Once you learn the roadmap (pattern) for a scale, you'll naturally
start looking for different ways to navigate it musically. A lot of
guitarists get into the habit of simply playing up and down a scale in
a linear sequence. This soon becomes predictable and boring.
But there are simple ways to avoid this linear noodling and make scales
sound musical, using various types of sequences. Before you start to
embellish your scale phrases with techniques such as slides and bends,
you need to work on your ability to move around the scale in
interesting and musical ways.
Watch the presentation below for an overview of these "sequencing
forms" and then scroll down for tabs and more examples...
Turning Scales Into Music
A scale, in its purest form, can be seen as an ordered sequence of
pitches/notes - e.g. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 or C D E F G A B.
This may be how we learn the pitch formula of a scale, but when it
comes to making music from it, we can arrange that sequence of
pitches in many different ways.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with using linear sequential
movements, but the more variation you have at your disposal, the
broader your improvisational/writing palette will be!
Skipped Note Sequences
By skipping notes in the natural scale sequence, you can instantly
create more musical phrases.
To begin with, we can create exercises that get you used to playing the
skipping technique on all strings. In the examples below I'm using a
familiar pentatonic pattern (C major or its relative A minor - same
pattern). But you can apply these exercises to any scale/pattern you
The "Rolling" Technique
As mentioned in the video, to keep our fingering economical, we need to
use a technique known as rolling
in order to play two consecutive notes on the same fret - a common
movement you'll have to negotiate when skipping notes.
Let's say we wanted to play two consecutive notes on the G and B
string. Here's how we would "roll" between them using the index
The lower string is fretted using the tip of the finger.
The higher string is fretted using the pad of the finger tip.
Let's try some more note skipping sequences (note: to play up the scale simply
start the tab at the end and work backwards!)...
We can also skip two
notes in our sequences for more dynamic phrasing. This is
more challenging as not only are we skipping notes, we're now skipping strings...
And there are probably more. But I'm sure you get the idea! By
practicing these non-linear exercises, ideally using
a metronome, you'll be able to "borrow" from them, in part or
whole, when building your phrases. Mix them with target notes (see the first
major pentatonic lesson for more on target notes) and things
will start to sound a lot more musical!
"Staggered" Run Sequences
These movements don't involve any skipped notes. Instead we "stagger"
the straight run by stepping back a note (or more) every three or more
notes in the sequence...
Remember, the idea is not to necessarily do a full run of the scale
every time, rather isolate parts of the sequence and mix them with
other phrasing sequences and held target notes.
great way to make your scales sound musical. Here we pick a static note
as our "pedal point" and then alternate between that note and two or
more notes around it from the scale.
There are countless possible examples of this, but here are a few
(pedal note in red,
and for exercise purposes simply repeat at the end of the tab)...
Once you're confident with these sequencing techniques individually,
it's time to practice combining them and build up a solo.
Here's an example, again using A major pentatonic...
Once you're up to speed with your phrasing ideas, try them over some
good backing tracks (I recommend Jonathan Boettcher's Blues or Rock package) so you can practice
playing them in a live band context. Your improvisation skills
will positively soar this way.