Any tips for learning 3nps modes?

I have been learning the major scale using 3nps patterns with limited success. I can manage the first 3 patterns which I try and base around the root notes, but when I try and move up the neck I lose orientation and just get lost when I try and improvise a solo. When I attempt the mixolydian or Dorian patterns it is a disaster.
Has anyone got any tips for memorizing these patterns? I understand that practice is the key, but are there any shortcuts or recommended ways of doing it?


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There is one method to learn them. I call it 1122333 )) though I don’t know if it would be helpful

It would be better to show a video but I have problems with recording right now… and I’m far from my axe anyway )

Basically, in short words…

When playing 3nps diatonic scales (or ‘modes’) you use different patterns on one string. There are 3 patterns based on intervals:
pattern I - halftone-wholetone (eg 5-6-8)
pattern II - wholetone-halftone (eg 5-7-8)
pattern III - wholetone-wholetone (eg 5-7-9)

Now, remember that sequence:
1 1 2 2 3 3 3
and this sequense is looped so it’s actually

Rule 1:
when playing diatonic scale (mode) 3 nps you use a pattern sequence derived from this 1122333 looped sequence.
For example, major scale (ionian mode):

so, you can see that it’s actually:
pattern 3, pattern 3, pattern 1, 1, 2, 2


Minor (aeolian):

which is:

So, for any mode you use some set of patterns from 11223331122333 seqeunce.


Now when we know what to play, it’s time to learn where to play.

Rule 2
When moving between patterns 3 and 1 - shift one fret. One fret up (right) in ascending motion (from pattern 3 to pattern 1), or one fret down (left) for descending motion (from pattern 1 to pattern 3).

Rule 3
If guitar tuning is standard then when moving between 2nd and 3rd string - shift one fret.

For example, let’s take lydian.
It’s 112233[311223]33
Let’s start on 5th fret.
5-7-9 (pattern 3)
…next shoud be pattern 1 , so we shift one fret up, starting on 6th fret (Rule 2)…
6-7-9 (pattern 1)
6-7-9 (pattern 1)
6-8-9 (pattern 2)
…next should be pattern 3 again. We are going to move from 3rd string to 2nd, so we shift one fret up (Rule 3), starting on 7th fret…
7-9-10 (pattern 2)
7-9-11 (pattern 3)

Rules 2 and 3 are not mutually exclusive, and may be applied simultaniously. For example, when playing dorian mode from 6th string we use
…now were moving from pattetn 3 to pattern 1, so shift one fret up. But we also moving from 3rd string to 2nd, so shift one more time…

since modes are modes of each other you may use any boxing for any particular mode. Thus
331122 is a major if root is first note, dorian if root is second, phrygian if root is 3rd, lydian if root is 4th (first note on 5th string) etc


Wow. Thanks for the reply. I will practice this method. I’m slowly finding refence points within the patterns that keeps me orientated. I suppose you cant rush it or you end up getting confused and frustrated.

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Here is a great video on this topic which I found when searching for information for that other finger position thread I made.


Hi Django, I’m biased/partial to my FordScales systems. The first version (which led to the second) comprises two shapes, all 3nps. That said, in context, when connecting shapes to run changes, and navigate the fretboard, there’s no strict 3nps.

The second system that is fundamental to the way I practice, will give you some shapes based on two string, string sets that repeat. Depending on key and mode, one gets 2 and 2 nps or 1 and 3nps pairs*. The 3-1 nps pairs appear in sweep picking methods, and fwiw, I barely notice the upstrokes when ascending at speed.

“Modal” music implies staying within a mode for extended amounts of time. Playing harmonically dynamic and complex tunes, I ultimately found bigger boxes and strict 3nps limiting. Given a choice, I’ll take an organized set of twelve simple, similar, things to know over unwieldy boxes with 5 or 7 factorial shapes to juggle.

Cheers, D

*Was actually thinking of arpeggios when I wrote that. Most of the time FordScales II alternates 3nps and 4nps.

