Jazz Guitar Scales

Positions Addendum: Scales Through the Cycle of Fourths

In this article series, we looked at the fundamental aspects of learning the proper positions, fingerings and position shifts for the most common jazz guitar scales and arpeggios: major scale and melodic minor scale.

Here’s some more stuff to work on: a little jazz guitar scales trick to memorize the fingerings and positions by using the cycle of fourths.

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 [You are here!]


Cycling on Your Jazz Guitar Scales

Here’s another convenient way to learn the same material we examined in part 2 and part 3: Play the exact same seven positions / fingerings through the cycle of fourths!

jazz chord cycles

Provided that the key of the next scale you’re about to play is up a fourth, you will be able to stick the LH into one position for playing in several different key signatures.

In other words: In part 2 and 3, we stayed in one key while moving the left hand through seven positions (up and down the fretboard). In this present article, you will learn to stay in one position going through SEVEN keys (thus varying only the fingerings).


Let’s Try it!

If you’ve done your homework, you should be at least familiar with the seven useful positions/fingerings for jazz guitar scales. If not, start here. The “string + finger” system still applies; here’s the order in which the seven fingerings move “through the circle”:




Play the first scale from your pinky on C note on the 6th string (thus playing C scale in 6-4),

…the next scale is F in 5-4,

then Bb in 6-2,
then Eb in 5-2,
then Ab in 6-1,
then Db in 5-1,
then Gb in 4-1.

(all of the above seven keys while staying in the same LH position)

… and start over a 1/2 step down

Having covered the seven useful fingerings (in the keys of C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb) the next scale in the cycle (key of B) uses 6-4 again, starting all over a half-step lower that where we started in C.

Cover the same seven fingerings this time starting in B …

… B major in 6-4,

then E in 5-4,
then A in 6-2,
then D in 5-2,
then G in 6-1,
then C in 5-1,
then F in 4-1.

… and start over a 1/2 step down once again.

Bb in 6-4 again, to Eb in 5-4, to Ab in 6-2 etc.

…until your run out of frets by reaching the nut on your guitar!

Jazz Guitar Scales: G major in position



Starting from 6-4 and playing scales “in the circle” allows you to play seven distinct fingerings (and keys) before having to move the left hand in a lateral fashion a half-step down.

In fact, you could start in ANY key (major OR melodic minor scale) and play through the cycle! Right?! (-;

The next logical step is to play jazz guitar scales diagonally. Here’s an article on the basics of diagonal scales playing:

Jazz Guitar Scales : Diagonal playing ————->

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