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Home > Lead / Scales > Scale Exercises

Guitar Scale Exercises - Improve Your Speed & Timing

To make the most effective use of the guitar scale exercises in this series, use them in conjunction with the timing elements introduced in the timing practice lessons.

That means using quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes and gradually increasing the BPM on your metronome (I recommend increments of 10 BPM). Have patience and discipline with it and you'll soon notice dramatic improvements in your ability to navigate scales in a fluid way.

Note that the exercises in this series are a general guide and can be applied to any scale you learn. However, for any examples, I'll be using the major scale.

The important thing is you come out of this lesson with a clear process for building your own effective guitar scale exercises rather than relying on tabs being thrown in front of you for every single scale (although there will be separate scale exercise lessons to give you some ideas!). In other words, look at the exercise patterns rather than the actual notes.

Tip: These exercises are great for warming up. Spend around 10 minutes before each practice session combining the techniques below for your chosen scale (e.g. a scale you're currently learning).


Guitar scale exercises set #1 - Runs

Scale runs are simply where you ascend up or descend down a scale pattern in repetitive, linear and staggered movements. Think of runs as playing a given scale in straight sequence (e.g. note 1 up to 7 or 7 down to 1) but with interruptions or "set backs" to make them sound more interesting.

Watch the video below for a great intro to runs...




Get the print sheet for this lesson - Includes tabs for all 20 exercises to read away from your computer/device. Download Here (PDF)

Exercise 1

In the sequence below, each number represents a degree of a 7 note scale (most scales have 7 notes, with 1 being the root). This is how a "4 steps forward, 2 steps back" run would play out...

1 2 3 4 3 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 5 6 7 1 7 6
> > > < < > > > > < < > > > > < <

Using the C major scale as an example, I could apply this run sequence to its 1st position boxed pattern as follows...

major scale first position box pattern
                Fret 8

ascending C major run exercise tab

Exercise 2

A wider, 3-notes-per-string pattern as follows...

major scale 3 notes per string pattern
   Fret 8

run exercise 2

Runs can also be played across wider patterns, but start with the box and 3-notes-per-string patterns and gradually expand to cover more of the fretboard.

Exercise 3

Don't forget to descend using the same pattern, starting from the 1st (high E) string...

1 7 6 5 6 7 6 5 4 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 2 3
< < < > > < < < < > > < < < < > >

run exercise 3

Tip: Try occassionally repeating sections of the run based on string pairings. You don't always have to run up/down the entire pattern.

Below are some more run patterns for you to try.

Remember, these can be applied to any scale, including pentatonic scales (although obviously you have fewer notes-per-octave to run through).

Remember also that you don't always have to start on the root (1) note of the scale. Once you've learned the sequence, try starting the run pattern on each note of the scale. Test yourself and be spontaneous!

Exercise 4

5 steps forward, 3 back ascending...

1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 3 4 5 6 7 6 5 4
> > > > < < < > > > > > < < <

run exercise 4

Exercise 5

Same as Ex 4 but descending from the top to bottom of the pattern...

1 7 6 5 4 5 6 7 6 5 4 3 2 3 4 5
< < < < > > > < < < < < > > >

run exercise 5

Exercise 6

2 steps forward, 1 back ascending...

1 2 1 2 3 2 3 4 3
> < > > < > > <

run exercise 6

Exercise 7

Same as above but descending...

1 7 1 7 6 7 6 5 6
< > < < > < < >

run exercise 7

Exercise 8

3 steps forward, 1 back ascending...

1 2 3 2 3 4 5 4 5 6 7 6
> > < > > > < > > > <

run exercise 8

Exercise 9

Descending...

1 7 6 7 6 5 4 5 4 3 2 3
< < > < < < > < < < >

run exercise 9


Getting bored? For a more entertaining head start with mastering scales and soloing, I highly recommend the Guitar Scale Mastery course.

Exercise 10

You can also play longer, more elaborate runs. This pattern is specifically designed for 3-notes-per-string scale patterns as it would typically involve legato playing (hammer-ons and pull-offs).

major scale 3 notes per string pattern

1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 1 7 6 5 4
> > > > > < < < < < > > > > > > > > < < < < <

run exercise 10

Exercise 11

This exercise is also designed for 3-notes-per-string scale patterns as you play two 3-note triplets on each string (ideally using pull-offs), ascending or descending through the scale pattern. Remember, the numbers represent the scale degrees and can be applied to any scale. It's the sequence, the movement between the scale's notes we're looking at here...