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Thanks for the replies.
I just watched the Rick’s Guitar School clip. It’s really made the pattern idea simple. Why didnt I see the 1,2,3 fingering pattern after hours of looking at them?
I will forge ahead and hopefully things will fall into place

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Yep, I came to this idea accidentally. almost )

When I started to torture guitar I already knew the sound of modes (because of piano), but I had no idea how to reproduce them on a guitar. Well, I knew their intervalic structure, so I could just choose some random fingering and start to learn mode after mode, slowly and patiently. But I’m not a kind of guy who have patience ) I needed some simple idea.

So I thought: modes have no intervals larger than wholetone, thus there are only two possible intervals: wholetone and halftone. 3 notes per string means 2 intervals per pattern. Mathematically it gives us 2!=4 combinations. But combination halftone-halftone is impossible, because modes don’t have two consequent halftones. This leaves us only 3 combinations (patterns). It was obvious that these patterns had to repeat: mode consist of 7 repeating intervals, one string run consists of 3 intervals (2 intervals on one string + 1 interval between strings). Since numbers are prime all that stuff had to repeat every 3*7=21 interval. Since one string run is 3 intervals, the pattern sequence should repeat itself every 21/3 = 7 patterns.

Then I looked at patterns carefully and that was when I saw how beautifully systematic they were 1122333… though it was just a coincedence. When I tried to do the same with melodic minor modes it became a mess (same patterns, but the sequence is not as straightforward 2313213 )

Oh, by the way this approach is more theoretical than practical, because there are more comfortable fingerings, usually involving 2 notes on 3rd string to avoid fret shifting)

Why the hell the text is all bold ?! 0_0

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That process of constructing from wherever is great.

It’s of note that modes derived from Harmonic Minor comprise an interval of a minor 3rd.

Whoops! Looks like it was b/c a line of dashes e.g. ----- directly under text is an alternate way of indicating a heading in markdown. I edited to fix (added paragraph spacing too). More detail here:

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Oh, stupid me. Yep, that line… old habit from the times when forums were plain text without any features.
Thank you!

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Ahem… strictly speaking it’s an augmented 2nd. It’s a typical tricky question from 1st grade exams in musical school. And I failed it :slightly_frowning_face: though now I remember it forever ))

You are correct on “augmented 2nd” between the b6 and major 7th in harmonic minor. Went with the enharmonic equivalent “minor 3rd” that is generally more familiar to pentatonic players. Now regretting I second guessed my original impulse. :wink:

Nevermind. There’s no difference from the practice point of view.
I guess it’s interesting for old musical professors only ))

Without taking things too far out into the weeds, proper naming can help understanding. Can go either way. For example, different views of the 7th mode of ascending melodic minor. The first is technically correct, but masks common usage:

1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7

1 b9 #9 3 b5 #5 b7

…the second emphasizes the related shell voicing, 1 3 b7. I use both views depending on context.

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Yes, jazz… they often have different approach. Which I also like.
I’m not very strict in terminology myself, neither consistent. I may, for example, call one and the same chord 7#5 or 7b13. Let’s say I’m playing 13, 7#5, 7. It looks (and it feels) awkward. 13, b13, 7 are more natural to me. Though it may be just for me.

I’m curious where folks are running into altered tensions on guitar outside of jazz, pop charts?

Progrock? Metal (if you consider almost random notes as alterations) :grin:
Some epic stuff like movie scores.


By the way I found that I sometimes use “Yngwie scale” when playing over v7 chord (harmonic minor with added min7).

Sorry if I’m not really answering the question, but have you spent time using a more CAGED approach?

Using familiar chord shapes as a foundation really helps for memorization.

Hi, Hamsterman. Were you addressing DjangoUntrained?

The CAGED method became a thing after I was already on my path and had memorized Berklee positions. And I started on classical, so CAGED always seemed a backwards way to nirvana for me. My knowledge of the fretboard informs my chord construction far more than knowing a particular “grip” guides my note choices. But hey, scaffold knowledge by any useful means available to us, right?