Learning scale patterns is a typical starting point for many aspiring soloists, and the first step usually involves mastering scales in a linear fashion (straight up and down).
Yet while it’s important to learn them in this way—in order to reinforce the muscle memory needed to master the scale—playing straight up and down a scale makes for a pretty dull solo. The biggest challenge lies in creating something musical from these patterns.
Which brings us to the topic of this workout: melodic scale sequences. These patterns will not only spice up your solos but also serve as great additions to your chops-building practice regimen. So get out your metronome and start wearing out some scales.
We’ll begin this lesson with a couple of pentatonic, or five-note, scale sequences. Minor pentatonic (1-b3-4-5-b7) is the scale most frequently played by rock and blues guitarists. Our first two examples will use A as the root, which results in a scale spelled A-C-D-E-G. By shifting the entire pattern to a different position, you can easily transpose any of these examples to another key.
FIGURE 1 employs a type of hemiola—in this case, a three-against-two rhythmic feel, as heard in Metallica’s “Fuel” and System of a Down’s “Aerials.” Begin by ascending to the scale’s third note (A-C-D). The next three-note grouping (G-D-E) starts on the second note of the scale, and the sequence continues until ending on the root note, two octaves higher. Take note of the accent marks (>) placed directly above or below the note heads. These indicate which notes should be emphasized—here, the first note of each three-note grouping. Use alternate picking (down-up-down-up, etc.) throughout this workout, as doing so will result in cleaner and, eventually, faster lines.
FIGURE 2 offers a different spin on the pentatonic scale. Begin by ascending the scale from the root to the octave (A-C-D-E-G-A). Then, descend the scale until you reach the first note played on the second string of the pattern (string 5). From there, this ascending descending pattern repeats until it reaches the 1st string’s 5th-fret A Once you’ve mastered these two figures, reverse the direction of the notes in each sequence to create two new licks. Try doing this with five-note scales other than minor pentatonic as well.
Here are just a few, all with A as the root:
Major Pentatonic (A-B-C#-E-F#)
Dominant Pentatonic (A-C#-D-E-G)
Lydian Pentatonic (A-C#-D#—F#-G#)
SEVEN-NOTE SCALE SEQUENCES
Now that you’re feeling loose, let’s throw some seven-note scales into the mix. We’ll begin with the G major scale, or G Ionian mode (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#).
Begin FIGURE 3 on the first note of the scale (G), followed by the third (B). Then, return to the root and ascend stepwise to the 3rd (G-A-B). Repeat this pattern on the remaining five strings.
When you’re playing FIGURE 3, be sure to keep your fret hand in 3rd position, with your thumb anchored on the back of the neck. On strings 6–3, use your 1st finger to play all 3rd- and 4th-fret notes, your 2nd finger for all 5th-fret notes, and your 4th finger for all 7th-fret notes. On strings 2 and 1, use your 1st finger on the 5th fret, your 3rd finger on the 7th fret, and your 4th finger on the 8th fret.
FIGURE 4 contains a pattern heard frequently during shred’s heyday, the late Eighties and Nineties. (To hear something like it, check out Megadeth’s “Hangar 18.”) Drawn from the E natural minor scale (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D), this descending sequence is built from four-note groupings. After playing the first four notes of the sequence (D-C-B-A), return to the second note (C) to begin the next four-note grouping (C-B-A-G). Repeat this pattern for the rest of the figure.
As with pentatonic scales, there are many seven-note scales for you to explore besides major and natural minor. Try applying these seven-note sequences to a few or all of the following scales. Again, each scale is built from the note A
Harmonic Minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G#)
Phrygian Dominant (A-Bb-C#-D-E-F-G)
Now let’s try some interval-based lines. The next three figures feature sets of diatonic intervals (those within the scale) in the key of A major (A-B-C#-D-EF#-G#). FIGURE 5 is an ascending-3rds pattern. The idea here is to play each member of the scale, followed by the note a 3rd above it. This results in the following sets of 3rds: A-C#, B-D, C#-E, D-F#, E-G#, F#-A, and G#-B.
FIGURES 6–7 are similar to FIGURE 5, but they’re based on different intervals. FIGURE 6 focuses on sets of diatonic 5ths; FIGURE 7, on diatonic 6ths. Play each figure with your fret hand anchored in 5th position throughout, and use the fingerings from FIGURE 3.
Now that you’ve got a handle on several single-position sequences, let’s raise the bar and try some figures involving position shifts. FIGURE 8 features six-note sets from the E natural minor scale. The figure starts in 3rd position with a three-note set on the 2nd string, followed by a three-note set on the 1st string. At this point, shift your fret hand to 5th position to execute the next six-note sequence. The rest of the figure climbs the neck similarly, through the 7th, 8th, and 10th positions.
FIGURE 9 is in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen. On the first two beats, the note E alternates with descending pitches from the E natural minor scale. On beats 3 and 4, the pattern is moved down to the note D. Use your 4th finger to fret the highest note in each sequence, and take note of the position shifts (to 8th, 7th, 5th, and 3rd) that occur every two beats.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
To cap things off, FIGURE 10 presents a 12-bar minor-blues solo in A featuring a few of the scale sequences discussed in this month’s workout. The solo begins with a common blues lick, followed in measure 2 by three-note ascending pentatonic groupings. Measure 4 hosts a descending diatonic-5ths sequence that resolves on the 3rd of the IV chord (Dm) and is followed by a four-note scale sequence drawn from the D Dorian mode (D-E-F G-A-B-C) in measure 6.
A ringing Am7 arpeggio signals the return to the I chord (Am) in measure 7. Next, there’s another intervallic sequence, this time using diatonic 3rds. The solo is capped off by a position-jumping lick (measure 11) that resolves in measure 12 on the root, A. Once you’ve got a good grip on this example, try incorporating these scale sequences into your own solos.