When we start playing scales, we can look at the Royal Conservatory Scales and Arpeggios book which tells us exactly how to finger the scales. This model for the two octave major scale favours the fingering option where there are no position changes. The problem is that for me this is a major impediment to speeding up the scale. No pun intended. It’s not that I can’t move my fingers fast enough. It seems what is worse is keeping track of the number of times I need to pluck the strings with my right hand. Is it two, or three times?

Thankfully at the very last page of the scales and arpeggios book they include a helpful half-page secret about an alternative fingering to the major scale. Here they include the three-note-per-string fingering that is favoured by both heavy metal and flamenco guitarists for blazing fast speed. Three fingers, of course, are better than two. But when we want to flip someone off, we only use one finger. Strange, isn’t it.

Here is the three note per string fingering for major scales starting on the fifth string:

C Major Scale

And Here is the three note per string fingering for major scales starting on the sixth string:

 G Major Scale

The problem is that the three note per string pattern in the major scale generates some pretty wide stretches. You can solve this either by only playing in really high positions or just growing longer fingers. 

So I set about trying to find a scale that is as nice on the fingers as the major scale is to violinists, mandolinists and banjo pluckers. I looked at the chromatic scale, which is fun to practice because it’s super easy to memorize and uses all the fingers. But its use is limited.

Chromatic Scale

Then there is the whole tone scale. Also fun to practice because it fits perfectly into three notes per string and you can play it up and down the neck. Three octaves, hey! However I still haven’t solved the massive stretching issue. So this scale maybe isn’t a good choice for warming up.

whole tone scale 

This leaves us with minor pentatonic. I love the sound of the pentatonic scale, but practicing it is a little boring because the fingering is trivial and there are no position changes.

 minor pentatonic

Or you can practice the Major Pentatonic scale for finger variety, but this scale is also quite simple.

 major pentatonic

However another pentatonic scale that deserves more attention is the Hirajōshi scale, or hira-choshi (Japanese: 平調子). This foreign-sounding mode deserves more attention and is sure to impress your friends when used in your latest hot lick.


Classical musicians are also fond of learning and practicing the harmonic minor scale or the melodic minor scale. Whilst fun to play on the piano, These scales are not very much fun to play on the guitar because they involve extensive position shifts and not very logical fingering patterns.

 harmonic minor

However, a mode of the harmonic minor scale, the Freygish scale, is lots of fun to play because you start off with two semitones.


So what should we use to warm up? Is it a constant sacrifice between position changes and big stretches? I propose that we take a look at the gypsy scale. Or more academically, the Double Harmonic Major Scale. If we are stuck with a heptatonic scale, we might as well do one that has lots of semitones. This scale involves lots of jumping around the neck and no big stretches because of the nicely placed augmented second. And if you need to string together two octaves, you can just use a three note per string pattern and quickly continue on your way of playing two or four notes per string. And the scale sounds cool.

 double harmonic major scale

So the question is: which do you prefer when practicing scales. Weird finger Stretches or lots of shifting? Let me know in the comments!

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Brett Vachon - Guitarist

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