How many of you have tried learning scales, not understanding what they consist of, just to end up giving up to the complexity? How many of you have looked at diagrams showing notes of a scale all over the fretboard, to eventually say "Screw it, it's way too hard to remember every notes in a scale!". Well believe me or not, it really isn't that complicated, if you do it the right way.
Here is a method to learn scales that I figured myself, after hours of trying and giving up. After merely just half an hour, I knew the major scale in the key of C. And just like you(if you are still reading), the other methods just wouldn't work(boxes, patterns, call them what you will). Before we start, I expect you to know the very basics of music theory(the chromatic scale, the definition of a step/tone, octaves, etc). You do not need to know every notes on your fretboard, in fact this method will actually help you learning it. So without further introduction, let's start with the real thing.
Oh but before we start, one little pointer I'd like to add; in no way am I telling you that this is the right way to learn. Whatever works for you is fine. I am just giving you out the method that worked for me, after months and even years of trying to learn scales. I simply advise you to take the time to read, try and judge for yourself if this is a good method for you.
First, the very principe of this method is to actually figure out the scale by yourself. And for this, you will be needing what I think is a formidable tool, blank fretboard diagrams. You are gonna need to print it, and you are also gonna need a pen.
For the sake of the practicity, here's a link to one
Note that if you don't go with this one, I highly suggest you to at least go with one that contains 12 frets, simply because the fretboard "resets" at the 12th fret. Or in other words, going from open to 12th fret forms an octave(open low E = E, 12th fret low E = E).
Okay so let's start. To ensure that you guys follow this the right way, I'll be doing the exercise at the same time. We are gonna start with the major scale. As many of you(not all) might already know, the intervals of the major scale are WWHWWWH, W being a whole-step, and H a half-step. As for the key, I will be using C, for simplicity.
The first thing you're going to do is pick one root note on your fretboard(in this case, a C). Simply draw a full circle where your root note is. It doesn't matter where the note is, as long as it's a C(or your root note if you picked a different key).
Now that you picked your root note, we shall start with the first interval of the major key, which is a whole-step. As you know, a whole-step(or tone), is basicly two frets. In our case, a whole-step above C would be D. Now that you got that figured, draw an EMPTY circle over D(it's very important to be able to make the difference between root notes and other notes). It doesn't matter if the D note is on the same string, or if it's on the string below, as long as it's in the same octave. After you got one note figured, move on to the next interval, which in our case is another whole-step. A tone above D is E. Now simply re-do what you just did; draw an empty circle where the E note is. With that done, repeat the same process over, until you reach your second root note(keep in mind to draw a full circle for root notes, and empty circles for notes that aren't the root).
After completing the major scale in one octave, and in one "pattern"(although I hate this word, I think you get the idea), you should focus on practicing your scale in this specific place. Now here's where it gets crucial; do NOT mindlessly learn the pattern, that won't work. What you should be learning are the intervals of the major scale(WWHWWWH). You should also get to know the "feel" of the major scale, what it sounds like.
When you start feeling confortable not only with the intervals, but also with the "feel" of the scale, it's time to restart what you were previously doing. But you won't be picking up another root note. Instead, you will be starting from the same root. Take your first interval(whole), figure the note that follows(a D), and draw an empty circle where the D note is. Since you already circled a D, your options will be limited. If you picked the D note on the same string last time, then circle the one on the string below this time around. The main idea here is to move over the fretboard, whether it's up or down the neck. Again, keep going until you reach your root note(which should be a different one then the one you ended up on earlier). And again, practice your scale in this specific position, for the sake of knowing your intervals even better then you already did.
Now, you should already be starting to understand the "moving up and down the neck" technique. Althought you probably already knew about it, you should start getting used to how notes are repeated all over the fretboard). Also, at this point, you should be able to tell by heart the intervals of the major scale, without any hesitation. If you still can't, go back to the two "patterns" you already figured. A good trick is to simply say outloud the intervals between each notes. Another one would be to play the scale all on the same string, again saying intervals outloud. When you got the interval thing down, it's time to move one.
Okay now that you've made the biggest step, the next part implies a choice. Basicly, you will be repeating the same process, but this time it is up to you which root note to start with. You can pick the same one again, and go up/down, depending on what you did last. You could also pick one of the root notes you arrived on the last times. The choice is yours. The only important part, is to repeat the exact same process(figure out the notes, draw circles and practice the intervals in that position). It should now go much faster, and you quickly will have figured nearly every notes up to the 12th fret. Make sure you do not forget about what you learned before tho. Come back to the other positions you've figured before often, making sure you don't forget. And again, put the emphasis on the intervals!
