Home : Theory and Patterns : Rotating Modes

The fingerings of EVERY mode of EVERY possible scale can be found in EVERY possible position on the guitar, using ONE simple 5 string pattern that *rotates* around the fretboard.

Pentatonic Scales:

The rotating pentatonic scale fingering looks like this. 
Notice that it consists of 2 adjacent "wide" index-PINKY finger patterns, then 3 adjacent "narrow" index-RING finger patterns:

      <- The pattern starts over here, on the next string, 1 fret LOWER
omooM                                          (this is the "rotation")

Put the LARGE "M" in the above fingering ON ANY ROOT NOTE, ON ANY STRING, follow the fingering, and you will play a MAJOR pentatonic scale.

Put the SMALL "m" on any root note, ON ANY STRING, follow the fingering, and you will play a MINOR pentatonic scale.




You will find that all 5 of the common pentatonic scale fingerings are constructed using ONLY the above guidelines, all derived from the simple 5 string rotating pattern above.  Notice that every position contains notes only from the "2 wide, 3 narrow" shapes of the rotating pattern, with shifts down a fret when starting the pattern over, and shifts 1 fret apart between the 2nd and 3rd string (the first position contains BOTH these rules between the 2nd and 3rd string):

  1         2         3         4         5

mooMom     omo         o      omoo o      om
||||||    M|||oM    ooM|mo    ||||M|    oM||oo
|omo||    |||o||    ||||||    ||om||    ||||||
M   oM    ooM mo    omoo|o    oM  oo    mooMom

Major Scales:

The rotating major scale fingering looks like this.  Notice that it consists of 2 adjacent index-MIDDLE-pinky finger patterns, then 2 adjacent index-RING-pinky finger patterns, then 1 short index-ring pattern.  It's very easy to memorize!:

      <- The pattern starts over here, on the next string, 1 fret LOWER

Just remember, the same 2 string shift rules apply:

- start the pattern over (rotate) 1 fret lower (ascending)
- shift apart 1 fret between strings 2-3

This yields the following 5 fingerings which cover the entire fretboard (note that they are the same as the pentatonic scale fingerings, just with 2 added notes):

  1         2         3         4         5
oooMoo    oooo o      oo      oooooo     ooo
||||o|    Mo||oM    ooMooo    o|||Mo    oMo|oo
oooo|o    ||oo||    ||||||    |ooo||    |||o||
Mo  oM    ooMooo    oooooo    oMo oo    oooMoo
                    o   Mo                  o

Modes of the Major Scale:

By simply placing the root on a DIFFERENT STARTING NOTE in the rotating pattern, you can play any mode of the major scale, on any root note, in any position on the fretboard:


Note that the rotating fingering pattern used to play the Mixolydian scale is the same as in the major scale (2 middle, 2 ring, 1 short fingering).  The root note is just in a different place within the fingering:

      <- The pattern starts over here, on the next string, 1 fret LOWER

It could also be thought of like this:


Just remember to apply the 2 string shift rules (rotate 1 fret lower, shift between strings 2-3).  Here are five basic mixolydian fingerings, covering the entire fretboard.  Note again that these fingerings all correspond with pentatonic fingerings, just with a 2 notes added (1 DIFFERENT added note than those in the major scales):

  1         2         3         4         5

oooMoo     ooo         o      oooo o      oo
o|||oo    Moo|oM    ooMooo    oo||Mo    oMoooo
|ooo||    |||o||    ||||o|    ||oo||    ||||||
Moo oM    ooMooo    oooo|o    oMoooo    oooMoo
              o     oo  Mo              o   oo

All of the other modes of the major scale work the same way.  Where Mixolydian starts on the 5th degree of the major scale pattern, Dorian starts on the 2nd degree, Aeolian starts on the 6th degree, Lydian starts on the 4th degree, Phrygian starts on the 7th degree, *Major starts on the 1st degree*, etc.  All the modes of the major scale can be seen as pentatonic scale fingerings, with notes added ... or visa-versa ... all the pentatonic scale fingerings can be thought of as major scale modes WITH TWO NOTES REMOVED.  That means that EVERY single scale in common use in popular music comes from this single rotating fingering!:


Here are a few more examples of modes of the major scale.  The root notes are simply in different positions within the 2 middle, 2 ring, 1 short rotating fingering.  The important thing to notice is that every one of these fingerings is derived solely from that ONE rotating pattern, just starting in different places:


  1         2         3         4         5

  oo                             o
moooom     omooo     ooo      omoooo    ooom o
||||||    o|||oo    ooo|mo    ||||o|    oo||oo
oomooo    |ooo||    |||o||    ooom|o    ||oo||
o   oo    ooo mo    omoooo    oo  oo    moooom


