Jazz Guitar Scales

Positions Part Two: Top Must-Know Positions for Jazz Guitar

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, we will look at the fundamental aspects of learning the proper positions and fingerings for the most common jazz guitar scales: major scale and melodic minor scale.

“Why just these two scales?”

Most of jazz music is played within the major and melodic minor scales. They are building blocks and these jazz guitar scales should be mastered before attempting to learn more advanced (exotic, synthetic) scales. Make sure you somewhat understand what the above mentioned scales are and how they sound. Click on their names for theorical explanation.

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

The “Starting String and Finger” System

Let’s identify positions, not in an absolute manner (by fret), but according to what finger and string the first note is played on. It is a relative system: 6th (string) – 2nd (finger)

For example, “6-2” means that the first note of the position, also called root, is played with the second finger on the sixth string. That relative location can be applied to any fret on the guitar.

For example, if we say “G major scale in 6-2” it implies three things:

  1. Play a G note as a root…
  2. With your second finger…
  3. On the sixth string.

So “G major scale in 6-2” will have you place your 2nd finger on the 3rd fret of the 6th string (G note).

Seven Most Common Positions (String-Finger)

The following seven positions are, to me and many other professional guitarists, the most important ones. It’s essential that you learn them in and out if you want to master jazz guitar scales:

  • 6-2
  • 6-1
  • 4-1
  • 5-4
  • 5-2
  • 5-1
  • 6-4

The fingerings with the same finger number are very similar (such as 6-2 and 5-2). It will help trememdously for memorization. More on that later. It probably doesn’t make any sense to you right now, so let’s play them! Each position is clearly explained (with tabs and diagram) below.

Demonstration: 7 Positions for the Major Scale

Let’s play the above mentioned positions in G major. I like that key because it lays well on the fretboard and the “string-finger” identifiers makes sense.

We’ll start low on the fingerboard (near the nut) and climb all the way up. The positions will appear in the same order as they do on the bullet-list above.

A quick technical note : make sure your thumb is behind the neck when practicing the scales. Make the palm of your fretting hand as round as possible (as if you were holding a grapefruit.)

Also make sure that you practice the jazz guitar scales positions ascending and descending.


6 – 2
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 6-2 Position
 No finger stretches are involved in 6-2.


6- 1
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 6-1 Position

Notice that there are three 1st finger stretches in 6-1. Do not move the entire hand to play them. Simply reach for the notes with the index.


4 – 1
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 4-1 Position

This is basically the same as 6-1 but on a different set of strings. You may notice that this diagram is incomplete. There is more notes to be played in that position and we’ll discuss it in the next article.


5 – 4
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 5-4 Position

No finger stretches are involved in 5-4. This is also an “incomplete” diagram since more notes could be played in the position.


5 – 2
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 5-2 Position

This is basically the same as 6-2 but on a different set of strings. Notice that this diagram is also incomplete.


G major
Jazz guitar scales: 5-1 Position

This is basically the same as 6-1 but on a different set of strings. Notice that this diagram is also incomplete.


6 – 4
G major
Jazz guitar scales: 6-4 Position

And finally, our pinky stretch! 6-4 is very much related to 5-4 but has this necessary stretch of the 4th finger.


How to Remember the 7 Positions of Major

Did you notice little things here and there? Similarities, recurring patterns or inherent logic? Of course you did!

The seven jazz guitar scales positions divide into three families or related fingerings:

  • 6-2 and 5-2
  • 6-4 and 5-4
  • 6-1, 5-1 and 4-1

In short, the finger you start on decides on the fingering to adopt. Aand we’re starting scales on either the 1st, 2nd or 4th finger, thus, 3 families. So only three master fingerings can be derived into seven positions.

You may have also noticed that positions starting on the 6th strings are mostly “complete” in themselves (covering almost the entire range of the fretting hand.) Go on to the next article to find out how to fill-in the “missing notes” for jazz guitar scales positions 4-1, 5-4, 5-2 and 5-1.


Painless Scale 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)


7 Positions of Melodic Minor Scale

That’s my favorite part of the story! Without knowing it, if you learned the seven positions of the major scale properly then you’ve also have unlocked seven positions of the melodic minor scale! How is that possible? If you know a minimum of scale theory you know that there’s only one note difference between major and melodic minor: The third!

So if C major is: C D E F G A B then C melodic minor is simply: C D Eb F G A B

Since we’ve been in G major above, we’ll simply change the B to a Bb. So, basically, all you have to do is go through the seven positions and change one note. To help you, I made a chart of melodic minor scale diagrams here:


Pay attention to the brand new finger stretches that occur!

Jazz Guitar Scales: Moving On

In the next article, I’ll show you how to take full advantage of each of these jazz guitar scales positions. We need, of course, to identify all the notes available in each position, not just from “root to root” …

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

4 thoughts on “Jazz Guitar Scales

  1. The tab you show in figure 6-2 does not match the diagram or the description. The tab shows a pattern that does require finger stretches from both the first and fourth fingers.

  2. The tab is different from the fretboard diagram. The tab shows Str.6 (3,5), Str.5 (2,3,5), Str.4 (2,4,5), Str.3 (2,4), Str.2 (1,3,5), Str.1 (2,3). The fretboard diagram is correct, it shows Str.6 (2,4), Str.5 (1,2,4), Str.4 (1,3,4), Str.3 (1,3,4), Str.2 (2,4), Str.1 (1.2). On the tab, you are in position 2 and have to stretch to reach fret 1 on the 2nd string. On the diagram, you are in position 1 and don’t have to stretch.

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