Stretching Out: Soloing. Step 2

In response to the multitude of questions I received, here's a few answers to help you get on down the road to the Arena show.

Ultimate Guitar
I'm delighted to see that A Beginner's Guide to Soloing has struck such a chord with my readers. In response to the multitude of questions I received, here's a few answers to help you get on down the road to the Arena show. Rock on! When we first learn to improvise, it's magic. Melodies struggle to emerge, but emerge they do, and boy, we know we're on the way to being a rockstar. Now, after we've jammed on the exercises presented in A beginner's guide to soloing, a few questions start to surface:

Where next?

There's a few things you should learn. I don't usually say should, but I mean it this time. You should learn: 01. The major scale, and it's seven variations, called modes. 02. The pentatonic scale, and it's five variations. While there are many other scales that are useful to our purposes, these are the perfect starting point. Modes often confuse even veteran players, and while their theory and application requires more than a few lines, here's a brief explanation. If we play a major scale starting on a note other than it's root note, that resulting shape is a mode. For example, if we play C major starting on C, that's a C major scale. But if we play the same notes in the key of C, but we start on D, the pattern would be called the second mode of C major, or D Dorian to be exact. To help visualize this, picture a piano. Playing the white keys, starting on C, we automatically sound a C major scale. Now, instead of starting on C, we start on the next key, D. From D to D, still playing the white keys, we end up with a D Dorian mode, the second mode of C Major. Since there's seven notes in the Major scale, there's seven possible starting places to play our variations. Hence, we end up with seven distinct patterns to play on the guitar. Carrying this to a different application, we arrive at pentatonic scales. As the pentatonic scale contains five notes, logic has it that we have five patterns built from that scale. 5 pentatonics +7 modes = 12 shapes. Twelve shapes. Learn them. Now. (See chart at the end of the article.)

I Don't Want To Sound Like A Classic Rock Band - What Should I Do?

Some folks want to sound jazzy, metal, or hardcore. They may be wondering if learning a blues scale such as the pentatonic minor, will inhibit their inherent punkiness. And perhaps major scales are too happy sounding? Well, my grandmother uses the same words that I do, but we don't sound alike. While we both use the same words, our inflections, tone, and sentence construction are vastly different. Both Metallica and Mozart use the same notes, but style is what sets them apart. Using a certain scale will not always make you sound a certain way. Sure, some scales are bluesy by nature, but style is what truly defines genre. This runs the other way, too. I use the same scales as Stevie Ray Vaughan, but much to my dismay, I sure don't sound like him! However, there are common applications. Blues musicians have generally favored the pentatonic sound, while the shredders of the 80's made frequent use of the modes, as well as exotic scales. The answer? There's only twelve shapes presented in this lesson. Learn them, and decide for yourself. It certainly won't hurt you.

I'm Just A Rock 'n Roll Rebel, I Don't Need No Scales

Actually, you're right! (And that's a great Ozzy song.) Check this out: There's only twelve notes in the system of Western music. A scale is seven of those twelve notes. It's a sonic recipe that we just happen to accept. So, chances are, if you're not consciously using scales as of now, you might just be stumbling into them on your own. The last thing I want to do is to stifle your creativity, and stomp out your musical spark. No, sir! I'm offering you a shortcut. Yep. These shapes can actually help you be more creative, free, and rockin' by not having to guess! Why reinvent the Strat when it can be understood in a few hours? If you want to be truly rebellious, you need to know the rules in order to break them. And the ability to solo over the entire neck is a maverick goal, indeed. You'll surely kick butt and take names with your newfound fretboard skills...Well, maybe.

Scales are just the beginning

They're the rules, and musical rules should never be taken too seriously! While it is important to internalize and digest the shapes, I think Charlie Parker put it best when he was quoted saying Learn the changes, and then forget them. Our goal is to know the shapes so well, we don't have to think when we improvise. Mental effort generally doesn't sound good. There's only twelve notes, so don't get bogged down in 'em. Remember, while there's a limited number of tones, there's an infinite way to express them. After all, we're trying to express music, not scales.


Now that you've gotten the hang of expressing with a minor pentatonic scale, have fun learning to talk with these new shapes. The patterns below will grant you freedom over the entire guitar neck, not just a position. Don't get stuck in the shapes, and feel free to add chromatic, or passing, tones to the scale. These are fancy words for wrong notes, or notes outside of the scale. Beware: You may find that you can't express with the Major scale shapes as easily. That's OK, and natural at first. They're harder to digest, and contain several notes that aren't as user-friendly as the pentatonic scale. Technically speaking, the 4th and 7th degrees of the Major scale don't sound too hot when you end a line on 'em. But, that's the subject of another article. Experiment, get the sounds under your fingers, and keep at it. Rock on! And don't forget my blog!

