The 5 Major Scale Positions

This article serves as a reference for navigating major scales all over the guitar fretboard. (Recommended prerequisite knowledge: The CAGED System, Scale Degrees vs. Intervals.)

Scale Definition

The major scale uses scale degrees 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. All the fretboard diagrams below show the C major scale, so the notes built on that root are C D E F G A B.

The 5 Positions

As outlined in my article on the CAGED System, I refer to the five positions by where the roots are. When the roots fall on strings 1, 4, and 6, I call it the “1-4-6 position.” When the roots fall on strings 2 and 5, I call it the “2-5 position,” and so on. This is not universal, but it’s the clearest scheme I’ve encountered.

C Major Scale, 1-4-6 Position

C Major Scale 1-4-6

C Major Scale, 2-4 Position

C Major Scale 2-4

C Major Scale, 2-5 Position

C Major Scale 2-5

C Major Scale, 3-5 Position

C Major Scale 3-5

C Major Scale, 1-3-6 Position

C Major Scale 1-3-6

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  • ETF

    Why when working through the positions does it go from Phrygian to Mixolydian skipping out the next natural step which is Lydian? Please could you explain I don’t understand.

    • Sounds like you’re equating each guitar scale shape with a mode of the major scale. This is all major scale on this page, no modes. What mode you’re playing depends on where the root is, not on which fretboard shape you’re using. You can play all seven modes with a single shape, just by changing the root note. Keep in mind that all the theory stuff should work just as well on any instrument, and there are no fretboards on pianos or clarinets.

  • Jay Parzych

    Are the captions for each image correct?

  • John T. Walsh Jr.

    Wouldn’t it have been easier for us if you had posted the positions in order from the nut to the octave?

    • That 1-4-6 position is sometimes referred to as “position 1”. Since the root is easier to find for most players on the low E string, and it lines up with root-6 barre chords, this is the most common position for players to know best, hence the name “position 1”. I don’t like that name because “first position” on guitar also refers to lining up your index finger with the first fret, regardless of what key you’re in. But I acknowledge its importance by starting with it in these diagrams.