Learn Scales On One String(Ear Training/Fretboard Mapping Exercise)

Stringed instrument players:

Learn scales on one string at a time.


One’s melodic intuition, or INNER VOICE, can develop more comfortably by digesting the sounds and pitch movements in a linear or one dimensional fashion (one string). Much like the intuition of speaking or singing pitches. 

In many ways, this requires less mental effort and coordination for technique; and allows more “emotional” connection to the movement and mapping of the fretboard.

This is just a practice guideline; not a rule. (examples below)


When you imagine or “hear” a melody move up or down in pitch, you want your hand to move the exact distance, or INTERVAL, you “hear.” The goal is to make the act of “hearing” and landing on the note simultaneous. (ear/hand synchronization)

Listening for pitch becomes much more streamlined when you don’t have to coordinate the right hand to cross a string and choose which finger to fret with.

In “guitar brain”, shapes tend to rule the thought process.

By learning on a single string first, we are effectively turning our “shapes” into measurable “distances.”


The power in this is that you can already feel how far you are going to go before you start moving.  Beware of moving the left hand, when the inner voice is uncertain about where to land (in regards to practice and digesting new material.)

**Before we start changing strings and playing boxes to move a certain interval (measurement of distance), we need to know how it feels to traverse the half step (1 fret) movements to get to that note. Then learning that interval across strings is more grounded to the feeling of the pitches.

At first, training your ear to know the interval steps is simplified when your hand doesn’t move in a descending linear movement to get an ascending pitch.

For instance, moving a major 3rd can clearly be heard/seen/felt as 2 whole steps on one string. The fretting hand moves “up” as the pitch equally moves up. 

Inversely, when crossing to an adjacent string to do an ascending major 3rd interval, the fretting hand will actually move “down” while the pitch goes up.


W  W  h  W  W  W  h 

At first, the steps for the major scale above are easier to calculate on one string. 

Half step is 1 fret, whole step is 2 frets 



Ex. 1

(Sing the notes if possible)

Play the E major scale only on the low E string (6th string) with complete control.  [w/ 1 finger] 

Ex. 1.2

Then do the same relative movements or steps on the octave

7th fret A string

Ex. 1.3


Or[shift to lower octave once you get too high up the neck]

Ex. 1.4

Or[same notes, different starting point] W W W h W W h ( A Lydian Mode)

Ex. 1.5

2nd fret D string

Ex. 1.6

Then the same steps on the next octave

9th fret G string


Then the next two strings (on your own)

(5th fret B string)

(open high e string)





Once these movements are second nature, then learn any given interval on pairs of strings. 

(b2, 2, b3, 3, 4, #4/b5, 5, #5/b6, 6, b7, 7, octave)

b is the symbol for flat

# is the symbol for sharp

Ex. 2.1

b3 Interval

A to C (5th to 8th fret on 6th string) will have same internal quality as A (5th fret on 6th string) to C (3rd fret on 5th string)

Ex 2.2

4th Interval

A to D (5th to 10th fret on 6th string) should have same internal quality as A (5th fret on 6th string) to D (5th fret on 5th string)

Ex 2.3

b2 Interval

A to Bb (5th to 6th fret on 6th string) should have same internal quality as A (5th fret on 6th string) to Bb (1st  fret on 5th string)


Besides developing the inner voice, learning scales on one string allows application of many techniques such as sliding, hammer ons, pull offs, tapping, tap harmonics, chord inversions, and chord extensions.

For more detailed information on scales and the language of music, feel free to call or email us to book a mini lesson and get started developing your harmonic vocabulary! If you are local to the Frisco or north Dallas area, swing by the facility and come say hi! 


Thanks for tuning in, and I hope this helps you connect with your inner voice!