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Pentatonic Scale

How can easily I play across the guitar neck? Use the the Diagonal Pentatonic Method!

Mar 27, 2021

How can easily I play across the guitar neck? Use the the Diagonal Pentatonic Method!

Casey Saulpaugh and Steve Newbrough



While many guitarists use the CAGED system to navigate the fretboard with pentatonic scales, the diagonal pentatonic scales can allow a guitarist to break out of those overused boxes. As described below, placing two or three note sets per string can allow a guitarist to use a simpler and more consistent left hand fingering.

Like any musician, as guitarists we strive to articulate the musical ideas we hear in our head through our instrument. However, with multiple strings, scale shapes, and keys, it can seem like there are endless possibilities to playing just one idea. This can seem promising, but also overwhelming: with so many possibilities sometimes utilizing the fretboard can feel like being lost in a maze.

Luckily, as with any maze, there is a way out, and the Diagonal Pentatonic Method is like having an intuitive, insightful map to navigate the fretboard.

The Diagonal Pentatonic Method provides guitarists with a simpler approach to learning the guitar neck. By creating a scale that occurs in a consistent way across the fretboard, the concept makes playing more effortless and comfortable.

The approach is a simple and encompassing method that many guitarists we respect and appreciate use in their playing. It will help a player get out of “boxes” by bridging shapes/pockets together, and connecting the fretboard to learn the whole neck instead of just one position.

Diagonal Pentatonics simplify playing scale shapes in a beneficial way by using sets of two or three notes per string, using only two fingers, holding a consistent pattern no matter where it is used on the fretboard, and connecting positions in a more consistent and condensed fashion. It utilizes the major and minor pentatonic scales, which have become an essential part of Pop, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Funk, and Country styles of music.

Two and Three Note Sets, Always a Whole Step Apart

There is a consistent pattern for the player: when a player plays two notes on one string, the next string will contain three notes for the scale.This alternates regularly so the player always knows how many notes to play on each string.If a player just played three notes on one string for the pattern, then they know the next string has two notes for the pattern, and vice versa.

It is a very intuitive way to move on the neck, and takes up less “headspace.” A player is much less likely to stumble and hit roadblocks when moving on the neck.

Check out these diagrams, and how nicely this idea lays out on the fretboard:

In both major and minor there's a consistent pattern of two notes on a string and then 3 notes or vice versa.

If we move the same pattern up the octave, "diagonally" towards the body, the left hand pattern stays the same:

Now what would it look like if we put both of those shapes side by side in each key?

you are unsure about the meaning of the shapes and numbers indicated above, check out our definition of "scale degrees." If it is still unclear, feel free to email us on our contact form.)

What makes playing these sets even more of a smooth ride, is that the notes on each string are always separated by whole steps. This is the same whether playing the major or minor pentatonic scales.

Let’s put it on cruise control: the roots of both the two-note and three-note sets can be placed on any string except for the third, at any fret position. A player now has endless possibilities, but in a simple and straightforward manner. Shifting gears has never been so easy, especially when only two fingers are used to play these patterns.

Let's discuss that one caveat up above... There is a slight change that needs to be made when placing the root on the third string. Check out our Diagonal Pentatonic course here and Daniel Seriff will tell you all about how to deal with it.

What Can Be Done With Only Two Fingers

Another great advantage to the Diagonal Pentatonic method is that it eases movement on the fretboard by utilizing the index and ring fingers. Their ability to smoothly fret the whole steps, and cross between strings is reassuring. By taking out certain variables (the middle and pinky fingers), the player’s mind is less distracted when making quick decisions on how to play certain notes.

For 2-note sets, the lower-pitched note is played with the index finger (1) and the higher-pitched note with the ring finger (3).

For 3-note sets, a player can shift on the ring finger when ascending and shift on the index finger when descending.

No Matter Where You Start, You Won’t Get Lost

The Diagonal Pentatonic Scale is very flexible, and holds a consistent pattern no matter the scale is started. A player can begin the scale on any string, and ascend or descend in either direction from that position. Essentially, if a player can find the root note, and start with the correct finger and note set, they are ready to roll.

This capability allows a player to access scales anywhere on the guitar neck, and break out of positional playing: especially playing the common pentatonic shape that begins on the 6th (thickest) string.

The Diagonal Pentatonic Method gives options across the entire fretboard, and can help a player evolve from using only the five shapes method of learning scales. It ties together “pockets” and positions, making movement on the guitar neck more fluid and adaptable.

Breaking Out of the Box: The Single String Shift

Not only is the Diagonal Pentatonic pattern practical when crossing from string to string, but it also gives players an ability to navigate the full scope of the entire fretboard, even on a single string. A player can shift up or down a single string to wholly extend these scales in any direction, and grab more 2 or 3 note sets of the Diagonal Pentatonic Scale. The shift is natural and uninhibited because it is always three frets in length, and keeps things within a coherent pattern.

After reaching the highest or lowest note of a 2 or 3 note set, a player simply shifts up or down three frets and is ready to begin the next set on the same string.Combine this with the ability to smoothly cross strings with this pattern, and a player effectively has access to the entire fretboard with confidence and ease.The possibilities now become endless, but not in an overwhelming way.

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