In this lesson we are going to talk about the 2 most popular fingering systems for 7-note scales and modes, and look at the uses, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Watch the Video Lesson:
The systems we will look at are the 3NPS system, and the HYBRID system. Both are wonderful for different things, and the good news is that it’s actually easy to learn both, as long as you have an effective fretboard mapping method. Most of you already know that I’m not a fan of dry memorization, and indeed if you tried to memorize all the different fretboard shapes that come from these systems the old fashion way, it could be an overwhelming amount of work. Instead, I always recommend a method called SFS for mapping both 3NPS and HYBRID fingerings, that gets the job done in a fraction of the time, and with a number of benefits that allow you to really own the fretboard, and move freely on it. But we’ll talk more about that toward the end of this lesson. Right now let’s take a look at the first of these 2 fingering systems.
3NPS (3 notes per string)
The 3NPS system is very straight forward. You just put 3 notes on every string. You don’t care if you need to stretch, or if the fingering feels unnatural, or if the resulting shape takes you out of position and up the fretboard, or about anything else, other than keeping consistently 3 notes on every string. Here’s an example of a fingering for A Aeolian using this system:
For comparison purposes, here is the hybrid fingering for the same mode, in the same area:
In the video you can see and hear one more example for A Dorian #4, which is a mode of the Harmonic Minor scale.
Immediately you can see an apparent advantage for 3NPS fingerings, that is also a corresponding disadvantage for Hybrid: 3NPS fingerings cover a slightly wider range, usually 1 or 2 notes more than hybrid. But that’s not hugely important for most players, especially if you know how to connect adjacent fingerings and expand the range that way.
What is extremely important though, is that the 3NPS consistency allows for consistent motions in the picking hand, when playing scalar runs. That’s one of the reasons many players that like to shred a lot, choose these scales. For example, when I play our first fingering using alternate picking, I get down-up-down, up-down-up, and then repeat that 2 more times to cover the rest of the strings. When I use economy picking it’s even simpler: down-up-down, and then sweep to repeat the same picking pattern on every string. If I do the same with the hybrid fingering, the challenge on my right hand is greater, because the required picking motions are more unpredictable. But with some extra practice you can still become equally comfortable.
Another area where 3NPS fingerings shine, is when playing melodic patterns. The consistency helps with any pattern, but most especially with those that use 3 or 6 notes, because you just use 1 or 2 strings respectively, and then repeat the same motions in both hands, with slight adjustments. In the video I play a couple of examples of this.
Another minor advantage for 3NPS fingerings is that the unavoidable stretches force you to develop strength and dexterity in the fretting hand.
There are a few other reasons why someone might prefer to use these fingerings, but for most people the advantages we mentioned are the main ones.
"Hybrid" refers to a way of building fingerings with mixed numbers of notes on each string. Usually these fingerings have mostly 3 notes per string, just like the other system, but sometimes they have 2 notes on a string, or even 4 notes on a string (for example when we play modes of the melodic or the harmonic minor).
People sometimes use different names for the HYBRID system, mainly because this term “hybrid" doesn't really give us the whole picture. You see there are numerous ways to build scale shapes with mixed numbers of notes per string. So there are many different “hybrid" systems. But what we usually refer to is fingerings that do not require stretching in the fretting hand. If you look at the examples we played before, you will notice that only small position changes are required to play these, and no stretching.
This actually brings us to their first advantage. The fact that they employ no stretching, promotes looseness, and that makes them ideal for a groovy, relaxed sound. That's one of the reasons jazz and funk players have historically relied on these fingerings much more than on other systems.
Another advantage of these fingerings, that is actually kind of related to the previous one, is that from these fingerings you can derive standard arpeggios and chord shapes which can serve as target notes while soloing. So in jazz influenced styles where targeting chord tones is essential, these fingerings allow for smooth transition from arpeggio to scalar melodies [example in video]. On the other hand, if you want to make transposable patterns out of such mixed lines, then 3NPS would be better [example in video]. That’s because again the picking motions and the string crossings would remain the same, while with hybrid they would be more complex. But other than this exception of repeating patterns, for standard improvisation mixing arpeggios and scales, hybrid is usually easier.
A kind of similar advantage of these fingerings is how well they mix with standard pentatonic shapes. Within every hybrid fingering, you will find the corresponding pentatonic for the mode you are playing. In the A Aeolian example we looked at, you get the very common box shape for A minor pentatonic, which you can easily mix with the full 7 note Aeolian [example in video].
Here's one last advantage of hybrid fingerings: It takes 5 shapes with minimal overlap to cover the whole fretboard, whereas with 3NPS we need 7 shapes with a lot more overlap. But if you use SFS instead of memorization to learn them, then this becomes kind of a non-issue, because you are learning either 5 or 7 string fragments, and 4 of them are common in both systems, so as I said before, with SFS you just learn both, and get all the advantages by using the appropriate ones for every situation. Plus you’ll have more options and greater variety in your playing.
Learn them all using SFS
So now that we covered the 2 systems, I’ll give you a quick introduction into SFS, and then, if you are interested to learn more, you should be able to find a link somewhere on this page to sign up for the free SFS Modes Crash Course.
So let’s take the Hybrid fingering we looked at before. If we label each string fragment contained in this shape we have SF1, SF2, SF3, SF4, SF5, and then SF1 again:
The basic concept of SFS is that all of the other shapes on the fretboard that can be used to play modes, are made of these exact same 5 string fragments. Let me say that again: All shapes are made of the same 5 string fragments. Let's take a random example up the fretboard:
At first sight this shape looks unrelated to the other one. But look closely, and you’ll see the same construction with some minor adaptations. If I go to the A on string 2 fret 10 and begin, I have SF1, SF2, SF2 again on the 6th string, SF3, SF4, SF5. If you examine any other hybrid fingering you will find the same thing. The same goes for 3NPS shapes, just with 7 string fragments.
So in the SFS method, we take advantage of this. We learn how to stack string fragments on the fly, and also how to apply the necessary adjustments. The result is that with some practice, you get to the point where you can instantaneously create any position, on the fly, using those 5 simple string fragments. You end up playing all shapes without ever memorizing them. And the cool thing is that as you learn more scales, this gets easier and easier, because you have already practiced applying the system and are used to this way of seeing the fretboard. Most of my students do SFS Pentatonics first, and when they get to SFS Modes, or SFS Melodic Minor Modes, or any other scale course, they find it even easier and learn it quicker.
But anyway, this is not the place to talk about all the benefits of SFS. It’s one of my favorite teaching subjects, so if you want to learn more, just sign up for the free crash course. I hope you enjoyed this lesson, thanks for watching and remember:
Enjoy your practice and be effective!