# Switching Between Scales For Better Songwriting

As a guitar teacher many students of mine ask how to write songs without being stuck in the same old place either soloing or riffing.

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As a guitar teacher many students of mine ask how to write songs without being stuck in the same old place either soloing or riffing. This common problem is mostly caused by knowing lots of wonderful scales but lacking the ability to switch between them, which in the end results in songs sounding the same and/or writing yourself into a corner you can't get out of. So the solution: Firstly, as in any song writing process, decide on theme, style and key. So for this lesson I'm going to use the key of E. My own favourite scale is the Phrygian scale. So an E Phrygian Scale is:
```e|--------------------------------5-7-8--|
b|--------------------------5-6-8--------|
g|--------------------5-7-9--------------|
d|--------------5-7-9--------------------|
a|--------5-7-8--------------------------|
e|--5-7-8 -------------------------------|```
Now to the point of the lesson, how to switch between scales. So if I had written myself into a corner or my solos are sounding the same, switching the scale is usually a good way of solving this problem. So how? The easiest way of hanging a scale is to look for another scale that is similar but not the same. This then means the switch can be smooth and easy but also give a slightly different sound to your song/solo/riff. So lets look at the A harmonic minor scale:
```e|---------------------------------5-7-8-|
b|--------------------------5-6-9--------|
g|--------------------5-7-9--------------|
d|--------------6-7-9--------------------|
a|--------5-7-8--------------------------|
e|--5-7-8--------------------------------|```
When we compare the two scales there is only a two note difference. This means you can easily switch without making it obvious and in turn give a slightly different sound. The fact that this is A and the other scale is in E doesn't really matter, after all its all about how it sounds. This can be done with many other scales such as E Dorian and A Ionian scales. So in a nutshell, if your stuck with your song writing, riffs or solos look for another scale with just a couple notes of difference. It's a small change but it works. And ALWAYS remember, when it comes to song writing, no amount of scales or theory can beat pure inspiration. Thanks and enjoy.

