The A To A Of Scales

author: chris flatley date: 03/21/2012 category: scales
rating: 9.3 / votes: 20 
The A to A approach to scales is a simple idea, but very effective. It's basically a matter of knowing your scales from one note, A for example, to the next occurrence of that note an octave higher, and to be equally comfortable with as many different routes and positions as possible. Tutorial books often show us scales through two octaves, and so we tend to practice them in this way, and this causes us to fail to appreciate the important boundary that we cross when we enter the second octave. For instance most of us encounter this A minor pentatonic 'block' scale played through two octaves at the 5th position.
|--------------------5-|
|----------------5-8---|
|------------5-7-------|
|--------5-7-----------|
|----5-7---------------|
|5-8-------------------|
 A C D E G A C D E G A
Although it's possible to do great sounding things with this scale as it is, I believe it can be problematic, especially for those still trying to develop basic skills. The first problem is that it treats the middle A note as if it's just another note with no more importance than any other, and as a result, a distinct boundary has been crossed as if it didn't exist. The other problem is that the first A to A pattern has completely different fretboard properties to the second, and so any phrase played in the first will be impossible to recreate perfectly in the second. There is a much better way to approach the A minor pentatonic scale. Both of the above octaves will still be used, but they'll never be treated as a single entity. First let's break them up to see how they differ.
|------------|----------5-|
|------------|------5-8---|
|------------|--5-7-------|
|--------5-7-|7-----------|
|----5-7-----|------------|
|5-8---------|------------|
 A C D E G A |A C D E G A
First thing to notice is that we now have two A's rather than one in the middle. This is because we're no longer going from A to A through two octaves and treating the middle one as if it has no importance. Instead we're going from A to A in the first, and then A to A again in the second. This really does matter. So why can't a phrase played in the first octave be precisely recreated in the second? Let's say the phrase played in the first octave contained a pulloff from C to A. This couldn't be done in the second because the C and A are on different strings. You can't slide from C to D in the first, but you can in the second. In the second you can overlap the A and C notes to create a smooth minor third arpeegiated sound, but you can't in the first. So any phrase containing hammers, pulls, slides, bends, overlaps etc, can not be faithfully recreated in both octaves using these two patterns. This can cause inconsistent, disjointed sounding solos. This is where knowing your scales from A to A can really prove useful. Here's how continuity could be maintained through two octaves.
|------------|---------------|
|------------|---------8-10--|
|------------|-----7-9-------|
|--------5-7-|7-10-----------|
|----5-7-----|--------------|
|5-8---------|--------------|
 A C D E G A |A C  D E G A
So now both octaves share the same properties, and hammers, slides etc can be faithfully recreated. Now let's do the same to the original second octave.
|------------|----------5-| 
|------------|---- -5-8---|
|----------2-|--5-7-------|
|------2-5---|7-----------|
|--3-5-------|------------|
|5-----------|------------| 
 A C D E G A |A C D E G A
Below is a list of THE COMMONEST ways to go from A to A organized into groups that share the same fretboard pattern properties. GROUP 1
|------------|--------3-5-|------------|------------|
|------------|----3-5-----|------------|--------8-10|
|--------0-2-|2-5---------|------------|----7-9-----|
|----0-2-----|------------|--------5-7-|7-10--------|
|0-3---------|------------|----5-7-----|------------|
|------------|------------|5-8---------|------------|
 
|---------------|----------15-17|---------------|---------------|
|---------------|-----15-17-----|---------------|----------20-22|
|----------12-14|14-17----------|---------------|-----19-21-----|
|-----12-14-----|---------------|----------17-19|19-22----------|
|12-15----------|---------------|-----17-19-----|---------------|
|---------------|---------------|17-20---------|---------------|
GROUP 2
|------------|----------5-|-------------|--------------|
|------------|------5-8---|-----------10|--------------|
|----------2-|--5-7-------|-------9-12--|------------14|
|------2-5---|7-----------|--10-12------|-------14-17--|
|--3-5-------|------------|12-----------|--15-17-------|
|5-----------|------------|-------------|17------------|
 
|------------17|--------------|
|-------17-20--|------------22|
|--17-19-------|-------21-24--|
|19------------|--22-24-------|
|--------------|24------------|
|--------------|--------------|
GROUP 3
|--------3-5-|------------|------------|---------------|
|--1-3-5-----|------------|--------8-10|---------------|
|2-----------|------------|--5-7-9-----|----------12-14|
|------------|--------5-7-|7-----------|--10-12-14-----|
|------------|--3-5-7-----|------------|12-------------|
|------------|5-----------|------------|---------------|
 
|----------15-17|---------------|---------------|
|--13-15-17-----|---------------|----------20-22|
|14-------------|---------------|--17-19-21-----|
|---------------|----------17-19|19-------------|
|---------------|--15-17-19-----|---------------|
|---------------|17-------------|---------------|
You should apply this A to A, B to B etc grouping method to all scales. As you can see from the above list, it's a lot of work, but it's worth it. Knowing where you can precisely recreate your phrases an octave or two higher will prove extremely valuable when soloing, but like anything, these benefits only truly reveal themselves if you've developed a competent level of musicianship, so work work work and play play play!! Apologies if there are any mistakes in the tabs.
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