The Major Scale and it's Seven Modes

Note: These examples are written in the key of F major. Due to the layout of the guitar, I find this key easiest to visualize. Of course, all shapes are movable. To transpose to a different key, simply move the scales up or down.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale And It's Five Modes, Key Of A Minor

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    i think saying 'the major scale and its seven modes' is slightly misleading, as 3 of those modes are minor modes and one is the diminished mode... and secondly you've titled the last part 'the minor pentatonic scale and it's five modes' and this is a little confusing as they aren't its 'five modes' they are just five different positions for it on the neck... it is a good article, just a little misleading...
    wow.. God really DOES exist! this time his son is an awesome guitar player and teacher!
    youre a really awesome teacher! i had never seen such a clear explanation of what a beginner needs to learn and why, of scales n modes!
    idk maybe its the way u worded it but something just clicked thank you soo much. awesome lesson.
    iisnickrier, They all have different qualities, Take umm Joe Satriani's Clouds Racing, Technicaly it is in the key of G, But the main chords in at least the first section are a C then a Bm, it just gives a different tonal Quality to the song, Typicaly the key of G sounds quite happy, in a bright sort of way, but with the way that song is written it has an airy quality. I personaly find it hard to improvise in anything But the Major and Minor modes.
    year archer is rightnot all the modes are in major but great lesson Anyone know what sort of osund each scale produces?
    I have a question when u r playing a scale can u transpose it down the fretboard while playing?
    ArcherTheVMan wrote: i think saying 'the major scale and its seven modes' is slightly misleading, as 3 of those modes are minor modes and one is the diminished mode... and secondly you've titled the last part 'the minor pentatonic scale and it's five modes' and this is a little confusing as they aren't its 'five modes' they are just five different positions for it on the neck... it is a good article, just a little misleading...
    While some of them are minor and Lydian ( least I think it's Lydian) is diminished, I believe they're considered "Major scales" is because of the region they are taken from, and those scales are the foundation -- or the "major scale" -- for the other scales of that area. ...I think.
    DamoPlaysBass wrote: Dunjma wrote: wow.. God really DOES exist! LIES!
    Haha... So true. Anyway, this was a good lesson. It was explained very, very well. I know a ton of people have trouble understanding scales and modes, but after reading this I have a better understanding.
    Dvnc wrote: are any of these modes good for metal, and if not, what are good scales to learn.
    Learn all the Pentatonic scales first, then major and minor about the same time. In metal, you'll be using major and minor more than Pentatonic, generally speaking. The modes lean either more toward major or toward minor (experiment to find which ones do) but none of them are completely one way or the other. (I'm speaking based off of my learning of the medieval musical modes.)
    guys if you want an excellent video that expands on this and is not to mind racking i recommend the metal method it really covers alota bases....
    Very rare to have an article this well written on UG. I'm sure this is superb for people just getting past the beginner stage of lead playing - well done!
    God's Guitarist
    iisnickrier, your pretty much referring to the flavours of each mode. when playing them you'll realise they kind of lend themselves to certain types of moods/music - phrygian has a spanish/flamenco flavour, mixolydian sounds bluesy. but its all how you play them, you've got to be in that 'mood' yourself. harmonic minor is generally thought of as a sadder scale due to the raised 7th, major (ionion) is generally thought to be happier sounding than the aeolian. you really need to learn each mode inside out, i dont think that looking at all of them at the same time helps. when you've done that you'll notice the characteristics of whatever mode your playing come out in your style.
    very very very nice article. thx for the charts, certainly helps. some nice analogies u use there to. good job.
    thanks for the whole thing about not having to follow all the rules all the time. I've always felt that way but was afraid to venture outside what is set in stone. great article and very helpful.
    First, great Lesson. Thanks! Hey there, ok so i am a very fluent musicians. I use to do lessons all the time on the MXtabs site... One of the things I never truley understood was why learn box postions and scales of 7 differet modes. For example, I know with out thinking most of the major scales (the others just tak a sec to work out). Exp: I know the key of G lets say I just play all those notes is it possible to achieve A Dorian? In your expiernce what have you come across. I bring this up to get your opinion and was my own point. I have found it far easier to know the 12 major scales (or at least the ones that you want to use commonly) and work from their. IF a mode happens let it and just focus on it, other wise just play! Any thoughts?
    Nice article. I personally knew all of it, but many people don't. You might want to also have an article with stuff like diminished, augmented, harmonic minor, melodic minor, and stuff like.
    Thanks...I finally understood modes for the first time. Can't believe they were such simple things! Very nice.
    although there wasn't anything theoretically new for me (application is another thing), once again, i have to say i think you write some of the the best columns on UG.
    excellent column. i read it mostly to see if you wrote any better than many of the other columnists... and you do! are you moving from basic to complex, or are these lessons going to be somewhat random? id prefer a more advanced column, but if youre going from beginning to advanced, ill wait for it... =)
    Great article, i find it helpful when discussing modes, not to use thier names. I personaly when for example talking about the 2nd mode of C, i would say it C major in D. Thats just what i found helpful. The charts were good, i practice modes, but i never bothered to look up if i was playing the right patterns.
    Cool I'm sure everyone here can learn stuff from this, 10 stars mate.
    are any of these modes good for metal, and if not, what are good scales to learn.
    Ok, so I understand how to play in a mode, but what exactly does playing in a certain mode do for your music? Can you distinguish what mode gives you a sadder, angrier, or happier tone? I understand the technicalities, I just can't seem to apply them.
    these are great lessons keep up the good work finally some lesson that are easy enough to follow and i can understand them completely and i dnt get bord halfway thru