the neck in one area. We exhaust what's possible in the shedding, then find what is the best way to sound out the music as we ready for performance. Here's Ab, Eb and Bb. Again we're drifting upward on the fingerboard. Example 10c.

n'est-ce pas ?
faster tempos
rote learning
performing music

Our last group of keys are; 'F' and 'C' and back to 'G' for closure. Note the gradual drifting back down the neck to find this solution to our puzzling of the shapes. Ex. 10d.

So we see shapes #3 and #5 again. Most popular? Shape five probably is, as it cores both the handy major pentatonic / diatonic major scale shape. A four finger four fret extraveganza that also cores the open 'G' tuning and blues in 'E', both excellent guitar keys. Of course the same basic shape gives us the minor balance; the pentatonic and natural minor / blues combo so essential to so many great artists. Example 10e.

open 'G'
open 'E' blues

Cool ? Same basic shape gets us a lot of mileage. Works fine moved about to any fret. Just keep track of the key centers of the song and your pitches and start pushing the buttons :) So the last measure is 'A' natural minor yes? Natural minor = Aeolian mode yes? Sure does. Are the other modes built into these shapes also ? Yep. Toss in the chromatic, a diminished shape and a whole tone shape and we just might be good to go ... imagine that. Why not give them a run too while we're at it. Here's the 'C' chromatic scale. Works up and down the neck yes? Of course, all the scale shapes here are movable shapes. Example 11.

Yes just half steps. Click the music and and vocalise along. Got all your 12 pitches in place vocally ? Big step for the ears when we can sing a chromatic scale for then the color tones and blue notes begin to locate themselves between the diatonic pitches. Here's the diminished scale in a handy four finger / four fret shape. Fully mobile unit ? You betcha. Example 11a.

ear training
color tones
blue notes
diatonic pitches

It really is a nice 'burnable' shape for those so inclined. I know I am biased to such symmetry. Here's the whole tone shape everyone raves about. Just kidding. Movable ? Absolutely. Example 11b.


Know of this whole tone scale and it's color? Rare indeed in most Americana, there's some key spots where it is simply perfect. And we composers can love perfect yes?


Folk guitar. Movable scale shapes for folk guitar center around shapes #3 for 'C' major and #5 for 'G' major in open position. Capos use move things up and down the neck so the same shapes are fine. Look to play melody line on the top string or two to get it to ring out in the mix.

open position

Blues guitar. Most blues happens in shape #5. Artists then find nice ideas, examine the pitches and lick etc., the simply relocate them to other spots on the neck with the same pitches. Rare that they ever 'bolt up' the same way between locations but there's always something there and similar. Always, just got to find it. Shape # 5 is the same 'box' scale from wayback, moves easily up and down along with the One / Four / Five chords of a traditional 12 bar blues.

One / Four / Five
12 bar blues

Country, pop and rock guitar. Country loves open position melodies while pop and rock are usually 'hook' and 'riff' orientated which finds the lick on one exact spot to get the character sound. Any blueshue in any of this usually gets us right back to shape #5.

blues hue

Jazz guitar. All of the movable shapes on this page can and will find employment in Americana jazz guitar :)

jazz guitar