Melodic Use Of Guitar Scales

Ok, so we all know that scales are the essential vehicle for building a map and solid understanding of your fretboard. They are the root to your confidence on the instrument and a toolset to surviving musical situations and learning material faster. A necessary evil, right? Scale mastery is a hard-won achievement and many guitarists spend huge bulks of their practice time giving in to muscle memory-based routines. Whilst there is no substitute for hard work, there are methods which, when used creatively, can alleviate the monotony of scale practise. Here are a few tips and hints designed to shake things up a bit.

1. Change up your rhythms

Its standard to run your scales to a metronome, but we all tend to revert to straight 16th or 1/8 note streams. Try and mix in different rhythmic subdivisions.

The example is a simple extension of this idea using C harmonic minor as a base.

How about a rhythmic motif? Simply think of a rhythm, and repeat it as you ascend/descend. This will allow you to the emergence of musical phrases within the scales

This is a simple repeating rhythmic idea applied to an A diminished scale.

Other ideas can come from simply clapping a rhythm and applying it to the scale, helping you improvise on your your feet.

2. Explore accents and dynamics

This can really bring a shopworn scale to life! Try placing an accent on a given 1/18 or 1/16 note. This will, again encourage musical phrasing and give the run a sense of syncopation and interest.

This is a simple example using B Dorian with two well-placed accents repeating in each bar.

A really easy way to inject dynamics is by increasing or decreasing volume as you ascend or descend through the scale. Take care to make the transition of volume even and gradual. This is a great way to practise your feel and the tone given by your pick attack; a multi-tasking approach to scale practise.

3. Rearrange/reorder.

You can shake things up easily by simply skipping over a note then returning to it.

This pattern show F# Locrian with a simple skipped sequence applied to the first six notes then repeated across each set of two strings.

if this approach is too formulaic for you; try being totally random in your rearrangement. Set yourself a tempo and a subdivision and go for it. This will help you to break away from predictable sequential patterns and help you visualise the scale in a more natural and useful way. Experiment and be daring! For the best results, keep the steady stream of notes going and aim to play without stopping.

Using our B Phrygian scale with 1/8 notes in a random combination could look something like this:

This is also a really effective way of joining scale positions together, whether it be two adjoining shapes (e.g. Ionian and Dorian) or all seven major scale modes. Try taking two or more related scales and ‘walk’ through the notes using this continuous playing method to help marry them together into a larger framework of scales.

4. Change direction or ‘jump’ on the off beats

This will help work in some useful jazzy rhythm trickery, giving your runs an unpredictable nature. Practising this approach will hopefully work it’s way into your phrasing in a natural way, without the cumbersome and distracting need to count while you are in the throws of improvising.

This example sees us simply ‘jumping’ to another point in the scale on the ‘and’ of beat 2.

5. Octaves are your friend

The notion of covering your entire fretboard in a dizzying landscape of shapes and patterns can seem overwhelming. If full fretboard coverage is your goal then try to replicate small parts of the scale octave by octave. This is a quick fix for traversing the neck with more confidence, particularly when approaching any new scale or key.

Here we have the first 2 strings of an A altered scale. The six notes are simply repeated on A note roots from each octave.

A great benefit of this method of visualisation is that, not only is the fingering exactly the same each time you move to a new octave, but the pitches are exactly the same allowing your ears to become attached to the sound of the scale too - with gigantic fretboard maps there are so many notes to choose from its often hard to re-engage our musical ear.

6. Find structures within the scale shapes

We all know that weaving arpeggio shapes into our scales are an important step towards fully understanding how notes are distributed across our fretboards. A less clinical method is to simply find clusters of notes or shapes and repeat them across the scale.

Here’s our A major scale with a simple set of 3 note structures. These will, inevitably, form triads but using a more shape-based idea as their root.

Here’s a descending form using symmetrical 5 note clusters.

7. Hear the intervals

As previously mentioned, it is all too easy to leave our ears out of the equation when learning or practising scales. The idea that each note within our scales has a character and fulfils a function has been a long-standing cornerstone of developing full fretboard prowess.

Try and accent a particular interval when running scales across the neck, listen to the sound, tension or resolution that the note gives.

Another way to focus on a particular interval is to build a pedal tone around it. This is also the perfect way to challenge yourself and find out how well you really know that scale!

Here’s C Lydian with the all-important #4 as the pedal.

8. Think outside the box

Backing tracks are essential for giving our scale practise a musical context. But how about changing things up a little a practising scales to your favourite songs? You will have to think on your feet and figure out the key and appropriate scale by ear, thus developing your pro musician aural skills.

Why not take a completely off the wall approach and loop scales to TV shows, random radio playlists or advert jingles?

For more resources on scales and their application check out further LickLibrary lessons.