3 Notes Per String Major Scales

This lesson is a complete breakdown of the 7 scale forms created when you arrange a major scale for 3 notes per string. This lesson combined with the "Understanding Keys" lesson can be used to learn the complete guitar neck in all keys.

This is the first lesson dealing with major scales arranged for the 3-notes per string. I believe this method is the best to completely visualize scales in all keys across the neck.

Memorizing these shapes and combining them with the knowledge of Major Keys will provide an incredible resource to open up the guitar neck in ways that you can hardly imagine.

The next couple of lessons in the Advanced Guitar Series will be technical exercises using these 3-notes per string scales shapes, then after we get a good handle of them we will begin to start our visualization lessons.

So be patient and start memorizing these forms. And don't forget to get the PDF of the lesson.

3-Notes Per String Major Scales PDF

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3 Notes Per String Major Scales


  1. larrywjr on February 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Hey Carl, great stuff but I am confusing myself. I’m probably over thinking or being plain dense but …
    Using the pdf as a reference we are starting at 7th fret – Root is B, Shape built from the root makes sense to me but when we do the shape from 2nd tone (C#) the third note is a D and not in the B-Major scale. I know you said not to focus on a particular key but seeing this creates a doubt in me as to my basic understanding.

    • Carl Brown on February 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Hey Larry, this particular lesson doesn’t deal with visualization of keys or anything like that. It is simply trying to keep you in just one area of the fretboard and memorizing how to physically play all seven forms before you start throwing them into keys.

      You will see the major scale visualization exercises which will take care of that.

      Every scale form on this PDF is in fact in a completely different key. Since the scale forms all start on B the keys would be:

      Root Form: B major
      2nd Degree Form: A major
      3rd Degree Form: G major
      4th Degree Form: F# major
      5th Degree Form: E major
      6th Degree Form: D major
      7th Degree Form: C major

      Does this make more sense now?

      • larrywjr on February 6, 2015 at 5:00 pm

        Hi Carl, Thanks for the quick response. It now makes sense. I hadn’t realized that the exercise intentionally switched keys so I got confused.

        Thanks again.

        P.S. The understanding keys – which I studied a while back was probably the clearest and most informative I’ve ever run across. I refer to it often.

        • Carl Brown on February 7, 2015 at 9:37 am

          Great to hear Larry! Oh and thanks for the comment on the “Understanding Keys” lesson. I also think it is one of my better moments. πŸ™‚

      • Chris Goss on July 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm


        I’m trying to understand what key each of these scales are scale and from you description above I’m pretty confused. For instance the 2nd Degree Form has a C# as the second note in the scale…why is that an A major scale and not a C# scale? I’m probably getting ahead of myself b/c I think the point of the lesson is to just mechanically learn the shapes but I have a hard time learing this way without understand what I’m actually learning…


        • Carl Brown on July 18, 2015 at 11:10 am

          Hey Chris, you are correct in assuming this particular lesson is just to mechanically get the 7 seven scale forms under your fingers and memorized.

          After that, if you have read the “Understanding Keys” PDF, then you can go to the major scale visualization lessons which will show you how to play any of these scale forms, anywhere on the fretboard in every key.

          So just memorize the scale forms first along with their names while simultaneously studying the “Understanding Keys” PDF. Then apply it all with the visualization lessons. πŸ™‚


  2. Andrew Walker on February 21, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    this is great stuff, i havent seen a lesson on modes so simplified and compartmentalized. ive always understood the concept but havent found a good practice routine until now. thanks again man, keep em comin.

  3. Andrew Walker on February 21, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    petrucci has a good 3 notes per string lesson but i dont remember him making the modes so easy to visualize.

  4. Robert Bowles on April 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve tried several times to reach you through the “My Account”, but I guess it’s not going through.
    I purchased both of the picking DVDs (Alternate, Economy) from this website. However, I cannot get the TAB PDF files for both DVDs to print out. The page states that I have exceeded my download limit. But I have downloaded these files. Can you help me on this?
    Thanks for your great website and all of your work!
    Robert Bowles

    • Carl Brown on April 29, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Hey Robert, I am really sorry for the trouble you are having. I did receive your emails and have emailed you the PDFs multiple times but I think your ISP is blocking my emails from ever reaching you. Either that or they are sitting in your spam folder.

      Can you check your spam folder and also make sure that carl@guitarlessons365.com is in your email address book so maybe my emails can get through? If your ISP is the one blocking the emails then I it won’t even make it to your spam folder and I will have to figure out another way to get the PDFs to you today.

