3 Octave Moveable Shapes

This whole thing sounds intimidating, and I should say it’s not a simple thing to execute, but the concept, once divulged, will come across as exceedingly simple.  Today we’re going to talk about a 3-octave pentatonic scale using a couple of different shapes, travelling across strings and simultaneously up the neck.  

The key to this lesson is going to be identical moveable shapes, similar to playing a 3-octave arpeggio. And in fact, you can take the core of this lesson and apply it to any manner of scale or lick that you want.

An intro to moveable shapes

If you’re not familiar with this idea, it’s basically that by taking a fingering pattern, playable on adjacent strings (usually starting on the low E and A), you can identify the root or your home base note of the pattern, the starting point if you will. Then shift to the next two adjacent strings, D and G, placing the starting point of the pattern two frets higher than in the previous position.  For example, a G major arpeggio starts on 3rdfret of the Low E and repeats again at its octave, 5thfret of the D. Once shifted on the string sets and up two frets the finger pattern will remain the same as you are essentially just playing the next octave of whatever phrase, scale, or arpeggio you’ve picked.  When you to the final string set, you will shift up by 3 frets from the previous position instead of 2 frets.

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Note, it's extremely helpful to know the first note of each of these shapes. In this case G. And then you should be able to find it on each string set. i.e. 3rd fret 6th string, 5th fret 4th string, 8th fret 2nd string.

Moveable Pentatonic shapes

The great thing about this concept of moveable shapes is that it makes it super simple to program in some landmarks to any blazing run up the fretboard.  And because we’re using a repeated motion most of the work is already done as we’re not memorizing 3 different patterns for each octave of our lick.

Since the root of our pattern is A, can you find the three A landmarks on each string set?

First let’s just look at the opening of the minor pentatonic scale and see how this moveable shape thing works.

Starting on A you can see that we simply move these 4 notes up to the start on the next octave of A on the 4thstring and again on the second string.

The pentatonic is full of all sorts of ergonomic licks for guitar, so now try taking a different simple shape like the first 4 notes of the Dorian pentatonic.


It’s just a 4 note pattern with no real difficulty to it, but if you run it up three octaves it can sound pretty exciting. 

But what if we want to play all five notes of the pentatonic scale?  The easiest approach is to start from the 5thnote of the minor pentatonic (or we can just say that we’re playing the mixolydian pentatonic). We’ll play this one using something of a “3 notes per string” form utilizing a big stretch for our pinky to reach the final note of the pattern.

G is our first note for the pattern. Can you locate G on each string set?

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You could also get a little complex and play the Minor Pentatonic from its root on A.  This will require either some more stretching or a small position shift, but it can be done.

 Keep in mind that we’re working to build some landmarks here, to use these shapes as guides or blueprints for playing better and more fun guitar.  An example of something fun you could do is you could combine two ideas, say do a mix of half pentatonic and then half melodic minor, and run that whole thing up the fretboard.

 Or get even crazier and use the same set of notes, but each time try to play them in a different order.

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As with all things guitar, the possibilities are endless and your only limits are your patience and imagination.  And on that note, be patient with all things that you practice as they take a bit of time to show up in your playing (sometimes weeks to months), but practice always makes progress.  

 What other moveable shapes have you found that are fun to play, sound interesting, or maybe are just plain challenging that you’d like to improve?

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