The 3-Note-Per-String (3NPS) Scale Shapes and the Modes of the Major Scale

(by Suntan)

As we detailed in another article (Scale Shapes Cliff Notes), there is a deep connection between the 3NPS scale patterns and the modes of the Major.

Primer: The Modes of the Major are:

  1. Ionion (“I”)
  2. Dorian (“Don’t”)
  3. Phrygian (“Punch”)
  4. Lydian (“Like”)
  5. Mixolydian (“Muhammad”)
  6. Aeolian/Natural Minor (“A-“)
  7. Locrian (“-Li”)

Here are the 3NPS scale patterns corresponding to each Mode with a root on the 6th string:

Ionian (“I”)


Dorian (“Don’t”)


Phrygian (“Punch”)


Lydian (“Like”)


Mixolydian (“Muhammad”)


Aeolian (“A-“)


Locrian (“-Li”)



  1. If you played each of the patterns above using the same Root (same note for “R”; e.g., C on the 8th fret of the 6th string), then, you will be cycling through all the Modes of that Root note (e.g., C Ionian, C Dorian, etc.).
  2. If you change the Root notes so that you proceed diatonically in any Major key, then, you cycle through the Modes of the Major in that key. For example, the notes for C Major are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. If you changed the “R” note on the 6th string to reflect this diatonic sequence, then, you’ll be playing C Major, D Dorian, E Phrygian, …
  3. Take any of the above modes in a particular key; e.g., A Natural Minor (the “A-“ pattern with the Root on the 5th fret of the 6th string). Then, by imposing the rest of the 3NPS patterns across the fretboard in their proper sequence (discussed in another article), you identify all the notes of A Natural Minor across the fretboard. In this case, what you will notice is that vis-à-vis the patterns above, the 3NPS patterns (shapes) themselves remain the same, but the Root position within the patterns (shapes) will have changed.

This way, you can solo anywhere on the fretboard within any Mode and are NOT restricted just to root positions on the 6th string!

The 3NPS scale patterns are a powerful device indeed!

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