The Mother of All Major Scale Exercises – Part 1 of 4

A few years ago, I developed what I call “The Mother of All Major Scale Exercises.” It’s divided into four parts. In the video above, I walk you through Part 1. (You can see a brief explanation of the whole thing, from back when I came up with the exercise, here. I’ll be going into much more detail now.)

If you haven’t learned the five major scale shapes derived from The CAGED System, you’ll need to get those under your fingers before tackling this exercise. The exercise has you shift through the various positions every few seconds, which will eventually become effortless.

To review, here are the five shapes we’re dealing with, in C major:

C Major - All CAGED Positions

Put simply, this first part of the exercise amounts to ascending through one position, descending through the next one up the neck, ascending through the next one, and so on.

Below is the entire exercise in C major. Click the image for a printable PDF version. If you don’t have the 22 frets used in this example, just turn around when you reach your fretting limit. And don’t for get to do the whole thing again in all 11 other keys!

Mother of All Major Scale Exercises - Part 1 - C Major

Continue to Part 2!

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  • Nice Lone Star Strat, dude. That is one badass axe.

  • Hey Joe,

    Hope all is well in Seattle. I remember you showing me these a while back and they have really helped out my guitar playing. I also have been adapting them a bit for bass!

    Just one quick question. Why do you jump to the lowest/highest note rather than playing the scales in a continuous fashion?

  • Joe

    Hiya Doug!

    Playing a scale continuously, from the lowest note in the guitar’s range up to the highest (one of Magnusson’s exercises), is a great exercise too, and it’s one of the goals of the one I’ve developed here. The trouble with a giant scale like that is it requires so many position shifts, and there are so many different places to make those shifts. You’ll have to skip huge chunks of the fretboard (since there’s so much redundancy), and the ideal path will be different for every key!

    My exercise (in all its parts) is an easier stepping stone toward the ability to shift anywhere, any time, effortlessly. The point is to get to know every position really well, all over the fretboard at the same time, regardless of which one you’re currently using. They all start to merge into one easily-navigable shape. In doing this, the patterns (in your mind and in your fingers) tend to take priority over the scale, at least for the duration of this exercise.

    Hope that helps.


    • Sorry, I didn’t ask a very clear question. I totally agree about all the possible shifts, and these exercises (especially the two string one) makes sure you hit them all.

      My questions was more specifically about when you move from one position to the next. For example, the key of C, 2nd lowest position, G mixolydian, OR position 3-5 as you would call it (I think I got that right), moving up to the next position (A aeolian, 1-3-6) you jump immediately to the C on the 8th fret of either E string rather than moving through the B on the 7th fret. I was just wondering why you practice this leap rather than purely step scale motion.

      Those were some poorly written sentences, but I hope that clarifies my question.

      • Joe

        Aha, I understand now. I suspect I just never thought of doing it that way. My goal was simply to link the positions rather than maintain a seamless scale. I figured I’d go bottom to top of one position, then top to bottom of the next. But now that I see your approach, I like it better, because maintaining that seamless scale is a really good skill to have.

        One other thing I like to do, that I don’t feel like getting into during this video series, is skipping positions so that I don’t fall into the pattern of mindlessly moving to the adjacent one. After ascending the first position, I might jump up and descend the third one, ascend the second, descend the fourth, etc. It’s kind of like playing a scale in thirds or fourths, which is mind-numbing if you’ve never played it any way other than sequentially.

        • Dig it! Just wanted to let you know I practice my scales this way and encourage my students to reference your site and videos. Also, your article on your blog about sweep arpeggios has helped me guide students in practicing the technique. Thanks for all the info you post.

  • That’s clever, naming the positions by the roots.
    Never thought of that, but definitely makes perfect sense to do!

    • Joe

      It’s totally unconventional, but it gets right to the point of what you need to know about each position. Every other naming scheme I’ve seen seems awkward and leads to lots of confusion when communicating.

  • Jezy Chris

    wow love it <3