#1
Hi,

I was just wondering how other players think of scales when practicing them or improvising.

This question is aimed at those who not very proficient (very much my camp) as I am very know where near the stage that I instinctively know what to play.

For example:

Say, you know your Major Scale inside out.

If you have to play the A Minor Scale, do you think to yourself:

1. I can play the C Major Scale but just start and end on the A or

2. I can Play the A Major Scale but flatten the 3, 6th and 7th notes or

3. Neither of the above, I need to learn the A Minor Scale as a separate scale.

The reason I ask is that I am mostly scenario 1 and a little bit scenario 3

I cannot help but think that the best way is actually the second - should I try to visualise every "C" scale (all modes, pentatonics etc.) as a variation of the C Major Scale?

Any advice/opinions would be much appreciated. As I said, I am at a stage where I cannot help but constantly think about what I am playing all the time - if I don't and just try to work on instinct, I just hit random bum notes.
#2
Quote by elsmandino
Hi,

I was just wondering how other players think of scales when practicing them or improvising.



I actively try to avoid thinking about scales at all.

Quote by elsmandino
This question is aimed at those who not very proficient.


I'll answer anyway.

Quote by elsmandino
1. I can play the C Major Scale but just start and end on the A or


I don't like this approach. A minor is a completely separate entity from C major.

Quote by elsmandino
2. I can Play the A Major Scale but flatten the 3, 6th and 7th notes


This is a bit better, but still has the same problem as point 1. Both are great ways of memorising and learning scales in the first place. Both are poor ways of understanding them.

Quote by elsmandino
3. Neither of the above, I need to learn the A Minor Scale as a separate scale.


For me it's probably this.

Quote by elsmandino

I cannot help but think that the best way is actually the second - should I try to visualise every "C" scale (all modes, pentatonics etc.) as a variation of the C Major Scale?


It kind of helps at the start. It helps with the names of the notes. But take the C minor pentatonic for example: do you think that it's a good idea to first think of the C major scale, then flatten the third, the sixth and the seventh, then omit the second and the sixth, and then play the scale? Because I think that's not a good idea. It'd be a lot easier to just learn the minor pentatonic.

I'd rather learn the intervals in each scale type, and apply those to different root notes. Or if you want a less theoretical approach, I'd just learn the shapes and start them from different roots.

Quote by elsmandino
Any advice/opinions would be much appreciated. As I said, I am at a stage where I cannot help but constantly think about what I am playing all the time - if I don't and just try to work on instinct, I just hit random bum notes.


Rather than learning scales, which has it's benefits, I'd say that the answer to this problem is your ear. That instinct you talk about is 80% about your ability recognize and replicate notes, chords and melodies by ear.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
Last edited by Kevätuhri at Oct 16, 2015,
#3
I just memorise the whole chromatic scale all the way up the neck with all the note names and then remember which notes each scale use. I can learn a new scale in about a minute with that knowledge.
#4
When you play, you don't want to need to think. There are two things to learn about scales - you need to understand them (learn the sound) and you need to get them under your fingers.

#1 and #2 require thinking. IMO #1 is bad - A minor is not the same thing as C major. #2 is good for understanding the difference between minor and major, but when you play the scale, you don't want to be thinking like that. Your goal would be to be able to think in sound. Scales are just an easier way to find the sounds you are looking for.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#5
I just learned one pattern, and stick it wherever it sounds like it wants to be. If someone says to me play Am scale, I will go to vi, over A, and play the scale starting there.

I think the answer to this depends on what style of music you want to play. If I had to be able to quickly move from C major to A major, or whatever scale to whatever scale a lot, then I'd learn every one as flatten this sharpen that sort of thing. As it would come up.

I learn how to play all the scales in different patterns, like box, 3nps, a sort of CAGED but not really thing I do, and I also know how the major pent fits into the major scale perfectly. minor pent I don't use so much so it is not quite so instantaneous, but if I played a lot of blues it definitely would be. It is easy enough for me to move in and out of it at will, but I couldn't just theory-wise superimpose the pent minor over any degree box of the major scale.