3 2 1 3 2 1 6 5 4 6 5 4 2 1 7 2 1 7 5 4 3 5 4 3
< < > < < > < < > < < > < < > < < > < < > < <

run exercise 11

Exercise 12

We can draw out the above run even more by repeating the triplets more times on each string...

3 2 1 3 2 1 6 5 4 3 2 1 6 5 4 6 5 4 2 1 7 6 5 4
< < > < < > < < < < < > < < > < < > < < < < <

run exercise 12

Exercise 13

How about interrupting these triplets a bit more with a further step back at the end of every 2nd triplet? Arrgh! More to think about...

3 2 1 3 2 1 2 1 6 5 4 6 5 4 5 4 2 1 7 2 1 7 1 7
< < > < < > < > < < > < < > < > < < > < < > <

run exercise 13

Exercise 14

Countless combinations! We could use a "back and forth" sequence as follows...

3 2 1 2 3 2 1 2 6 5 4 5 6 5 4 5 2 1 7 1 2 1 7 1
< < > > < < > > < < > > < < > > < < > > < < >

run exercise 14

The next few guitar scale exercises involve skipped notes in the run sequence. This means when moving forward or back, we jump over a note or two, repeating the sequence up or down the scale pattern. A bit more challenging to negotiate, but stay disciplined with the metronome and there's no reason why you can't get up to a good speed with it for any scale you learn.

Exercise 15

Starting with a descending sequence (from the "top" of the scale pattern), we play the first note, skip a note in the scale, play the 2nd note, step back and play the note we skipped and stagger downwards like that. For this, I could use a smaller box pattern as follows...

major scale first position box pattern

2 7 1 6 7 5 6 4 5 3 4 2 3 1 2
< > < > < > < > < > < > < >

run exercise 15

Exercise 16

Things are going to get a little trickier now because the repetitions are more complex. Challenge yourself with different variations on the above exercises - mix skipped note sequences with straight sequences like in the following, gradual descent (again, using that box pattern from above)...

2 1 7 6 1 7 6 5 7 6 5 4 6 5 4 3 5 4 3 2 4 3 2 1
< < < > < < < > < < < > < < < > < < < > < < <

run exercise 16

Exercise 17

Now a 3-notes-per-string mixed variation...

major scale 3 notes per string pattern

4 2 3 2 1 7 6 7 1 6 7 6 5 4 3 4 5 3 4 3 2 1 7 1
< > < < < < > > < > < < < < > > < > < < < < >

run exercise 17

Exercise 18

A slight variation on the above...

4 2 3 6 7 1 7 6 1 6 7 3 4 5 4 3 5 3 4 7 1 2 1 7
< > < > > < < > < > < > > < < > < > < > > < <

run exercise 18

Exercise 19

Or, with a wider note skip at the start of each repetition...

major scale 3 notes per string pattern

4 6 7 1 7 6 1 3 4 5 4 3 5 7 1 2 1 7 2 4 5 6 5 4
< > > < < > < > > < < > < > > < < > < > > < <

run exercise 19

Exercise 20

You could also try skipping "behind" the starting note of each repetition (skip backs greyed out). Very difficult to explain in words, so here are the diagrams! This is an ascending pattern.

2 3 1 2 3 4 2 3 4 5 3 4 5 6 4 5 6 7 5 6 7 1 6 7
> < > > > < > > > < > > > < > > > < > > > < >

run exercise 20

Shake off and grab a beer...

As you can probably tell by now, there are 1001 examples I could give you, but I think you have enough variation ideas from which to build your own run sequences.

A lot of the sequences you build will be dictated by the fingering of your chosen scale pattern. As we've seen, some runs are more accessible using 3-note-per-string scale patterns, whereas others a better suited to narrower box patterns.

Either way, when it comes to making your own exercises, or even a solo, you should try mixing different sequences - note skips, staggered repetitions, triplets and straight runs - as it will all go towards improving your speed, timing and finger dexterity.

In the next part, we'll look at more effective guitar scale exercises you can use to further develop your speed and timing. In the meantime, devote at least 10 minutes a day to the above exercises (you don't have to cram them all into the 10 minutes, choose one per day to work on, starting from the top).

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