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Jazz Guitar Scales

Positions Part One: How to Have Six Fingers and Control the Universe

Positions are the “meat and potatoes” of jazz guitar scales playing. Any melodic idea can be analyzed and explained (on the fingerboard) as belonging to one or more positions.

In this article series you will learn to properly place your hand on the fingerboard, understand the fingering principles and finally, learn jazz guitar scales in some of the most useful positions. Ready? Go!

Jump to a page :

Positions Part 1 : How to Have Six Fingers and Control the Universe
Positions Part 2 : Top Must-Know Positions for Jazz Guitar
Positions Part 3 : Scales Polishing and Connecting
Positions Part 4 : Arpeggios 101 – Complete Arps
Positions Part 5 : Arpeggios 102 – Triads and Seventh Chords
Position Addendum : Scales in Cycle of Fourths


Learn the “Finger to Fret” Relationship

If this article was a one-liner, it would probably be just that subtitle. This is the core of all position playing on the guitar: each finger stays in one fret. But that is not all…

The other part of this principle that is probably less understood is that fingers can stretch. It means that each finger stays in one fret. Except the index and the pinky that can stretch higher/lower by one fret.

Because they cover the outer limits of the hand, the 1st and 4th fingers can stretch to:

  • add extra range to each position on the guitar;
  • create a whole new world of fingering possibilities.

In short the hand now spawns six frets instead of four and that creates a lot of interest. Hand with six fingers, anyone?!

Jazz Guitar Scales: in positions

This is a picture of the finger to fret relationship. It should be the same as if you look at your fretting hand in a mirror while fingering your guitar. Notice how the index (1st finger) and the pinky (4th finger) each cover two frets. After you get comfortable with the concept, it will feel akin to having six fretting fingers for you!

If you’re completely new to position playing I recommend you check out and play through A Modern Method for Guitar by William Leavitt. It will give you a solid base in jazz guitar scales positions and fingerings.


The Whole Universe (it’s yours!)

Let’s see what lies in a typical position on the guitar. Try it yourself: put your fretting index over the third fret and all the other fingers should align with fret four, five and six.

So, musically, what do we have?

  • The low register goes as low as an F# / Gb (second fret, lowest string) because we stretch the index down.
  • The high register goes as far as a B (seventh fret, highest string) because we’re stretching the pinky up.
  • All notes in between are present.
Jazz Guitar Scales: in positions

A typical position thus covers almost 2.5 octaves! That is in the ballpark of what most woodwinds and brass deal with. And don’t forget: that is just one position for us guitarists!

I often hear people use the expression: “Stuck in one position”. I wonder about that statement. How can you be “stuck” when such a huge amount of musical material is right at your fingertips? It’s most likely because people don’t know what to do with all these notes, more so than the lack of raw materials available!

And, what do I mean exactly?

I like to say that the whole universe is contained in a single position because you can find:

  • The chromatic scale (spawning over 2 octaves).
  • Two whole tone scales.
  • Three diminished scales.
  • 12 major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, harmonic major scales.
  • All the 4, 5, 6 and 7-note chords/arpeggios derived from above.
  • Every chromatic interval up to the 13th. Some can be doubled.
  • 12 major, minor, augmented, diminished and sus. triads (all inversions in closed positions and some spread voicings.)
  • _________________________________ (write your own)

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, you’ll find more if you look! In fact check out The Advancing Guitarist, where the author attempts to enumerate all the possibilities!

In short, just one position on the guitar is sufficient to deal with any musical situation. Everything is there! It’s the same as saying: “Just” the range of the alto saxophone is sufficient to deal with any musical situation. That’s obviously true.

Always Remember:

A range of approx 2.5 octaves (one position) contains the whole musical universe in itself. It’s all there! You just have to find what you need.


Painless Jazz Guitar Scales Positions

how to play jazz guitar: painless scale positionsPainless Scale Positions: The Complete Course. In this course, you’ll master scales in the common “positions system” efficiently, easily and logically. The program contains over 2.5 hours of videos, numerous PDF and FIFTEEN assignments to keep track of your progress. Plus, a friendly teacher delivers the materials to you step-by-step. (-: (watch video)


More Universes: Position Playing Principle

Even though we could spend or lives in just one or two positions, jazz guitarists tend to learn all (or most) positions on the guitar. It’s practical to unlock the entire fretboard.

It’s almost like saying: Instead of learning all the scales in one position, I will learn all the positions in one scale.

So it means that jazz guitar scales are usually learned in “blocks”: between 5 and 7 different and useful positions for each scale. That is highly effective when it comes down to covering the entire fingerboard. Especially if it is your first time doing so.

Also: it’s worth looking into diagonal playing for scales on jazz guitar. It’s not position-related, but it’s really cool!

Moving On

In the next article, I’ll show you the seven most useful positions to master jazz guitar scales in a breeze!

Go to Jazz Guitar Scales: Positions Part II ——>