EDIT: I always practiced all of these with music in the background. I'd memorize a section without music and then play it with music, and link it to the previous section. For me, it's all about approaching the scale from many angles, and having them all fit together in a big sort of puzzle.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 16, 2015,
#6
Quote by ShayneColbert
I just memorise the whole chromatic scale all the way up the neck with all the note names and then remember which notes each scale use. I can learn a new scale in about a minute with that knowledge.


That's how I learned scales. This method helps to keep you from getting stuck in a box like many guitar players
#7
Do scales as your daily warm up and you'll never have to think about them again.

Start with the lowest scale tone on the instrument and go up to the highest, then chance scales and come back down. If you do this with quarter notes, 8ths, triplets, and 16ths, you'll hit 8 of the 12 major scales in every position in less than 10 minutes.

For example - quarters: ascend C, descend F
8ths: ascend Bb, descend Eb
triplets: ascend Ab, descend Db
16ths, ascend F#, descend B

Just pick a random scale to start with each day so you get to all 12 of them regularly.

Remember that knowing the notes in a scale is not the same as being able to play in key without a second thought. For scales to be useful in playing, they can't just be linear patterns; they have to be sets of notes across the entire neck of the guitar.
Last edited by cdgraves at Oct 16, 2015,
#8
I never think about raising or lowering notes to form a scale. I never really even think about the note names. I use the pattern of the scale I want and position it. I might briefly think about a note name when I'm positioning a pattern, but after that I never think in those terms again.

Additionally, I use 3 note per string scale patterns almost all the time. I use it for the major scale and its modes as well as harmonic minor, melodic minor, whole tone and diminished. The benefits to consistent picking and fingering patterns are enormous. They are also a lot more conducive to directional picking. In fact, the only real downside I've found with them is the extra stretch you need to do when fingering, but once you get over that, the old box-type patterns seem rather useless. If interested in this sort of method, I'd highly recommend getting the "Sheets Of Sound" books (just Volume I is all you need). They helped me a lot.
Last edited by edg at Oct 16, 2015,
#9
Quote by elsmandino
Hi,

I was just wondering how other players think of scales when practicing them or improvising.

This question is aimed at those who not very proficient (very much my camp) as I am very know where near the stage that I instinctively know what to play.

For example:

Say, you know your Major Scale inside out.

If you have to play the A Minor Scale, do you think to yourself:

1. I can play the C Major Scale but just start and end on the A or

2. I can Play the A Major Scale but flatten the 3, 6th and 7th notes or

3. Neither of the above, I need to learn the A Minor Scale as a separate scale.

The reason I ask is that I am mostly scenario 1 and a little bit scenario 3

I cannot help but think that the best way is actually the second - should I try to visualise every "C" scale (all modes, pentatonics etc.) as a variation of the C Major Scale?

Any advice/opinions would be much appreciated. As I said, I am at a stage where I cannot help but constantly think about what I am playing all the time - if I don't and just try to work on instinct, I just hit random bum notes.


3 is what you need to be able to improvise - but it's important to think about the interval differences that you point out in 2. What I mean by that, is that it is very important when playing to know that when playing in A minor where that minor third note is and how it sounds. You should know the interval formula for each scale you learn - i.e. I,II, bIII etc.


If you want to know your way around the major and minor scale ( completely) - learn the modes of the major scale and the harmonized major scale - that will beat the information into you visually and you'll be able to find your way around all over the fretboard. I suggest learning each mode in small clusters from one octave to the next octave ( and learn the chord specific to each) - always be cognizant of where your root notes are - play from one to the next. Those smaller patterns are more manageable when improvising than trying to learn an entire fretboard with some convoluted mega pattern.
#10
One thing I tried to do here at UG a long time ago was create something I called the "ScaleOme Project" (like the Human Genome Project. :| ). I did it by creating a new band name and putting up a bunch of mp3's. It's still there at this link http://artists.ultimate-guitar.com/scaleome_proj/music/play442464 . All the mp3's I put up still seem to be there although I can't seem to play them any more -- maybe its just my browser or flash version or something. Others might have better luck.

I think my idea at the time was to document all the ideas you can use by utilizing three note per string patterns and sort of "slicing them up" in various ways so that people could actually listen to them. I played each one starting with quarter notes, then eighth notes, triplets and finally 16th notes. Eventually I gave up, but whatever I did is still there if anyone's interested and can get them to work.