      Just check your spam folder real quick and let me know if you can find any emails from me in there.

      Thanks! I will get you those PDFs as soon as I can!


      • Robert Bowles on April 29, 2015 at 1:35 pm

        Thank you, Carl, for going to so much trouble. I’m working on this problem at the present.
        Thanks for your work.

        • Carl Brown on April 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

          OK let me know if you need me to get them to you without email. I have actually tried to send you the PDFs from two different email accounts to try and get it to work. πŸ™

  5. Robert Bowles on April 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    My previous comment should have said “But I have not downloaded these files.”

  6. Dan on July 25, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Hi Carl! I’m still working on memorizing the scale forms. Making progress little by little, but find these to be far more challenging than were the similar Pentatonic scale forms you provided. The explanation you provided Larry about the relative keys (given the form at the B tone) did provide confidence to me that I wasn’t far off.

    So for more assurance, does the 3-note per string form always “anchor” the specific tone number on the 6th string far left finger position on each form? I don’t see any visual to that effect in the pdf, but if so maybe this is why we learn 7 forms verses the simpler 5 in the Pentatonic!?

    Also, is the root note position always the same in each form? I know you don’t want us to tie to a key, but was wondering if “seeing” the root note position might help visualize how to interlock all the forms.

    I also did not find a lesson called “major scale visualization” that you mentioned to Larry. Does it cover my questions and give these visuals in the scale form patterns?

    Sorry so many questions, but I like your stuff and I’m hoping our feedback gives you ideas on how to make it even better! I share your name and website with my friends who hear me talk about re-learning the guitar. Feel free to get off here to email if this is too long for the website.

  7. Chris Goss on July 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Carl,

    When musicians describe scale notes by number like root, 1’st, 2nd, 3rd, like your doing here with these scale descriptions is that diffierent then when I hear descripitons like major 2nd, minor 3rd, diminished 7th…etc…it seems like these are two different types of descriptions and it’s always confused me?

    • Carl Brown on July 30, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      Major 2nd, minor 3rd and so forth are interval names. They tell you the exact distance between two notes no matter which notes those are within a key or any two notes period.

      Root 1st 2nd 3rd etc tell you the scale degree within a key that a note falls on. Make sense?


  8. Kelvin Chan on January 10, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Hi Carl,

    Hope you are well!
    Great lessons here, I am learning a lot from you.
    Have a question regarding these scale shapes and mode:
    I recorded some A major chords, and played the root shape starting on 5th fret on low E String. Then, over the same chords, I moved over to 7th fret play the 2nd scale shape, and it sound good too. My question: was I playing B Dorian mode when in the 7th fret B area?
    (Similarly then, if I move to 9th fret lower E string starting on C# and play the 3rd shape, will I be playing C# Phrygian mode, etc?)
    Thanks, Kelvin

    • Carl Brown on January 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm

      Hey Kelvin, thanks for watching this lesson!

      To answer your question, if you have only A major chords being played under the different scale forms, all of them will still be A major scales.

      In order for those scales to sound like modes you will instead need to change the harmony. All 7 of those scale forms can sound like any major scale or one of the basic major scale modes (ie. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian or Locrian).

      Try this instead, record yourself strumming and A major chord, then record yourself strumming a B min chord. Play that major scale form built from the root starting on the 5th fret over both of them. Over the A major chord it will sound like you are playing and A major scale (Ionian), but that same scale form when played over a B min chord will sound like B Dorian because of the harmony it is being played over.

      Check out my “Understanding Modes” lesson and it will help you figure out how to turn these basic major scales into modes easily. πŸ™‚


      Good Luck! Carl…

  9. Ken Parsley on February 13, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Hi Carl,
    You have most likely answered this before but I did not see it yet. What is your opinion of using fingers 1, 3, 4 on the low e string vs. 1, 2, 3 for positions 2 and 6. I know we are building off this, just seems to be a more natural hand position for me? Am I going to be paying for a bad habit later?

    • Carl Brown on February 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      Not at all Ken, that would be perfectly fine.

      I usually use that fingering when having to play a whole-step followed by a half-step. The only reason I used 1, 2, 3 for those scale patterns was because it allowed me to keep the 2nd finger at the same fret for the 3 notes on the next string. I found that not having to shift that finger up into position when crossing the strings to be a bit quicker for me. But if 1,3,4 is just as fast and more comfortable for you, by all means use it. πŸ™‚


  10. Brian Allen on June 10, 2016 at 2:30 am

    Carl I understood the position / 2nd position note of scale after looking at the thread. My question take us to the pentatonic scale forms.
    Being there are 5 notes to this , The second shape/form would be, if in major scale the major second???

