Two “missing” scale positions?

Question by Per

Learn the Fretboard: Online Course

Hi Marc!

I’ve been working on your Learn the Fretboard course for couple of weeks and it’s great fun and seems to help me a lot. I’am really not a guitar player (yet) but a sax player so finding the same dang note all over the place is very confusing to me, but it’s getting better.

Another thing that I find confusing is the term “position”. Sometimes it seems to refer to a particular fingering, no matter where you are on the fretboard, and sometimes it seems to refer to a certain segment of the fretboard regardless of what fingering or key you play. Help me out!

I’m about to get your Painless Scale Positions course and get started, but I would like to get some more hints on what to expect from it first. On your brilliant website you list seven “must know” positions (which I understand as fingerings, not locations, right?) but what I understand from the intro the painless course deals with only five different positions (caged?).

What happened to the other two?

If I take the course and learn the five “absolutely most must know positions”, will I get stuck in the middle of Stella by Starlight or some other beautiful song due to the fact I never learned the other two positions? Well, I know I’m pushing it, but I really don’t get it. And I really need your help.

I really need to learn to play the guitar since I no longer may play sax due to murderous neighbours. 🙂

Guitar is the only instrument that I really like that comes with a volume control, and though it’s as difficult as playing six saxes at once (c’mon Roland Kirk!) I still need some music in my life!

Thanks for your help!

M-A Answers:

Hello Per,

Thanks for your questions. Let me answer them in order.

What is a “Position”, really… ?

You seem to oppose two different “views” of positions: fingerings and location of the left hand. To me, though, these two ideas are the same.

For instance, if I asked you to play C major scale in 5-2. You would immediately place your fretting hand to play that C root note on the 5th string, with your 2nd finger. That’s where the name “5-2” comes from.

Then you would play the scale up and down with only the available notes to your fretting hand in this particular location on the fingerboard.

So “C major in 5-2” winds up meaning both:

  1. Your fretting hand fingers align with the frets 2-3-4-5 (position)
  2. There is a distinctive pattern of frets to play the scale in that area of the fretboard if you DON’T move the fretting hand up or down. (fingerings)

So my whole idea of “positions” reconciles both the LOCATION and the FINGERING aspects of the concept. Cool? 🙂

Missing Jazz Guitar Scales Positions?

Well … yes.

In the Modern Method for Guitar (the “Berkley Method”), the author gives 7 positions. In order: 5-2, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, 4-1 and 5-4.

The two “missing” positions in the CAGED system and my online course are 4-1 and 6-2. Personally, I have always considered them as “in-betweeners” and I find a bit overkill.

… but it can be a good gymnastics to learn them all! Your choice. 🙂

And to answer the second part of your question: NO, you won’t be missing out on some improvisational ideas if you are skipping over the two extra fingerings / positions.

I have already written about this recently, but Jazz guitar scales position ARE NOT (and should NOT) be heard and felt in improvisations. The positions are a good way to learn the instrument in a practical system … but it doesn’t mean that SOLOS are to be played in positions.

Think of it like this: a scale position is like a little grid that tells you where the good notes are for a certain chord / sound. After you see which notes are good, there is no need to restrict the fretting hand to an area on the fretboard.

What would be the use of that constraint anyways?!!?

So, I hope this answers your question. Also check out this other recent article about not using positions while soloing and constraints to practice Jazz guitar improvisation.


Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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