Scale box positions

As guitarists we tend to regard scales as patterns that can be moved up and down the neck depending on which key we're playing in.


We refer to these movable patterns as boxes or box positions.
 
As an example, below is the minor pentatonic box, with the root on the 6th string.

The bottom horizontal line represents the bottom or sixth string, which is the thickest one. Each black circle indicates where to place a finger for each of the notes from the scale in question.

The asterix represents the start fret. For example, if you are to play using this box in the key of G, then your start fret would be the 3rd. Alternatively, if you moved everything up the neck by one tone (or two frets) then you would be in the key of A, at the fifth fret.

The notes with the lighter shading are root notes i.e. when in the key of G, they are G notes.

Below are nine boxes and two runs, numbered with the following key:

BOX 1 - Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 6th string
BOX 2 - Natural minor scale, root note on 6th string
BOX 3 - Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 5th string
BOX 4 - Natural minor scale, root note on 5th string
BOX 5 - Major scale, root on 6th string
BOX 6 - Major scale, root on 6th string (alternative fingering)
BOX 7 - Major scale, root on 5th string
BOX 8 - Major pentatonic scale, root on 5th string
BOX 9 - Mixolydian mode / scale, root on 6th string
BOX 10 - 'Blues' scale box, root on 6th string
Run One - Minor pentatonic
Run Two - Major pentatonic

Click here to download a PDF of all these boxes.

 

BOX 1

Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 6th string
 

BOX 2
 

Natural minor scale, root note on 6th string
 

BOX 3

Minor pentatonic scale, root note on 5th string
 

BOX 4

Natural minor scale, root note on 5th string
 

BOX 5

Major scale, root on 6th string
 

BOX 6

Major scale, root on 6th string (alternative fingering)
 

BOX 7

Major scale, root on 5th string
 

BOX 8
 

Major pentatonic scale, root on 5th string
 

BOX 9

Mixolydian mode scale, root on 6th string


BOX 10

'Blues' box, root on 6th string

 
RUN 1

Minor pentatonic run
 

RUN 2
 
Major pentatonic run



For modal scale boxes, see my 'Modes - Where are they?' tutorial.
 
Box 10 shows the 'Blues' scale, which is the the minor pentatonic with an added note. This added note is called the 'flattened fifth' because it is one semitone down from the fifth note of the relative major scale. We always use the major scale as our reference when naming notes within chords and scales; whether they are major or minor. The flattened fifth is often referred to as the 'blues note'. It's a great passing note but not one which I advise playing for long ~ although that's exactly what I do on my 'Phrygian Flat Five' backing track. :)

You can also add this note to the natural minor scale, and on most occasions to any minor scale or run. Try using it often at first - and use your ears to decide whether or not it works.

 

Notes on where to use the boxes
 
C Major scale across the first 12 frets, showing location of boxes
We often use the key of C major for examples, as the lack of sharps / flats makes it easier to follow. I taught myself all this stuff in C major, then I just shifted everything up and / or down my neck for other keys.

If you've worked through my tutorials on 'How to work out scales', you will have the major, natural minor, minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales in all 12 keys.

Place an asterix beside each scale that contains only 'natural' notes - no sharps or flats.

This will give you a series of scales which can all be played when in the key of C major (because it is the only major key with no sharps or flats).

This is what you end up with:


If we equate these scales to the ten boxes and two runs shown above, we arrive at the following positions:


This gives us a lot of scope for moving around the fretboard, whilst only using notes from the C major scale.

NOTE: When in a major key you can obviously play the C major scale. However, you can also sometimes play the minor pentatonic scale at the same position. This is most apparent when playing the blues, and can confuse players into thinking that a piece is in a minor key, when in fact it's not.

As your ears improve, you'll be able to hear whether or not this can be done over a particular progression.
I encourage you to try it all the time, particularly when playing rock or blues.

Note that this is not true in reverse i.e. if a piece is in C minor, the C major scale doesn't fit.


For more box positions checkout my 'Modes - Where?' page.
For seven top tips on improving your jamming and soloing checkout my 'Soloing & Jamming' page.

Related Posts:
Backing tracks
What is a scale?
How to work out scales?
Which chords to play?

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6 comments

  • Eric Davis

    Eric Davis Portland, Oregon

    Thanks for the info. I'll be practicing these for some time.

    Thanks for the info. I'll be practicing these for some time.

  • Robin May

    Robin May

    You're welcome, Eric :)

    You're welcome, Eric smile

  • Alex SanFrancisco

    Alex SanFrancisco Sharm el Sheik

    Hi Robin. Love your boxes mate. Thanks a million. Cheers !

    Hi Robin.

    Love your boxes mate.
    Thanks a million.

    Cheers !

  • Joseph

    Joseph Jwaneng

    Hi Robin, Mine is a question. When in a Major key you can obviously play the Major scale, However you can play the Minor Pentatonic scale in the same position. Do you mean the relative minor Pentatonic or the key's minor pentatonic?

    Hi Robin,
    Mine is a question. When in a Major key you can obviously play the Major scale, However you can play the Minor Pentatonic scale in the same position. Do you mean the relative minor Pentatonic or the key's minor pentatonic?

  • Robin May

    Robin May

    Hi Joseph ~ You can often 'get away with' the key's minor pentatonic...technically incorrect, but never-the-less a reality for many. Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

    Hi Joseph ~ You can often 'get away with' the key's minor pentatonic...technically incorrect, but never-the-less a reality for many.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment smile

  • Brau

    Brau Maryland, USA

    Thanks for making so easy to understand.

    Thanks for making so easy to understand.

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