    • Carl Brown on June 11, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Hey Brian, I think that a lot of times it is easier to number the pentatonic forms based on the notes of the scale.

      For instance, since a major pentatonic scale is 1 2 3 5 6 of a major scale, I would call them form 1 form 2 form 3 form 5 and form 6.

      So the second major pentatonic form will start on the 2nd note of the scale and form 5 of the major pentatonic scale will start from the 5th note of the scale.

  11. Bruce Dicoskey on March 22, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Carl, thanks for the 3-notes-per-string exercise. It’s a good background that will set a foundation for what’s to come. Now looking for a road map. Did you design that exercise to be in progression with other lessons? I’d like to follow your form rather than just jumping around other subjects, as I’m sure some need more basics than others. I really can’t tell where to land next, to keep this lesson fresh and in some order.
    After the 3-note exercise, what would you recommend to follow up and build on that, and in what order?
    BTW, I never saw this exercise before, despite many years of all levels of guitar teachers. I’m already starting to look at the fretboard differently.
    PS: Thanks again – your approach is comprehensive very well explained. I esp. like the way you go through solos (ie. La Grange). I used to try that on my own with a phrase grabber and CDs. Your videos are a LOT easier.

    • Carl Brown on March 25, 2017 at 9:00 am

      Hey Bruce, my improvisation courses take this material and progressively use it to learn more advanced concepts. But it still uses the basic theory and these scale forms that start the course so nothing comes out of left field so to speak.

      Check out the Premium section and take a look at the various syllabus’ of the courses.

      They are still being completed and each improv course will eventually be about 5 levels but it will probably take until summer till they are all complete.

      There is plenty there already though to work on in the coming months. πŸ™‚


  12. Ian Jones on April 14, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Hey Carl, how are you? I may have asked this question before I’m not sure so apologies in advance if I have. I have memorised the 7 positons of the major/natural minor scale. I have memorised the five positions of the major/minor pentatonic. I have practiced these through all keys as well. I was wondering where you suggest I move onto next? Should I begin learning arpeggios? Or should I begin to learn the melodic and harmonic minor scale? At this point in my playing what would be more beneficial to learn next?

    • Carl Brown on April 14, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Hey Ian, it would depend on your facility with the scales and what your overall musical goals are.

      Can you improvise with all of those scales you know comfortably or just play them up and down the fretboard systematically?

  13. Ian Jones on April 15, 2017 at 3:30 am

    In terms of practicing the scales just as scales I can nail them. When I improvise over backing tracks sometimes my phrasing is a little lacking. I come up with my own licks, I recycle licks I already know. So in terms of improvisation I’m still struggling a bit. I learned the guitar solo from Mr Crowley and I have been borrowing some Randy Rhoads licks for the 3 note per string stuff. Hopefully this is enough information.

    • Carl Brown on April 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Personally I like to stick with new scale forms for a while and learn to be musical with them before adding more to my arsenal.

      The reason is, after a while of playing a scale form you can do it pretty much without thinking and that allows your ear to take over so you can truly start to improvise. That can’t happen if you are trying to always make sure you are staying within the forms.

      If I was in your situation, I would work on just the scales you know, improvising with them in all keys until you are very comfortable making music with them. Then, add more after that. πŸ™‚

  14. Ryan Hoover on June 5, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    is there a best way to hold your arm for the 3 notes per string major scales. Striking 7 9 11 on the low E string and the A string with the fore finger, middle finger, and pinky is a new muscle shape for my hand. I can play barre chords no problem but this beings me back to early days of first playing. thanks

  15. Paul on November 28, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    From what you are saying, to find your key w/3notes-per-string one has to note what “F” is in the key.
    Noting these patterns helped me to remember:
    For the key of: “F” , “F” is I Ionian
    “Eb” and “E” , “F” is II Dorian
    “Db” and “D”, “F” is III Phygian
    “C” , “F” is IV Lydian
    “Bb” and “B” , “F” is V Mixolidian
    “Ab” and “A” , “F” is VI Aolean
    “Gb” and “G”, “F” is VII Locrian
    And for the flat keys use “F” and for the # keys use F#
    Is there an easier way?

  16. Darrell Birks on March 2, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Do I even need to bother with standard major scale shapes or are 3 more per string shapes sufficient?

    • Carl Brown on March 2, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Learning to see them in both ways is great as well. But if you learned just one I suggest the 3 notes format. πŸ™‚

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