### 24 comments sorted by best / new / date

I guess I didn't make my point, there was no 'how to'. it was 'start with a scale, now change to a similar scale, the end'. no mention of shared tones or easy ways to move between two scales fluidly... I can sit down and do that a hundred times, but that still doesn't change the fact that you give no real instruction or information here. Also, the reason I brought up harmony, was not to discourage you, or nullify your point, but to point out that if you are soloing, you need to be aware of the chords you are soloing over (even moreso than what scale you are going to play). you really wouldn't want to play the G# in A harmonic minor over a Gmaj chord or a Emin7 in most cases. if the original harmony was in A minor shifting your scale to A harmonic minor only changes one note, yet over several diatonic chords (the two mentioned above aswell as Amin7) tht note will sound off. note: I'm not trying to be a dick, I just want to point out that you didn't "teach" anything here, just kind of made a suggestion.
Well i'll give you an advice... Maybe you could make a better lesson starting with something a little bit basic I.e Making a solo in Cmajor Key, and shift to E phrygian scale, wich make a minor feeling, and changes totally the feel of the solo
It's all so much simpler. Use the chromatic scale and make it work. You have all the scales inside it.
Ummmm...no.
It's all so much simpler. Use the chromatic scale and make it work. You have all the scales inside it.
robertosalas94 wrote: Maybe 'cause the modes are something that is essential if you wanna improve your musician skills. They open a lot of posibilities and sound very cool. If you want i can make a lesson about them,ovbiously in an easy way.
They're nothing remotely approaching "essential" and never have been, I can see you've been sucked in by the fancy names too.
Should have explained how the scales relate as a whole and how it applies to guitar, instead of just writing an example, which basically leaves the reader with nothing more than "hmmmm if I'm playing in A harmonic minor I can use e phrygian". One sentence would have worked to get that message across, I was looking for the rest of the article for a minute.
Once again, we have an idiotic articles calling the modes "scales". /facepalm
Lavatain wrote: That is not E Phrygian. It may use the notes of E Phrygian, but you are starting an on A. Which, in the same key gives you A Aeolian. Which is just the Harmonic minor without the raised 7th, the natural minor. All you have told us to do is raise the 7th of A minor.
What? Just because the 1st note isn't an "E"? That has nothing to do with it. If you played it over an E, it's an E phrygian. If you played it over an A, it's an A aeolian. Modes have no certain "shapes". It depends on the key of the progression behind it.
You theory *****s didn't see this as helpful because its primitive to your knowledge base but someone like me who more plays for fun and personal therapy it was great. I've tried to understand theory before but always got bored or confused. One day I decided to learn all of the notes on my guitar so I started with C major and got stuck in the rut of always using it making everything sound similar. I found this to be the best logical step for me to move in other directions easily. It's only a one or two note change and sounds very different. It helps me break the habit of always playing that scale and how to change keys mid song. Wonderful article, didn't get deep into boring details.
"So an E Phrygian Scale is: e|-----5-7-8--| b|-----5-6-8-----| g|-----5-7-9---- -| d|-----5-7-9-----| a|-----5-7-8-----| e|--5-7-8 -----|" this scale isn't correct, because of having 2 E notes in it (step 12 and 13). the author should be more attentive the next time.
krypticguitar87 wrote: Colohue wrote: Why do people always have to involve modes? well duh because if you are a real guitarist you can only show it by talking about modes, they are so super cool and the use of those terms proves it... *haha*
Maybe 'cause the modes are something that is essential if you wanna improve your musician skills. They open a lot of posibilities and sound very cool. If you want i can make a lesson about them,ovbiously in an easy way.
What would be better is if you would tab out a solo utilizing these two scales so that we can play it and hear how using these two scales would make for a great solo and how the two note difference would sound good. All you did was give us two scales. That's not a lesson in song writing. That's a lesson in what notes are in those two specific scales. This is a pointless article. Someone needs a lesson in article writing. hahaha.
So if I play an A minor scale, I can call it a C major, D dorian, F lydian or any other C major mode and I'm always right? Jay!
Oh, that's not the way to quote here...
krypticguitar87 wrote: guitar/bass95 wrote: So if I play an A minor scale, I can call it a C major, D dorian, F lydian or any other C major mode and I'm always right? Jay! kind of, if you are only talking about using a scale, then yes, but as soon as it comes to adding in the harmony, you name it by the chod it resolves to. most of the time with the Cmajor/ Aminor scale, you will resolve to either a C major or A minor chord. so if you are playing |C|F|G7|C| you are playing C major, you wouldn't call this A minor or D dorian because you would be wrong.
Um, yeah, I know. I was just sarcastic :/ ... Thats better.
[QUOTE=krypticguitar87]kind of, if you are only talking about using a scale, then yes, but as soon as it comes to adding in the harmony, you name it by the chod it resolves to. most of the time with the Cmajor/ Aminor scale, you will resolve to either a C major or A minor chord. so if you are playing |C|F|G7|C| you are playing C major, you wouldn't call this A minor or D dorian because you would be wrong.[/QUOTE] Um, yeah, I know. I was just sarcastic :/
Chords need to be played to make the scale sound interesting. Maybe you could add what progression would sound good and why? Otherwise all of it just doesn't make any sense.
Colohue wrote: Why do people always have to involve modes?
well duh because if you are a real guitarist you can only show it by talking about modes, they are so super cool and the use of those terms proves it... *haha*
Why do people always have to involve modes?
guitar/bass95 wrote: So if I play an A minor scale, I can call it a C major, D dorian, F lydian or any other C major mode and I'm always right? Jay!
kind of, if you are only talking about using a scale, then yes, but as soon as it comes to adding in the harmony, you name it by the chod it resolves to. most of the time with the Cmajor/ Aminor scale, you will resolve to either a C major or A minor chord. so if you are playing |C|F|G7|C| you are playing C major, you wouldn't call this A minor or D dorian because you would be wrong.
Ok, true, I see all your comments and I've taken them on board. I shall re-write this and make it more of a lesson than a suggestion. Clearly I've not explained myself too good here.
That is not E Phrygian. It may use the notes of E Phrygian, but you are starting an on A. Which, in the same key gives you A Aeolian. Which is just the Harmonic minor without the raised 7th, the natural minor. All you have told us to do is raise the 7th of A minor.
Sorry for not being too clear, but the lesson was to explain how to change a scale mid-way through a song to make it more interesting. This was also meant to be all done by ear, hence why I didnt mention about harmony changes and chose scales which are similar. It's a lesson which needs to be put into practice to be understood more. You don't only have to use prygian and harmonic minor. You can do it for almost any scale.
okay, I've read through this twice, and I'm totally confused. Is the purpose of this article to say "if you sound boring just use a different scale"? or was it supposed to be more than that? seriously you didn't really explain how the harmony would change or explain what to really do. the only instruction I heard was Play E Phrygian then change to A harmonic minor cuz they are almost the same. I don't know what this was supposed to help me do....
gypsyblues7373 wrote: It's all so much simpler. Use the chromatic scale and make it work. You have all the scales inside it. Ummmm...no.
Hmmm, yeah.