Chet Atkins – Breakdown of a Beginner Guitar Lesson (part 1)

Image showing Chet Atkins holding his trademark Gretsch guitar on a page analysing a Chet Atkins beginner guitar lesson

Beginner Guitar Lesson with Chet Atkins – Part 1

In this post, the first of a series, I want to introduce and begin to explore the hidden depths of a seemingly simple beginner guitar lesson given by Chet Atkins in this video:

Chet demonstrates where to find and play the notes of the C Major scale (no sharps or flats) starting with a G note on the 1st string at fret 3 dropping all the way down to the root note C at fret 3 of the A string.
Of course he could have continued and played descending notes B and A on the 5th string then G, F and E on the 6th string. That would have showed all C Major scale notes available on the open strings and the first three frets. The scale pattern he shows does not start on the root note but does end on it.

Image showing the C Major Scale open position pattern 3 on a site analysing a Chet Atkins Beginner Guitar Lesson.
C Major Scale Pattern 3 in the Open Position

These notes all fit around an open C chord shape. If you haven’t seen this diagram before then look carefully to see the C chord shape sitting within. Does that mean the scale pattern is equivalent to the ‘C’ shape from the CAGED system of chord shapes and scale patterns? Yes, yes, yes oh yes.


CAGED is an easy name to speak out loud but EDCAG is the order most people learn it. The five letters derive from the open chord shapes of those letters – E chord, D chord, C chord, A chord, G chord. So that means the Major scale shape around  the C chord can be called Major scale pattern 3.

Knowing the notes up to fret 3 is a good thing. And playing around with the notes from the C Major scale in this easy, accessible way is an enjoyable way of learning to play simple melodic passages over a chord progression in the key of C. The way Chet plays and uses it is charming.

An underlying benefit of CAGED is learning moveable scale patterns around moveable chord shapes. Or moveable chord shapes within moveable scale patterns. There are five interlinking and overlapping patterns that spread up and down the entire fretboard, including octave repeats of some. But each pattern has its lowest position using all fretted notes, beyond which if you move lower down the neck towards the nut you will need to incorporate open strings to play the full patterns. This also necessitates using different fingerings.

Take the C shape chord / pattern 3 I have already been discussing. When you learn Major scale pattern 3 in, say the G Major scale sequence, you learn to play with finger positions matching those in the diagram linked above. If you play pattern 3 of the C Major scale then you can do so starting with your finger 1 at fret 12 and use the exact matching fingering already learned. But you can also play it at the open position. And this can be a bit of a mind melt at first because you play it differently and you get all in a muddle.

The point I’m making is that Chet’s lesson is fine and usable and fun but should not be seen as a lead-in lesson to learning the Major scale with the CAGED system. Just because the ‘open string’ pattern is not moveable and slightly anomalous to the overall system. Have fun playing around with all that this video lesson reveals … and there is a lot behind the apparent simplicity.

Chet plays three notes on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th strings … and could easily play three on the 6th string too if he hadn’t stopped at the lowest root note. So, is he showing a 3 notes per string (3NPS) scale pattern?
Short answer – no. The name is as the name does. You play three notes on all strings in a system of moveable and interlocking patterns. Chet’s shape is a CAGED shape … pattern 3 … not a 3NPS shape.

More later …


I teach guitar specialising in Beginner and Intermediate lessons. Read more here.

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