Up to this point we have discussed chord progressions and ways to break up the frailing strum into different rhythms. Now it’s time to talk about how to find a melody line in a chord progression. We have already covered how scales are constructed from the chromatic scale by following a series of whole and half steps. Now we are going to look at the relationship between scales and chord forms.

Open Position Scales

Open position scales are built from chord forms that use open strings. In G tuning we have two major open position chord forms: G and C.

_x0000_s1026 The G scale is one of the easiest to find on the banjo because we are tuned to an open G chord. Our root note is the open G string and we just walk across the strings until we end up on the G note on the first string at the fifth fret.

Example One


This example shows a G scale.

_x0000_s1027 The C scale is a little bit more troublesome because we don’t have access to a low C note. We could tune the fourth string to C, but if we did that we would have to retune every time we wanted to go back to the key of G.

Retuning just isn’t practical in a jamming or performing situation. We don’t want everything to stop so we can retune every time we play in a different key so we have to find a way to make the best of what’s available in open G tuning.

Our first option to find a C scale is to start on the C note on the second string at the first fret.

Example Two


This example shows a C scale starting on the second string at the first fret. That will work, but it limits us to playing the melody on the first string.

The solution to the problem is to find a compromise. We don’t have a low C note but we do have a low D note. All we have to is play a C scale starting on the second note.

Since we are starting the C scale on the first available note we might as well keep going through the available notes up to the G on the first string at the fifth fret and just treat the whole arrangement of notes as an extended scale.

Example Three


This sounds a little weird as a scale exercise, but it has the advantage of getting you familiar with the melody notes available in the key of C.

Every major scale has a unique number of sharps and flats. The key of C has no sharps or flats and the key of G has one sharp (F#.) The same rule applies to minor keys. Any minor key that has the same number of sharps and flats as a major key is the relative minor of that major key.

The key of Am has no sharps or flats. Therefore it is the relative minor of C. The key of Em has one sharp so it is the relative minor of G.

What all of that means is that because the G and C scales are available out of open position chord forms we also have access to the Em and Am scales.

Em Scale

_x0000_i1028 _x0000_i1029

Am Scale

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Closed Position Scales

Closed position scales are built from closed chord forms. The advantage to closed position scales is that you can move them up and down the fretboard. This gives you the ability to play any scale in any key.

The reason we can find a scale in any chord form really boils down to how chords are constructed. A major chord is made of the first, third and fifth notes of a scale. It just makes sense that the other scale notes would be within easy reach of those three notes.

Let’s start with the A position:

The A Position


This follows the chromatic scale along the fretboard.

The fingering here might be a little tricky at first. One rule of thumb I use with scale patterns like these is to assign each finger to a fret. In other words, my index finger is at the first fret, my middle finger at the second fret, my ring finger at the third and my little finger works the fourth and the fifth frets. That lets me work fairly intricate patterns without getting my fingers tangled up.

Work slowly up and down the fretboard until you get comfortable with the pattern.

The next chord form we will look at is the F position.

The F Position




As with the previous example this pattern continues down the fretboard following the chromatic scale.

Let’s move on to the D position.

The D Position




Each of these scale patterns can be converted to minor scales. Remember that the only difference between a major and a minor scale is the sequence of whole and half steps dictated by the mode.

A Position Major & Minor Scales


F Position Major & Minor Scales


D Position Major & Minor Scales


Chord Patterns

Because scales and chords are tied to the chromatic scale our chord forms fall into patterns that follow the I-IV-V progression.

Example One

1      1      1

In this example we have three combinations of chords with three chords in each group.

F-Bb-C is the I-IV-V progression in the key of F.

G-C-D is the I-IV-V progression in the key of G.

A-D-E is the I-IV-V progression in the key of E.

Now look at the three groups. We have an F position chord followed by two A position chords in a pattern.

Do you see the pattern here?

Strum through each group of chords a few times.

That’s right. Any F position chord anywhere on the fretboard is going to have the IV and V “A” position chords right below it.

That’s the F position. Now let’s look at the D position.

Example Two

2      2      2

D position chords follow a similar pattern to the F position chords illustrated in example one.

Example Three

3      3      3

The A position works under the same principal as the other two positions.

Experiment with the various chord positions on your own and see what happens when you start adding minor chords into the mix.

Once you start getting a feel for these patterns you will be able to blend them together as you gain mastery of the fretboard.

Other Scale Patterns And Modes

When you are comfortable with the movable scale patterns you can start exploring some different modes and variations of the major scale.

The Blues Scale

The blues scale is a variation of the major scale.

I know that isn’t much of a definition, but this is one of those musical ideas that has so much nonsense attached to it that it’s real usefulness is kind of hard to visualize. When I was a kid most of the old guitar players I knew said it was good to use the blues scale as a guideline, but not as a separate scale.

The standard blues scale drops the second and sixth notes from the major scale and rearranges the scale to fit a pattern of 1- b3 – 4 – #4 – 5 – b7 – 8.

You play the first note of the scale, flat the third note, play the fourth note and then the fourth note sharped. Follow that sharped fourth note with the fifth note of the scale, a flatted seventh note and end it on the eighth note for the octave.

I use the blues scale as a guide for what I can get away with. If I’m playing melody in a standard scale I can use the blues scale to find a sharped fourth or a flat seventh to give it a little flavor.

How you use it is up to you, but do take a moment to figure out how your movable patterns can be converted into blues scales. It’s good fretboard practice and it might come in handy later on.

Pentatonic Scales

Pentatonic scales are like blues scales in that people like to dredge up the subject in conversation.

In the context of playing the banjo they can be useful for working up a more streamlined scale pattern.

To play a major pentatonic scale choose the 1 st , 2 nd , 3 rd , 5 th , 6 th , & 8 th notes of any major scale.