[EDIT]

Actually I just noticed I also blogged some comments to go with each mp3, so at least that info is there if you can't actually hear them.

[EDIT EDIT]

I *think* I still have the original mp3's somewhere. If a number of people are really interested, and you can't play them here at UG (UG I find sucks for uploading content), I'll try an find them and put them up at Soundcloud which I know works.
Last edited by edg at Oct 16, 2015,
#11
Quote by elsmandino
Hi,

I was just wondering how other players think of scales when practicing them or improvising.


Here's the problem. Your goal is to learn how NOT to think about it, and just play - the same way you don't think about the words you want to say when you're ordering a sandwich at a deli ... you just open your mouth and the right words come out.

"1. I can play the C Major Scale but just start and end on the A or"

This is a terrible approach, because it misses what's going on. The thing about C major vs A minor is that while they have the same note-names, the function of every single note is different. Your goal, as a developing player, is to be able to hear those functional relationships - the "desire" of different notes to move in different directions.

To take one example, the B note. In C major, this is one of the strongest, clearest functional relationships. It really really really wants to move up to C.

In A minor, it's functional relationship is much more subtle, and it wants to move DOWN to A.

The moment you begin to hear functionally, it becomes impossible to "think" of these things as the same scale, because the notes don't sound the same.

This sense of functional relationships is why, for example, C Mixolydian has far more in common with C major than A minor does. C mixolydian has one different note (Bb rather than B) but every other note serves the same function as it does in C major. In Am none of the notes do.

"2. I can Play the A Major Scale but flatten the 3, 6th and 7th notes or "

This is bad for a completely different reason. It requires this additional layer of cognitive processing, and the goal is to not be consciously thinking. This type of thinking is akin (in a metaphor I've used a lot) to thinking of ideas by spelling out the words that express the idea. Needlessly complicated.

"3. Neither of the above, I need to learn the A Minor Scale as a separate scale."

This. This this this. This is going to facilitate your development into being a player who hears functionally the quickest.

I got a lot out of using the functional ear trainer (a free download from miles.be) but YMMV. It helped me make this switch in how I thought.
#12
Quote by edg
One thing I tried to do here at UG a long time ago was create something I called the "ScaleOme Project" (like the Human Genome Project. :| ). I did it by creating a new band name and putting up a bunch of mp3's. It's still there at this link http://artists.ultimate-guitar.com/scaleome_proj/music/play442464 . All the mp3's I put up still seem to be there although I can't seem to play them any more -- maybe its just my browser or flash version or something. Others might have better luck.

I think my idea at the time was to document all the ideas you can use by utilizing three note per string patterns and sort of "slicing them up" in various ways so that people could actually listen to them. I played each one starting with quarter notes, then eighth notes, triplets and finally 16th notes. Eventually I gave up, but whatever I did is still there if anyone's interested and can get them to work.

[EDIT]

Actually I just noticed I also blogged some comments to go with each mp3, so at least that info is there if you can't actually hear them.

[EDIT EDIT]

I *think* I still have the original mp3's somewhere. If a number of people are really interested, and you can't play them here at UG (UG I find sucks for uploading content), I'll try an find them and put them up at Soundcloud which I know works.


That was ambitious. If you're saying what I think you're saying, that's like a lifetime's worth of permutations you could have recorded there.

I agree with you, 3nps sort of makes box pattern a bit redundant, but the box pattern is still useful to me. It kind of glues things together. It links 2 3nps patterns together, or fits some chords into the pattern. I find the more ways you can know the pattern, the better. But 3nps I would say is the most powerful way to organize the pattern. It is a little bit tricky though, especially for hammer-ons and stuff like that down by the nut.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 16, 2015,
#13
Quote by fingrpikingood
That was ambitious. If you're saying what I think you're saying, that's like a lifetime's worth of permutations you could have recorded there.


Yeah. LOL. Way too much work in the long run. Mostly I think I was just trying to give people an idea of stuff I was practicing at the time that I found incredibly useful. Get them started with a method and listen to the the actual practice. From there, they can take things on their own in all kinds of different directions if they want to put in the work. Like I said, "Sheets Of Sound" is good material and jump started me on all that.
#14
Hey @Elsmandino,and the rest of the bunch

I've been away from the guitar for around 2 months but I've finally be able to pick it up again
The way I learn scales is by memorizing all the notes on the fretboard from 0-12th fret and then memorize what notes are in what scale and THEN I'll start noodling around,making pieces or w/e with it to really get it ingrained.