Now eventually, you will only have a few notes in the scale that aren't circled. Figure those out, making sure you don't leave one note out. But it's not over. Now you should be praticing your scale everywhere on the neck, starting from any root note, moving on the neck in every possible ways. And don't forget; right now the point is not to be melodic, but to be able to figure out your scale by yourself(not just playing a pattern that you learned by heart without understanding it).
Next, there are some things you should keep in mind. Learning for example the C major scale isn't the same as learning the major scale itself. For this reason, I urge you to pick a new key everytime you start practicing your scale. Say you figured C major all over the fretboard, your next practice session should focus on say, G major. Since you're already comfortable with C major, you shouldn't have too much trouble applying the same scale over the G key. And the next session, let's go with say, A# major. The main goal is for your brain to not identify C major as the major scale, but as the major scale in the key of C.
Remember, while practicing, it's very important that you don't just repeat patterns. Focus on the intervals that make the scale. I can guarantee you that it shouldn't take you more then a week or two of serious practice to feel comfortable with the scale all over the fretboard, in any key.
Before concluding, here's a few tips I can give you:
- You should developp "memo-technique" tricks as you learn your scales. I'll give you some, but you should be figuring it all out by yourself, if you're following the method correctly. If not, you can always read them and go back to practice, getting used to them;
1...When going from your pinky on a string to your index on the string below it, you're basicly going up a whole-step(exception -> read trick 3).
2...A note is repeated 5th fret towards the head of your guitar when going up a string(again, there's an exception; refer to the trick 3).
3...When going from your G string to your B string, you should be "raising" the notes up one fret. This is a concept you are should already be aware of. Get used to it when practicing scales.
4...The pattern between root notes -> if C is the 8th fret on the low E string, it's the 10th fret on the D string. You should have noticed a "pattern" in root notes as you were drawing full circles.
- As you draw circles on diagrams, you will often be tempted to just look at it and replicate what you see as you practice. This isn't the way you should be using the diagrams. After being completed, they should strictly be used as references. When you practice, let it all come out of your head, figure it all out by yourself. Don't just look at the paper, that would only get you back to square one.
- Don't restrain yourself on only the first twelve frets. Once you start getting comfortable with the scale up the 12th fret, start applying it higher on the neck. Eventually you will know the scale up the 22th fret, without even noticing.
- Focus on root notes, especially if you do not know your fretboard well enough. This will help you learn where notes are all over the neck.
- Start learning the basics of chord formation. The most common shape would be the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of your scale. Take that shape and apply it to your C major scale, and you've got yourself a basic C chord! Doing this you will be able to make a link between scales and chords.
- The method presented can be used for any scale that exists. Therefore, once you start learning a new scale, just apply the same method.
- As first scales, I suggest you to start with the major scale, then the minor scale. A lot of people will tell you to start with pentatonics. Not that this is a bad way of learning, you decide what to learn first; I just think that learning major and minor scales first gives you a more solid grasp on theory. If you learn those, pentatonics will be like a walk in the park, so will any scales be.
- Don't just follow the lesson, doing it as you read. For the first time, to get used to the method, it's okay, but I suggest you to restart from scratch once you've got used to this method. This way you're making sure that you're not going too fast.
- Don't follow this method like the bible. Adapt it to your weaknesses, to your way of learning. This lesson should be used as more a reference for future learning.
- "Don't overdo it". Just like in school, take breaks. If you're brain is too focused on your new girlfriend, leave it there and come back to it later. Forcing your brain will only end up confusing you.
- Learning scales, like you already figured by yourself, isn't everything. Improvisation and writing doesn't only come out of theory. When it comes down to that, a lot of things are involved, including phrasing, experience, etc. This lesson only provides you with a way of learning your intervals and being able to figure out scales. A lot of other lessons here on UG and on the internet will help you get further down the road.
In conclusion, please leave feedback, as this is my first lesson here on UG. I am open to all comments, suggestions and critics. In fact, I'd be quite happy if some people who tried this method out could tell me what they think of it. I tried to make this lesson as complete as possible, although I'm sure I left quite a few points out. Feel free to PM me or add me as a friend if you need help with this method or anything else, I'll be MORE(emphasis on "more") then happy to help you.
Enjoy, and most importantly, do not give up. It's not about how fast you learn, but how you learn! I myself learned a lot more using this method in a day than I ever did in a year.