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How To Really Learn A New Guitar Scale

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Scales. Ick.  Even the word brings to mind countless hours of sluggishly pounding through one boring exercise after another.  There's a better way.  I'm going to show you a way to both learn your new scale, and how to effectively improvise with it. And the process only takes 15 minutes. This goes for simple or complex scales.  The system is the same.

One of the great things about playing guitar is moveable positions. That means once you learn a scale pattern in one position, you can easily change keys just by starting at a different fret. That means that finger patterns and muscle memory are your key to learning your new scale in any key you need.

Now, of course, you need to know how the scale is built and what the exact notes are and all.  But that can come after. This is the quick way to get the scale under your fingers so you can start using it. I'll assume here that you have the notes or a neck chart or tab that shows you what the notes are.

This sequence of steps is for learning the scale in one position.  You can repeat them to learn other positions and patterns for the same scale.

Follow these steps:

1. Play through the whole scale once in both directions, slowly.  Use whatever written material you have to help you keep track. Concentrate on the fingering pattern and the shapes on the fretboard to help you mentally compartmentalize each string's pattern.  For instance, I think of a major scale with this fingering: 2-4,1-2-4,1-3-4,1-3-4,2-4,1-2-4.

2. Play just the bottom two strings of the scale pattern up and back ten times.

3. Do the same using subsequent two string patterns, ie. 4 and 5, 3 and 4, 2 and 3, 1 and 2.  Make sure you're going both directions on each pair of strings.

4. Using the same idea, do the scale chunks on sets of three strings, ie. 4-5-6, 3-4-5, 2-3-4, 1-2-3. Both directions, 10 times each, just as before.

5. By now you should be able to play the whole scale up and back pretty easily.  Play the scale with your eyes closed a couple times to learn that you can rely on those muscle memories.  If you're still having trouble you can do groups of four strings in the same way as the previous two steps.

At this point you can play the scale, but you're not making music with it yet.  You don't want to be stuck just running the scale up and down when you try to solo with it. We have to break you out of the linear pattern a bit.

6. Starting from the root on the bottom string, play every other note (called 3rds). Go forwards and backwards. Repeat 5 times.  Then do this same step but starting from each subsequent note in the scale.

7. Again starting from the root on the bottom string, play skipping two notes inbetween each played note. This is intervals of a 4th. Repeat 5 times. Same as above, do the pattern starting from each note in the scale.

8. Start from the root again and play a pattern of up two, down one.  Ie. A-C-B-D, etc.  Coming back down will be the opposite, down two, up one. Repeat 5 times.

Now you're comfortable with the scale as a linear pattern and you're able to work your way through it broken up into the common intervals of 3rds and 4ths. Now we learn to improvise with it effectively.

9. Go back to just using two strings at a time as in Step 2. Improvise on each pair of strings, concentrating on interesting rhythm ideas for 30 seconds to a minute.  If you have a jam track of some sort available, try spending 12-16 bars improvising on just that pair of strings.

10. Repeat with each pair of strings.

11. Do the same idea again, but this time working with groups of three strings.  Remember that the notes are just there and everyone is using the same ones.  The real creativity comes in your rhythm choices for those notes.

At this point you will be completely comfortable with your new scale.  Use these same steps to learn any new pattern you need.  As with anything in learning guitar, the key to keeping your new scale in your memory is using it consistently.  For the next two weeks use that scale every chance you get and it will be permanently ingrained in your mental scale repertoire.



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