Currently I've been lazy and I've been dwelling on C major ALOT though since I started. I'm almost "afraid" to move unto another scale lol,does that sound weird?
#15
Quote by Oddly_Phrygian
Currently I've been lazy and I've been dwelling on C major ALOT though since I started. I'm almost "afraid" to move unto another scale lol,does that sound weird?


Allan Holdsworth, arguably one of the greatest guitarists in history, once stated that "it takes two years to learn a scale". I'm not even sure if this is relevant, but at least I got to quote a famous musician.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#16
Quote by Kevätuhri
Allan Holdsworth, arguably one of the greatest guitarists in history, once stated that "it takes two years to learn a scale". I'm not even sure if this is relevant, but at least I got to quote a famous musician.


Well that made me feel alot better coming from him ( Having been only exposed to mostly metal I looked him up now,WOW!).
#17
Quote by Kevätuhri
Allan Holdsworth, arguably one of the greatest guitarists in history, once stated that "it takes two years to learn a scale". I'm not even sure if this is relevant, but at least I got to quote a famous musician.


and it can...what holdsworth means is this:

learn the scale in EVERY position-ascending and descending
learn to play it from any note in every position
learn the scale in all the intervals(3rds, 5ths, 7ths etc) using melodic patterns (there are hundreds of them)-this is where you begin to hear melody within the scale so its not so mechanical
learn all the chords(triads and 4-note chords-in close and wide voicings) in the scale-their arpeggios and inversions-in ALL positions
do all this in EVERY key

so yeah..two years is about right

if you have seen holdsworth play you will realize he knows this stuff without thinking..
play well

wolf
Last edited by wolflen at Oct 16, 2015,
#18
Yeah, it takes a fair bit of effort to go from thinking of scales as a short series of note names to visualizing a set of notes all over the neck and knowing how to combine them. Practicing the scale in a variety of different ways is the only means of getting "out of the box".
#19
Fundamentally, I know the interval shapes,and their sounds, as aide-memoires. I'll see the appropriate 7th chord in the scale. I know where the 5th is, should it need altering. Etc. I believe in the minumum amount of thinking when I'm playing (about what's where), so I can concentrate on creativity.
#20
Quote by wolflen
and it can...what holdsworth means is this:

learn the scale in EVERY position-ascending and descending
learn to play it from any note in every position
learn the scale in all the intervals(3rds, 5ths, 7ths etc) using melodic patterns (there are hundreds of them)-this is where you begin to hear melody within the scale so its not so mechanical
learn all the chords(triads and 4-note chords-in close and wide voicings) in the scale-their arpeggios and inversions-in ALL positions
do all this in EVERY key

so yeah..two years is about right

if you have seen holdsworth play you will realize he knows this stuff without thinking..


Which key you're in really should make virtually no difference, if you work off intervals. Music is all about relations between pitches, not absolute pitches. If you work off pitch names, then yes.
#22
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Which key you're in really should make virtually no difference, if you work off intervals. Music is all about relations between pitches, not absolute pitches. If you work off pitch names, then yes.


You still have to practice the actual keys. If you only practice in C, you're going to stumble in E. The physical skill doesn't happen just because you know what notes you want to play.
#23
Quote by cdgraves
You still have to practice the actual keys. If you only practice in C, you're going to stumble in E. The physical skill doesn't happen just because you know what notes you want to play.

Exactly. It's also about muscle memory. As I said earlier, there are two things you need to do when learning a scale - you need to learn the sound of it and you need to get it under your fingers.

