3 Notes Per String Major Scale Patterns

The 3nps system is a fantastic way to master scales on the fretboard. Learn the 3 note per string major scale patterns properly, and you’ll be able to unlock the fretboard and level up your playing!

Scales are an essential tool in every musician’s belt, and you cannot expect to improvise and become awesome at your instrument without mastering the scales first.

3 Notes Per String System

I came across these patterns when I was trying to improve my speed on the fretboard.

I already knew the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales, at least in the key of C, and wanted to do something about increasing my speed. I had also seen other players shredding, and they seemed to use all of their fingers.

The 3NPS is basically a cheat code that allows you to play effortlessly across the frets (after you’ve put in the time, of course!) Take a look at how Synyster Gates uses the patterns in his playing!

And Protest the Hero.

Cool, right? That’s exactly the kind of thing that motivated me to learn the 3 NPS patterns, and you should learn them too.

You pick a scale you want to learn, lay the notes out on the frets so there are three of them on a string, and that’s your 3 notes per string major scale pattern (if you choose to play the major scale). You could certainly build 4 NPS patterns or even more, but I guess 3nps is pretty adequate for most of us!

3NPS vs CAGED System

I find the 3nps patterns slightly trickier than the CAGED patterns- there are 7 of the three note-per-string patterns, and if you’re not used to fingering frets that are far apart, it’s definitely a challenge.

However, I think the 3nps is better suited to modal playing- if your playing has stuck in a rut and you would like to get some shapes to get familiar with Dorian and friendly modes, learning 3nps is a great way to start!

3 Notes Per String Major Scale Patterns

We’ve also made a free printable PDF so you can print these patterns and work on them at your own pace. Here’s what it looks like:

3nps major scale patterns

Shown here are the seven positions with intervals. While learning, you should take note of where the roots in each position are. That will help you tremendously while soloing over something.

Position 1 – Ionian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 1

Position 2 – Dorian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 2

Position 3 – Phrygian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 3

Position 4 – Lydian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 4

Position 5 – Myxolydian shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 5

Position 6 – Aeolian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 6

Position 7 – Locrian Shape

3 notes per string major scale pattern position 7

Did you notice that each pattern has also a modal name associated with it? Well, that’s because you can play in those corresponding modes by using the patterns. If that’s confusing, I’ll try explaining with an example.

Let’s assume we’re playing in the key of C major.

The notes are: C D E F G A B

The chords we can play are: Cmaj Dmin Emin Fmaj Gmaj Amin Bdim

The shapes shown above are just the notes of the C major scales across the fretboard. Regardless of what position of the major scale you play, you’re playing those 7 notes. (C D E F G A B)

So, if you play these notes over the Cmaj chord, you’ll sound characteristically major. If you play the notes over the Dmin chord, you’re going to get a Dorian tonality.

That’s because D Dorian has the notes D E F G A B C. So, you can easily play in D Dorian by playing the second position of the C major scale over the Dmin chord. Similarly, you get the following modal tonalities by playing:

major scale third position over Emin: E Phrygian

major scale fourth position over Fmaj: F Lydian

major scale fifth position over Gmaj: G Myxolydian

major scale sixth position over Amin: A Aeolian

major scale seventh position over Bdim: B Locrian

Some players like thinking of each position as a pattern for playing modally. But I think it’s kind of flawed. Let’s say we want to play D Dorian – and we play in first position over Dmin, we’re still playing the notes of the D Dorian, so we’re going to sound Dorian-ish!

As you can see, we can play any of the major scale patterns over a chord and get modal characteristics. Further, it’s more beneficial to look at modes as their own individual scales rather than thinking of them as derivatives of a parent major scale.


Like anything worth learning, mastering the 3 note per string patterns will take time. It’s not something you can pick up in a day, and you’ll also need to make sure to practice these shapes along with a metronome.

We hope you have fun learning the 3 notes per string major scale – be sure to start slow and not rush yourself. Playing slow is always better than fast sloppy playing. If you do it right, you’ll eventually be able to play blazingly fast anyway!

CAGED and 3nps go well together, so you should try experimenting with both and find ways to incorporate them into your playing. We’ve also covered the 3 notes per string minor scale patterns so feel free to check that out!


What does the “3NPS Major scale” mean?

“3NPS” stands for “Three Notes Per String.” It’s a way of playing the major scale on the guitar where you play three consecutive notes on each string before moving to the next one.

Can beginners use 3NPS scales?

Beginners might find 3NPS a bit challenging because it requires stretching your fingers. It’s a good idea to start with simpler scale patterns first. Once you’re comfortable, you can try 3NPS to make your playing more fluid.

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