  1         2         3         4         5

moooom    oomo o      oo      omoooo     oom
||||o|    oo||oo    oooomo    o|||oo    ooo|oo
oomo|o    ||oo||    ||||||    |oom||    |||o||
oo  oo    oooomo    omoooo    ooo oo    moooom
                    o   oo                  o

An Extended Major Scale Fingering:

This alternate version of the rotating major scale fingering is slightly more complex (7 strings).  It allows you to play 3 note per string runs consistently across all 6 strings of the guitar.  This pattern is NOT necessary to learn.  It simply provides an additional (extended) way of understanding how the major scale and all its modes can be found on the guitar:

Mo||||| <- This pattern starts over here, next string, 1 fret HIGHER

  1         2         3         4         5
oooM      oooo                oooo      |ooo
||||o     Mo||oM    ooMo      o|||Mo    oMo|oo
oooo|o    ||oo||    ||||      |ooo||    |||o||
Mo||oM    ooMooo    oooooo    oMo|oo    oooMoo
  oo||        ||    o|||Mo       o||        o|
    oo        oo     ooo||        oo         o

Other Scale Fingerings:

Melodic Minor:

7 | 6 2 5
1 4 |b3 |
| | 7 | 6
2 5 1 4

Harmonic Minor:

7 | | 2 5
1 4 |b3b6
| | 7 |
2 5 1 4

Whole Tone:

  3   2  
1 |b7 | b6
|b5 | 3 |
2 | 1 | b7
 b6  b5


     6 2
 1 4 |b3
 |b5 7 |b6
 2 | 1 4 6
b3b6  b5 |

   3 6  b5
 1 |b7b3 5
b2b5 | 3 |
 | 5 1 | 6
b3  b2 4b7



Why Learn This?

There are several great benefits of using rotating scale fingerings to find scale/chord tones:

1)  There are only two simple shift rules (start over 1 fret lower, shift apart between strings 2-3) and one 5 string pattern to memorize, and you can instantly play every mode of every possible scale, in every position on the fretboard, with just a little rote practice.  The small volume of required memorization makes the learning process more about thought and understanding, than mindless repetition, and the quick learning curve is encouraging.

2)  The logic of the rotating patterns turns the entire fretboard into a clearly organized road map in which MELODIES can be learned and transposed within consistent fingerings in any octave, key, and/or position on the fretboard.  For example, any pentatonic lick that occurs on the 2 adjacent "wide" fingerings in the pentatonic scale, can be played anywhere else you find the 2 "wide" fingerings, anywhere else on the neck.  The same is true for ANY melody that can be found in the major scale fingerings.  For example, try sounding out "Happy Birthday" in any position on the neck, figure out how it fits into the rotating major scale fingering, and you can suddenly play "Happy Birthday" in any key, in any octave, in any position on the fretboard, simply by finding that same fingerings anywhere else on the neck, using the rotating pattern on any chosen root note.  This is perhaps the most powerful reason to learn the rotating framework.  Using a simple 5 string pattern, you can reuse and re-apply ANY lick you learn, in any key, in any octave, anywhere on the neck.  Learning to re-apply licks, phrase, melodies, and other learned pieces of music is absolutely the most fundamentally necessary and useful skill required when learning how to improvise, write, internalize and otherwise create and experiment with *making* music on your own.

3)  The relationship between modes and their relative "base" scales becomes immediately apparent.  All the modes contain the exact same fingerings, just starting on different notes in the 5 string pattern.  This makes learning and applying modal licks much simpler.  Changing between modes, also ends up being much easier to visualize in the fretboard.  There end up just being a few common fingerings that ALL common guitar licks fit into:  pentatonic, major, pentatonic and major with added tones (i.e., blues, bebop, etc), and a few "exotic" scale fingerings (whole tone, diminished, etc.).  Even the most basic and fundamentally useful changing, such as s
hifting between major and minor pentatonic modes are much more easily visualized.

4)  The REPETITIVE nature of using a single 5 string fingering in practice promotes HABITUAL, and therefore FAST, technical movement.  By learning, recognizing, and ingraining the SAME simple fingering patterns in EVERY melody or scale pattern you practice, you will be able to play runs, lines, licks, etc. more QUICKLY and more EASILY.  Forming habitual movement via repetitive practice is the basis of improving all playing skills, and the practice of a single pattern encourages thorough learning of all practical musical skills (sequences, repeating patterns, etc.).

The rotating patterns play an absolutely fundamental role in visualizing, understanding, finding, and clarifying the layout of the fretboard and the melodies/licks you play.  Working particularly on practicing the modes of the major scale, especially starting on the dorian, mixolydian, and major notes, will set a practical foundation of understanding and ability that can be applied to PLAYING INTERESTING MUSIC over any type of chord progression.

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.