Of course it's easier to learn the E minor scale after you have learned the A minor scale, because you already know the shapes and the sound. You just need to shift them. But you don't want to think about shifting the notes when you are playing. You need to get it in your muscle memory.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#24
Quote by elsmandino
I was just wondering how other players think of scales when practicing them or improvising.
OK, but there's two different scenarios right there....
Quote by elsmandino

If you have to play the A Minor Scale, do you think to yourself:

1. I can play the C Major Scale but just start and end on the A, or

2. I can Play the A Major Scale but flatten the 3, 6th and 7th notes or

3. Neither of the above, I need to learn the A Minor Scale as a separate scale.
Well, given your very narrow question - "you have to play the A minor scale" - the answer is obvious. You play the A minor scale.
Doesn't really matter if you think of it in the first two ways (eg having learned it either way), but obviously you have to learn to appreciate it as a scale in its own right, because it's A minor is a key in its own right.
IOW, there's an important distinction to be made (IMO) between "scale" and "key".
Quote by elsmandino

The reason I ask is that I am mostly scenario 1 and a little bit scenario 3
Try to get it the other way round.
Quote by elsmandino

I cannot help but think that the best way is actually the second
Ah - interesting point, because the keynote matters, if it's a key context we're talking about - and not just a "scale practice" context.
A major and A minor have at least as much affinity - in actual music - as A minor and C major do.
A piece of music in C major will often modulate to A minor and back (I mean not just move to an Am chord, but actually the A minor key).
And a piece of music in A major (in rock anyway) will often borrow chords from A minor.
So there's a three-way connection to be appreciated. (And ideally by studying songs. )
Quote by elsmandino

- should I try to visualise every "C" scale (all modes, pentatonics etc.) as a variation of the C Major Scale?
Only when actually in the key of C major.
Quote by elsmandino

Any advice/opinions would be much appreciated. As I said, I am at a stage where I cannot help but constantly think about what I am playing all the time - if I don't and just try to work on instinct, I just hit random bum notes.
The more you play, the more your ear (and habit) will lead you away from those bum notes, but of course you're right you need to do some thinking on the way to help.
But the process is one of committing more and more of what you do to your subconscious, your muscle memory. That certainly includes scale knowledge. So your creative thinking gradually rises above that, into more interesting areas.

Experienced musicians (as the others testify) don't think in scales when improvising. That's because (a) they don't have to, having ingrained them all in ears and fingers many years ago, and (b) scales are boring. The interplay of chord tones, rhythms, dynamics, tone and timbre, etc, are all much more interesting.

It's like learning a new language. To begin with, you struggle with spelling, grammar and accent, making sure you get the basics right. After a while, that's all taken for granted: you can say what you want without having to think about the underlying rules.
#25
Yeah, in terms of a scale like thinking about C D E F G A B C... or even 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I'll never ever really think in those terms at all when playing. Its just patterns and where they happen to be located. Your brain, particularly your right brain, is a pattern recognition processor. It's all patterns and patterns within patterns.

The actual thinking about the notes happens all ahead of time, and that's mostly to think about the notes in terms of patterns so you can access them immediately. If I had to think, I'd always be WAY behind the music when I actually wanted to play.

All that being said, a lot of people can sight read music off a sheet of paper while they're playing. I've never been able to do that. Maybe people who can, can chime in here. But, even that is probably not so much scales as just knowing where all the notes on the fretboard are really really well.
#26
Quote by cdgraves
You still have to practice the actual keys. If you only practice in C, you're going to stumble in E. The physical skill doesn't happen just because you know what notes you want to play.


I was taking that for granted, but your absolutely right. But that practise doesn't need to pitch-centric. I have no problem in playing any key, any mode,all over the neck, but 95% of that thinking comes from intervals against the tonal centre ... I really couldn't care less about pitch names ... for me that just clutters my thoughts. I only use the pitch name to orientate myself initially.
#27
Quote by edg
Yeah, in terms of a scale like thinking about C D E F G A B C... or even 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I'll never ever really think in those terms at all when playing. Its just patterns and where they happen to be located. Your brain, particularly your right brain, is a pattern recognition processor. It's all patterns and patterns within patterns.

The actual thinking about the notes happens all ahead of time, and that's mostly to think about the notes in terms of patterns so you can access them immediately. If I had to think, I'd always be WAY behind the music when I actually wanted to play.

All that being said, a lot of people can sight read music off a sheet of paper while they're playing. I've never been able to do that. Maybe people who can, can chime in here. But, even that is probably not so much scales as just knowing where all the notes on the fretboard are really really well.


When soloing / jamming etc. Up front, I have a quick think of what scale(s), arpeggio(s) etc may be suitable, but mainly just go for it without then concentrating. other than conscious a choice of resting pitch at end of phrase. But I'll add in a lot of chromaticism, if appropriate.