Scales and Modes...


Why do I need to learn scales? 

Ever watch a lead guitarist blazing through a guitar solo, and wonder exactly how they do that? Beginner guitarists ask me this sort of question all the time - they wonder how they figure out which notes sound right before they play them. In the following feature, we'll examine, using online resources, how to go about tackling the basics of learning to create your own guitar solos.

The Blues Scale

What many novice guitarists don't realize is that improvising (also referred to as "soloing") does not involve playing a series of random notes, in the hopes that they will sound great together. Rather, guitarists generally draw their guitar solos from a scale, using it as a template to improvise with. The Blues Scale (seen in the image on the right), despite it's name, is a scale which is used extensively in all styles of guitar solos.

blues scale

Practice the scale forwards and backwards, using alternate picking, making sure to play each note cleanly and evenly. Next, try playing each note twice before moving to the next note. Invent different ways to play the scale that will challenge yourself technically.

To use the blues scale, play it so that the root of the scale starts on the letter name of the scale you want to play. For example, to play a C blues scale, find the note C on the sixth string (8th fret) and start the scale there. While this is a start at learning scales many guitarists get a lot of mileage out of this one scale so I would learn it well and do some soloing over jam tracks.

Now, you're ready to improvise. The concept seems simple enough; string together series of notes from the scale that sound pleasing together (these series of notes are often referred to as "licks"). Try doing this; it's harder than it sounds.  Try memorizing, and utilizing some of your new licks in your guitar solos.

The next step is the Pentatonic scale.  You may wonder where the Major and Minor scales are.  We will get to them but the major and minor pentatonic scales are more widely used by guitarists so we will go there next.  Click here to go to the Pentatonic Scale Page