This lesson covers the useful Tri Shape System that helps you to break out of a single box scale pattern.

Ditch The Boxes!

When we learn scales, we tend to learn one basic fretboard pattern or box shape that we can easily move around the neck. This pattern system allows us to play the scale in multiple places and in different keys, but it doesn’t teach us how to move into other positions or play across more than one octave.

You might notice that some players are able to whizz around the neck seemingly without being tied to patterns or shapes. One reason for this may be that the player has learnt the notes in every scale and the notes on the neck so well that they are able to move around freely without limitations. This is a great technique to work on and is one that players such as Jeff Berlin push, but it takes a lot of dedication and little steps to get there. Instead of aiming for such an open form of playing, this lesson will show you how to practice scales in a way that will take you a step closer to achieving musical fluency on your instrument.

The Tri Shape System

This system is broken down into two phases:

Phase One – Realising and learning that there are three different octave patterns for any scale you learn. (Hence the word tri in the name).

Phase Two – Extending the basic patterns and moving them over the entire fretboard.

For now, we will focus on the C major scale, which you should know the different patterns for from previous lessons. The three patterns are demonstrated in the video and together cover eight frets – a much larger area than a single scale would interact with on its own.

Phase One

Firstly, make sure you know all three pattern shapes and can play them confidently starting from different root notes. Next, go up the C major scale using the second shape and start on the 8th fret of the E string. When you reach the octave of C, start descending the third scale shape by using the 1st finger to lead the position shift between the A and G on the D string. Once you have done this a few times you will see that the scale covers more of the fretboard than it did before, despite using the same notes. Congratulations! You just took the first step to opening the scale out for yourself across the whole neck. Repeating this exercise will gradually link the patterns together so you can see every note available to you in any position, rather than being confined to a tiny box.

Come up with your own combinations of shapes to encourage yourself to think of new ways the scales can be stretched out. For example, try ascending the third shape and descending the first, or ascending the first and descending the second etc. 

Make It Musical

You can practice improvising around these patterns to get a feel for the shapes and how they are linked. The video shows a demonstration of one possible exercise for this that you can do by keeping a steady rhythm of sixteenth notes and improvising around the different shapes. When doing this, stay aware of what position you are in and what shift you need to make to change.

Remember to practice in all keys and over different scales too. 

Phase Two 

Now you can link the basic shapes together, you can move on to extending the scales to include the notes above and below the shape you are using.

Take the second C major scale pattern again (starting from the 8th fret of the E string) and without moving your hand position, play all the notes available to you above the first octave. This will be the D, E and F on the 7th, 9th and 10th frets of the G string. The B on the 7th fret of the E string is also available to us in this position. 

Do this with the other two shapes and you will have an arsenal of scale patterns at your fingertips that are flexible and can get you moving around the neck. Don’t forget to practice these in a musical way so you can call on them in real situations rather than only being able to play them as scales.

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