As I was getting into jazz guitar, learning scales was an obstacle for me. I knew a couple of scale positions, but had no logical way to get from point A to point B.
After some searching, I took a lesson with a great jazz guitarist in the Seattle area.
He showed me a system of 5 scale shapes that would help me organize my lines so I didn’t have to jump around the neck so much as I played.
I practiced the patterns and exercises, and got pretty good at them. However, it was still hard for me to use them as I played songs.
I would still revert back to old habits because I didn’t really understand how to apply the scale patterns to playing songs.
Over the years, I figured it out - after lots of practice, research, and experimentation. But at the time, it left me with the question: what are these scale patterns good for anyway?
Click below to learn more.
From a mechanical viewpoint, scale patterns are important tools for helping you develop knowledge of the fretboard.
As you learn and practice these 5 major scale patterns, you will be building a template for recognizing the location of not only scale positions, but arpeggios and chords as well.
But scales aren’t simply a mechanical pattern that you have to practice. (this is where I initially went wrong)
Scales can also be used as musical tools that are useful for improvisation, composition or songwriting, analysis, ear training, sight reading, and overall musicianship.
If you use them correctly, scales can be an incredibly valuable part of your creative musical practice. In the end, there is no question that scales are important for your guitar playing.
No matter what you want to do on the guitar, these 5 scale patterns will provide an essential tool to help you do it.
What is the real goal here?
One of the reasons some people don’t like to work on scale patterns is that they don’t understand why they are supposed to do it. In his book, Jazz Guitar Mastery, John Stowell describes two goals for learning scale patterns.
The first goal is to be able to take any sound and create it at different places on the neck, and the second goal is to practice different combinations of those places.
So what we are really working on when we are playing scales is creating sound. And with 5 different scale patterns, we can create the same sound at 5 different places on the neck.
As you become more comfortable you become with these scale patterns you will be able to move up and down the neck, shifting smoothly between different scale positions.
Memorize the scale patterns
Using scales patterns will become much easier once you memorize them.
You need to commit your scale patterns to memory if you are going to be able to use them in your guitar playing.
Believe it or not, memorizing a scale pattern is pretty easy. Just learn one pattern at a time, and take it slow.
Start with the root
Always make an effort to start your scale from the root. Starting at the root will give you context, and help you train your ears as you practice.
Learning each scale pattern from the root will also help you learn to play your scales in different keys and quickly locate scale positions as you play.
Since these patterns are designed to fit the guitar fretboard, the root often isn’t always the lowest available note in the scale pattern.
You will see how to do this in the examples later in this lesson.
The 5 scale patterns
As we learn these 5 major scale patterns, it is important for you to keep 2 things in mind: Learn 1 pattern at a time, and the slower you go, the faster you’ll learn.
Learn 1 pattern really well, and move on when you are comfortable.
Rushing through a pattern will lead to mistakes. Mistakes that can become ingrained in your playing for years to come.
So slow down, and learn it right the first time.
6th String Form
This is the G major scale starting on the 6th String. For ear training purposes, always start and end the scale at the root. Follow the example below.
Once you are comfortable with playing the scale pattern, you should start to think about the scale tones. Scale tones are numbers that tell you the relationship of notes to the root of the scale.
See the example below.
All you have to do is say the numbers out loud as you play. Not too hard once you can already play the scale, right?This will help prime your ear for learning melodies and chord progressions that follow the major scale.
5th String Form
This is the C major scale starting on the 5th string. Follow the example below.
Remember to work on learning the scale tones once you are comfortable playing the pattern.
4th String Form
This is the F major scale starting on the 4th string. Follow the example below.
Once you can play the pattern, work on learning the scale tones.
3rd String Form
This is the Bb major scale starting on the 3rd string. As you play the example below, you’ll notice that while we’re calling this the 3rd string form, we are actually starting on the 6th string.
This is so we can connect this scale to 3rd string chord forms, and we can still access a full 2 octaves by starting with the little finger on the 6th string.
Remember to practice saying the scale tones as well to help with ear training as you practice.
2nd String Form
This is the D major scale starting on the 2nd string. Like the 3rd string form, this pattern starts on a different string from the label.
We do this to help connect these scales to chord forms while still accessing a full octave from root to root. Practice the example below.
Once you are comfortable with the finger pattern, work on learning the chord tones as well.
Mastering these scale patterns will give you a foundation that you can use for a variety of musical applications.
With practice, you’ll be able to:
Scales provide a valuable musical tool that you can use for:
Remember, these scale patterns are a means to an end. When learned and used correctly, they will be a valuable tool for your creative musical practice.
Once you can play each pattern and recognize the scale tones as you play, start to improvise melodies following the major scale pattern.
Improvising with your scale patterns is one of the best ways to get them into your ears and under your fingers.
How are you doing with these scale patterns? Let me know in the comments section.