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Home : Theory and Patterns : Rotating Patterns
Other Approaches To Learning Scales, Beyond the CAGED Shapes:
If you've searched on the Internet for ways to learn guitar, you've
undoubtedly found links describing miraculous ways to learn guitar
quickly and easily.  That type of marketing hype is found in every
industry.  The truth about learning to play guitar is that it takes a
long time and a significant amount of effort.  No one becomes a virtuoso
overnight without effort.  No one does.  Never.  That's true of any
worthwhile endeavor.  
It takes a while to develop basic technical ability, musical
understanding, and basic musical ability (the ability to play notes in
rhythm, the ability to play common shapes and patterns in the left and
right hands, etc.).  Basic skill development is unavoidable.
But, there are some interesting and simple patterns that can be found on
the instrument, and those patterns have been exploited commercially many
times.  They've existed for centuries, and they've been familiar to
professionals for as long as advanced players have been playing the
instrument.  But they're not secrets, or incredible ways of
encapsulating the entire volume of knowledge required to perform and
create every type of music known to man.  Those honors go to traditional
music theory and practice.  
Nevertheless, there are some really cool ways to understand and
encapsulate all the common scale fingerings that happen on the guitar.  
They occur in the form of "rotating patterns".
Rotating patterns are repetitive fingerings that occur in every type of
music.  They outline the fretboard in a way that quickly becomes a
"sixth sense" to guitarists, and they add a very useful and simplified
understanding to the broad and frightening prospect of melodic
improvisation.  But they're not the be-all-end-all of musical
understanding on the guitar.  That honor still remains with the
traditional, and often complex/hard to learn CAGED theory.
Rotating patterns are simple.  For every scale, you'll find a repetitive
fingering pattern produces the notes of that scale, at any position on
the guitar fretboard, and with the root note starting on any given
string.  Below is the rotating pattern used to play all major and minor
modes of the pentatonic scale (large M = major pentatonic root note,
small m = minor pentatonic root note):
_____________
| | | | o m o
m o o M | | |
| | | | | | o
| o m o o M |
M | | | | | |
| | | | | | |
^ ^       ^ ^
| |       | |
| |       | |
same     same
That pattern repeats itself on the last two strings and starts over,
rotating (wrapping) around the fretboard, no matter what string it's started upon.  Every pentatonic fingering on the guitar is made up of
that simple pattern.  Just follow the simple guideline below:
When you're ascending  from 3 -> 2, shift the pattern on the 2nd string
up 1 fret
When you're descending from 2 -> 3, shift the pattern on the 3rd string
down 1 fret
Use the root note patterns below to help position starting tones:
 
Root notes:
___________
| | | | | R  go 5 frets up
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | | R |  go 4 frets up
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | R | |  go 3 frets up
| | | | | |
| | | | | |
| | | | | R  starts over here
| | | | | |
Below is the rotating pattern used to play all the modes of the major
scale:
___________
| 7 3 6 2 5
5 1 4 | | |
| | | 7 3 6
6 2 5 1 4 |
| | | | | |
^         ^
|         |
|         |
same     same
Every major scale fingering on the guitar, along with every mode of the
major scale, can be played using that simple pattern.  
Below is another rotating pattern used to play all the modes of the
major scale, using "3 note per string" fingerings:_________________
7 3 6 2 5 1 4 | |
1 4 | | | | | 7 3
| | 7 3 6 2 5 1 4
2 5 1 4 | | | | |
| | | | 7 3 6 2 5
| | | | | | | | |
^ ^           ^ ^
| |           | |
| |           | |
same         same
All other scale fingerings for every mode of every scale can be defined
as alterations to the above fingerings.  The harmonic minor modes can be
played using the following pattern (harmonic minor = 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7):
 ___________
 | 7 | | 2 5
 5 1 4 |b3b6  
b6 | | 7 | |
 | 2 5 1 4 |
 |b3b6 | | |
 ^         ^
 |         |
 |         |
 same     same
And using "3 note per string" fingerings:
 _________________
 7 | | 2 5 1 4 | |
 1 4 |b3b6 | | 7 |
 | | 7 | | 2 5 1 4
 2 5 1 4 |b3b6 | |
b3b6 | | 7 | | 2 5
 | | | | | | |b3 |
 ^ ^           ^ ^
 | |           | |
 | |           | |
 same         same
By learning the rotating patterns, you can internalize every possible
scale fingering using a very simple set of repetitive shapes.  Every
scale fingering you'll ever play on the guitar can be defined in terms
of the fingerings above.  Recognizing those patterns, in association
with other approaches such as the CAGED shapes and note reading, makes
the process of improvisation with chord-scale relationships a much less
daunting task.
Copyright (C) 2005, Nick Antonaccio

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.