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Jazz Cat Blog

Making Scales Useful

Posted by on May 31, 2016 at 4:05 PM

I hear a lot of guitarists and other musicians talking about scales like they are totally useless. While there are many great players who never properly learned scales and they still play fantastically, this does not mean that you shouldn't learn them.

In fact, those cats who skipped over them, did so because they were never taught the value of scales. Also, they got really good but they did it the hard way. Think of how many hours per week you currently practice.

Now double, triple or even quadruple that. That's usually the amount of time those players put into their skillset. Learning the basic scales (Major, minor, Dominant, etc) can put you way ahead of the game. I'm going to give you a few reasons to learn scales and then a few ways to approach them.


1. It will speed up your progress. The fact that you know where to go on the fretboard to play within a given key will accelerate your learning and your ability to jam with other cats.

2. Knowing scales will give you the ability to converse with other musicians in a way that makes you feel empowered, because you understand the lingo and the subject matter.

3. Melodies come out of scales. Sure, there are many examples of melodies that break away here and there but most popular melodies are pulled right out of some type of scale, even if the musician didn't realize that's what they were doing.

4. Solos come from scales. Sure, many careers have been built on nothing more than a firm grasp of the minor pentatonic and the Blues Scale. Still, having a handful of other basic tools (again, Major, minor and Dominant) will give you a much wider palette of colors from which to paint your individual masterpiece.


Here is the C Major Scale, played up on frets 7-10. However, you can apply these principles to any scale. Play the 7th fret with your 1st finger, 8th with the middle finger, 9th fret with the ring finger and 10th with the pinky. Stick to that fingering, throughout. 

1. First, just play the scale very slowly, up and down. No tempo, just get it "under your fingers" and timing comes later.

2. Next, put it to the metronome in quarter notes (one note per beat).

3. Then, proceed to 8th notes (one note on the down beat and one on the up beat, etc).

4. Then try triplets and 16ths, if you know how to do these. If not, skip them for now.

5. Next, try "thirds". This means play the notes 1, 2 and 3 (C, D, E). Then, 2, 3, 4 (D, E, F). Continue in this way, 4, 5, 6   5, 6, 7   6, 7, 1.   Get this to a decent place, going both up and down the scale.

6. Then proceed to "fourths", which is the same idea but four notes at a time instead of three. 1, 2, 3, 4     2, 3, 4, 5    3, 4, 5, 6    4, 5, 6, 7   etc.  Get that up to speed, going up and down.

7. Next is "broken thirds". This is skip forward, step back. The pattern goes 1, 3    2, 4    3, 5    4, 6    5, 7    etc  

Just this handful of basic ideas should start generating some useful solo ideas for you, even after just a few weeks of practicing them.

Have fun!

My name is Magus (aka Kevin Trent Boswell) and I teach guitar lessons from my home in Raleigh, NC and by Skype or FaceTime. Contact me at (919) 599-0539 to set up lessons with me. 

Categories: Rudiments