Jazz Improvisation Exercises - Practicing Scales

Learn different ways to practice your scales as related to jazz and other improvised music!

Ultimate Guitar
You have heard it time and time again, practice your scales. You can play them up and down, you can play them anywhere on the fretboard, but what does it really mean to practice your scales? What else can you do with these scales to practice them? Here are some exercises that will help you get deep inside your scales and learn them inside and out!

1. Play the scale in 3rds. This means to play every other note, so if you gave each degree of the scale a number you would first play the root, then the 3rd, next you would play the 2nd, then the 4th. So your pattern would be: 1, 3, 2, 4, 3, 5, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6, 8 etc. You would then do this backwards.

2. Practice the scale in 4ths, 5ths, and other intervals! So you could do: 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6 etc. Or 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7 etc.

3. Be able to sing the scale degrees you are playing while practicing the above intervals.

4. Use melodic patterns. There are a ton of different melodic patterns you could use or create. You could play 1, 2, 3, 4 then 2, 3, 4, 5 then 3, 4, 5, 6 etc. You could also do a pattern such as 1, 2, 3, 5 then 2, 3, 4, 6 then 3, 4, 5, 7 etc. Come up with your own patterns! The possibilities are almost endless, and as always, sing what you play!

5. Play the scale in triads. You would first play 1, 3, 5 then 2, 4, 6 then 3, 5, 7 and so forth. I practice my scales in triads all the time. I find it is very good for technique as well as learning then hear the triads inside each scale. This is a great exercises for jazz guitarists who like a lot of triad motion in their solos.

6. Practice your scales over their related chord. You can record yourself playing a dominant seventh chord for example. You might give it a rhythm or simply let it drone. You can then have that chord playing while you are doing the above exercises over it so that you can hear what the notes in the scale are supposed to sound like over that chord. This is absolutely essential for any guitarist learning jazz and hearing chord-scale relationships.

The above exercises should keep you busy for quite a while! Make sure you can always sing and hear what you play, it will go a long way in helping you learn and memorize these scales!

By Seth Holobaugh guitarlessonsflowermound.com sethholobaughmusic@gmail.com

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great advice. What scales do you recommend over a specific chord. With a dominant 7 I would play Mixolydian?
    There are usually a couple different scales you can use for each chord. Mixolydian is a common scale to use for dominant 7th chords. Some other options for a dominant 7th chord would be the Lydian-Dominant scale or the Altered Scale. For minor 7th chords you could use Aeolian, Dorian, or Melodic Minor. There are a lot of options!