The "Fast Fingering" Box Pattern

Will all due respect and reverence to my very schooled musician friends and players, I am not one of you.  While I know how to play, and more importantly, how to express myself, I am not a theory guy, or even a big modes guy. I don't think in terms of modes.  I think of the neck in terms of box patterns and positions.  Obviously, there is a connection between those positions and the modes, but we all process information differently. 

Honestly, I have not dedicated my entire life to guitar, and I haven't practiced nearly enough.  I am essentially too lazy for that. I use really light strings because I want everything about playing guitar to be as easy as possible. Therefore, in everything I do regarding guitar, I crave the maximum bang for the buck.  

I would never suggest anyone cut themselves off from acquiring all the theory and knowledge they want, however, the following info does provide more bang for the buck than anything else I've encountered in playing.  The guys who know their modes inside and out will know this already.  But if you're just starting out, learning your scales, this is one of the few freebies you get as a player, and you should take full advantage of it

A little background.  Back when I was taking lessons, my teacher knew I was impatient and didn't want to get bogged down in theory. Rather than forcing me to learn all the modes and scales at once as an exercise, he chose to show them to me as we encounted them in the context of learning some song I was interested in. I had been a Pentatonics player for a long time. I had been learning my Pentatonic box patterns in all 5 positions on the neck. But having a love for all of the Dino greats, the thing I needed to learn next was the Aeolian minor. 

So my instructor showed me the Aeolian box pattern in the root/1st position. That is, if you're playing it in A, it starts on the 5th fret on low E, or if you're in E, the 12th fret or open. Then, before I had even fully digested the root position Aeolian box, my teacher said to me: "Now I'm going to show you something a lot of people won't tell you.  There is a fast fingering box for this same scale, and all of the guys you love -- Schenker, Moore, Hoffmann -- when they play in Aeolian, they use this fingering far more often than they use the root position. And the reason they use this box is because your fingers will fly through this pattern much easier and faster than they can with the root position box. So while you should learn the root position fingering, you'll find you use this fast fingering box a lot more."  So he showed me the Phrygian box.  

The Phrygian Box -- the Fast Fingering Pattern

Which starting on the low E string, goes:

E 1-2-4
A 1-3-4
D 1-3-4
G 1-3
B 1-2-4
E 1-2-4

When you play this box in the 1st/Root position (i.e. for A, 5th fret on low E, for E, open or 12th fret on low E), the mode is Phrygian. 

But when you play this same Phrygian box pattern in the 5th interval from the root, it's Aeolian.  That is if you're in E, and play this pattern in the 7th position starting on the B on the low E string, it's Aeolian.  If you're in A, you play the box at the 12th position in E.

 

But wait, there's more! If you move this same box up a whole step from your root note on low E, you can now use the same box pattern to play Dorian. 

 

Note that while the pattern is the same, the root here is the E on the D string, 2nd fret, so some parts of the pattern may be more useful than others. 

But wait, there's more!

You are probably are aware that if you move the Minor Pentatonic box back 4 frets from your root on low E, you get Major Pentatonic, right?  Well in the same spirit, if you move the Phrygian box back 4 frets from your root on low E, you get Mixolydian.

In this position, your root is under your pinky on the low E.

It gets better. If you move the pattern 4 frets up the neck from your root on the low E, you get Ionian/Major.

In this case, your root is under you pinky on the A string.

Want even more?  It works for Lydian (1 fret behind the root on low E).

And it works for Locrian (the 4th position, so if you're in E, it's at A/5th fret) too.  

Now the truth is, there are similarly repeating patterns all over the neck.  You can see them in the diagrams above.  The key here is is that the Phrygian box lets you play all of these modes using the same pattern -- the fastest fingering pattern -- for all of them. Each and every lick you learn and develop from this box -- every layover and picking exercise that applies to it, will now be available to you in the other modes. Instead of learning different patterns for each mode -- or modes you use infrequently, the only thing you need to learn/remember here, is how to find the Phrygian box for the mode you want, in relation to the key you're in. Is it a shortcut? Yes. Should you learn more? Probably. But having one fast fingering, box pattern that lets you solo with maximum efficiency in all modes?  Now that's a lot of bang for the buck!

You'll thank me later.