I now want to look at approaching learning these scales so you can get the most out of them.
One thing I find often in students is that they’ll have a reasonable understanding of some scales, but often in bits and pieces (usually from the CAGED system or some open scales).
So my goal here is to present the best way forward with learning scales so that you can go through from your level and advance in the most suitable way, obtaining the most complete knowledge possible.
In what order should I learn scales?
1) Open scales:
For anyone starting out I always recommend a few Open Scales, such as C Major (1 octave), G Major (2 octaves, E minor pentatonic (2 octaves) etc.
These get the fingers going and you can hear the scale nice and clearly. However, they aren’t very widely applicable, so I don’t think there is a great need to learn all of them.
2) Minor pentatonic/Blues:
The only difference between the Minor Pentatonic and the Blues Scale is that the blues scale has an extra note (the flat 5th). So I would recommend learning one and then learning how to add or take away that extra note. These scales are very fundamental.
3) Major Scales
The Major Scales are probably the most essential, diverse and useful set of scales (followed closely by minor pentatonic/blues). Make sure you spend adequate time really getting this and nailing it down.
4) Advanced scales – Diminished, Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor etc.
The Diminished, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor are great scales for the jazz users and are a great addition. However, by this stage you would probably want to be more focused on different chord arpeggios.
What method is the best?
There are a few methods that are used for learning scales, including the CAGED system, however I have found that these can lead to either an incomplete knowledge or limited applicability.
I personally prefer a more rote learning style of the patterns. However many notes are in the scale, will be the amount of patterns there are (e.g. Major scale – 7 notes = 7 patterns). With quite a small amount of closed/boxed shapes, you could memorise a set of scales even in a couple of weeks if you put in the focused practice, then the patterns are at your disposal to apply.
As long as you using the advice in the next section and allowing memory to be in your brain as well as your fingers, you can apply the scales with much greater ease.
Essentials to remember alongside learning the scales:
In order to actually be able to apply the scales in your playing, these are essential. So don’t let your hard work go to waste by neglecting these elements as you’re learning.
1) Root notes:
Knowing where the root notes are in each scale you play is absolutely essential for then being able to apply them.
This might seem pointless and is honestly the one that makes me constantly feel like a nark when I correct students, but this ties in a lot with your memory. Also, we want to be able to play to the best of our ability, so the easier we make the patterns on our fingers (and our brain), by using our fingers to their full potential, the further we can develop our technical expertise.
3) Theory of that scale – what notes are in it:
Combined with knowing the root notes, this will help in being able to use the scales to pull out the exact sounds you want to hear. So it is essential to know that a major scale moves like so:
Or a Minor Pentatonic like so:
How do I practice them?
1) Aside from the open scales, I recommend learning them all firstly in G, as this allows you to learn pattern 1 with the root note on the 3rd fret.
2) When you have that pattern from memory, learn the next pattern.
3) Once you have that pattern from memory, try linking the patterns together (go up the 1st pattern – across to the 2nd – down the 2nd – back up the 2nd – back to the 1st – back down the first.
This way you are practicing each pattern, both up and down, as well as connecting the patterns.
4) Keep repeating steps 2 & 3 until you have all the patterns from memory and are able to link them all in one continuous chain.
5) Try doing this in different keys and to a metronome.
For a good, short, scales practice routine, check out my last post, Short Focused Practice Sessions.
What about modes? (This is pretty advanced)
Good question! I’ve talked to a number of people who approach modes and are very soon overwhelmed. They may buy the book of all modal patterns and freak out at the sight of how many different patterns there are.
But it shouldn’t be like this. If you know any set of patterns and the theory behind it, with a little extra thinking you can apply those to your playing. But since I could go on for another whole post about this, you can look forward to that next week!