Applying 3rd Intervals To The Major Scale

Tired of practicing your scales straight up and down? This article will help you bring some life to your scales, and train your ears at the same time.

Ultimate Guitar
In this article I am going to focus on the idea of applying 3rd intervals to your major scales. This is a great way of training your ear, and it will also give you the ability to come up with some really cool lines. Disclaimer: This is NOT for beginners For those who don't know what an interval is, I'd recommend reading up on the subject. Instead of doing a seperate lesson on Intervals (which has already been done on this site a few times), check out this article by 'coffeeguy9' where the concept of intervals is broken down for you. I am going to do this lesson in A major, since so many of us guitarists love the 5th fret oh so much. Alright, so to start, here is a two-octave A major scale, with an added 9th (2nd) on top:
E |----------------------------|-----------------4--5--7----||
B |----------------------------|-----------5--7-------------||
G |----------------------------|--4--6--7-------------------||
D |-----------------4--6--7----|----------------------------||
A |--------4--5--7-------------|----------------------------||
E |--5--7----------------------|----------------------------||
Play this in 4th position, and make sure you have a finger dedicated to each fret. (1st finger - 4 th fret, 2nd finger = 5th fret, 3rd finger = 6th fret, 4th finger = 7th fret) I recommend to use a metronome and be able to play it without any mistakes before moving on to the next part. Make sure to practice playing the descending version of this scale as well. To apply 3rd intervals to this scale, I am going to start off with a pattern that looks like this (in terms of scale tone numbers) 1 3, 2 4, 3 5, 4 6, 5 7 etc Essentially we're using a note, skipping one, then using the next. This pattern is then repeated starting on the note we skipped. Here is what it looks like going up the FIRST octave - remember to use PROPER FINGERS for this. Use the FINGER ROLLING technique where you have to.
E |----------------------------|----------------------------||
B |----------------------------|----------------------------||
G |----------------------------|-----------------4----------||
D |-----------------------4----|-----6--4--7--6-----7-------||
A |-----4-----5--4--7--5-------|--7-------------------------||
E |--5-----7-------------------|----------------------------||
Get this memorized and be really comfortable before moving to the second octave. If you don't, it will slow you down tremendously. Here is the second octave:
E |----------------------------|-----4-----5--4--7--5-------||
B |-----------------5-----7----|--5-----7-------------------||
G |-----6--4--7--6-----7-------|----------------------------||
D |--7-------------------------|----------------------------||
A |----------------------------|----------------------------||
E |----------------------------|----------------------------||
Once you have both examples down, let's put both octaves together:
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|
B |----------------------------|----------------------------|
G |----------------------------|-----------------4-----6----|
D |-----------------------4----|-----6--4--7--6-----7-------|
A |-----4-----5--4--7--5-------|--7-------------------------|
E |--5-----7-------------------|----------------------------|
Once you have this down, you can reverse the pattern and descend with it. To save you the trouble of reading it backwards, here it is:
E |--7--4--5-----4-------------|----------------------------|
B |-----------7-----5--7-------|--5-------------------------|
G |-----------------------7----|-----6--7--4--6-----4-------|
D |----------------------------|-----------------7-----6----|
A |----------------------------|----------------------------|
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|
You will probably notice that the patterns aren't exactly the same, as I added a lower note on the descending version to resvole the line better. This concept can be applied to any scale position or mode, and the pattern can be reversed in different ways (such as 3 1, 4 2, 5 3 etc). The is a great way to practice your scales so you know them inside and out. You can also practice your scales with other intervals, such as 4th, 5ths, 6th etc. Personally, I love the sound of 6th intervals, but I will leave that for another lesson. I will finish off with a pattern that I enjoy practicing, which is to go up the first 3rd interval, down the second 3rd interval, and up the third 3rd interval etc. In terms of scale tones, it would be: 1 3, 4 2, 3 5, 6 4, 5 7, 8 6 etc.
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|
B |----------------------------|----------------------------|
G |----------------------------|-----------------4--6-------|
D |--------------------4-------|-----6--7--4--6--------7----|
A |-----4--5-----4--7-----5----|--7-------------------------|
E |--5--------7----------------|----------------------------|
I'm going to leave it up to you to figure out the descending version of this pattern, and also to apply this pattern yourself to other scales and positions. A good scale to try this with next would be the Natural Minor (Aeolian) scale. Now it's time to practice! Jason Wilford is a Musician and Guitar Teacher from Ontario, Canada. His focus is on combining the energy of Rock with the rhythms and soul of Reggae. He is currently working on a new album to showcase this with his band 'Treble Warriors'. He is the founder of Pro Guitar Studio, which offers guitar lessons in Mississauga, Ontario. More information on Pro Guitar Studio (including online Skype lessons) can be found at Guitar Lessons Mississauga.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great lesson. Now I can get a little more variety with my major scales! I've mostly just been playing it in triplets.
    i call this optional e shape.playing thirds is a favorite and should be done with everyshape up in down the neck,useing CAGED.
    I keep reading your lessons, and the all make a little since, but I have somewhat limited theory knowledge. I am self taught. I just can't seem to grasp some of these concepts....It would be great if you could please do a more in depth lesson for us beginners. I would like to learn this.
    arent 3rds 2 whole tones apart 4 frets so it should be B to D# not B to D??