When you learn a scale on guitar, it's important to know how to turn
linear pattern into something musical, meaningful and expressive.
That's what phrasing
is all about. This lesson should come after the series on soloing
over chords. Once you've
established which scale you're playing, it's time to work on creating
meaningful movements within that scale, experimenting with different
tone combinations and target notes. This lesson will help break that
process down for
Scale phrasing is about selecting tones from a scale and creating a
between them. A scale phrase typically has an expressive purpose, in a
similar way we phrase speech, to convey meaning.
When you first
learn scales, you'll most likely be playing them in a linear sequence,
from the 1st to 7th note and vice versa. This is fine for getting to
know the scale's pattern on the fretboard and its general flavour, but
you'll eventually want to highlight the scale's unique sound more
effectively. That's where scale phrasing comes in.
ending (target) notes
Before we build our phrase, it's useful to have a defined starting and
ending point - something to lead our phrase towards - a target note.
If you're playing over a major chord, the "safest" tones to start and
end on are the major triad tones - root
3rd (3) and
Pulled from a common major scale pattern, they would appear as
Remember, all major scales (mixolydian, lydian,
phrygian dominant etc.) share those core triad tones, which is why they
are considered safe reference points in these initial stages.
If playing over a minor
chord, the minor triad tones - root (1),
minor 3rd (b3)
and 5th (5)
will provide a similar reference point for starting and ending your
phrases. Again, if we pull these tones from a typical minor scale
pattern, here's how it looks...
learning scales and their patterns, you'll be able to identify these
triad tones more and more easily, as they are shared across all scales
you'll learn, so you don't have to keep memorising them from scratch.
These starting/ending notes will typically be held on to (emphasised)
longer than the notes in between them.
Now we have two safe reference points for starting and ending our
phrase, we can try different "paths" between them.
main thing is that you don't simply rely on linear movements, e.g. 1 2
3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1 etc. Instead, try jumping around the scale, skipping
strings and intervals, moving up and
down the scale etc.
The more varied your movements, the more phrasing options you'll have
to build on.
Here's an example of a short phrase from the C
major scale, using the root and 3rd as starting/ending notes.
arpeggios as the scaffolding of your phrases
A good way to add structure to your scale phrases is to use arpeggios.
This is a whole lesson in itself, but in the example of C major, we
could use a major 7th arpeggio using the following tones from the
Again, this is covered in a separate lesson (see scale
but this is simply where we move in staggered sequences up and down the
scale, remembering to land on our chosen ending note. Again, using the
C major scale as an example...
We can also use pentatonic scales as part of our
fuller 7 note scale phrases.
If we're playing a major scale, simply use the major pentatonic tones
from within the pattern - 1 2 3 5 6...
And for minor scale soloing, structure your phrases around the minor
pentatonic tones - 1 b3 4 5 b7...
your scale phrases
Of course, there are many physical techniques (covered in the lead
guitar section) that help
punctuate a phrase. Bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs, double stops etc.
but we're learning the basics here and you'll naturally start to
incorporate these lead techniques as you become more confident with the
scale's you're playing.
are just the basics, but there should be nothing stopping you from
using the scales you learn to experiment with phrasing. The more you
play around with different sequences from a scale, the more your ear is
trained to pick out expressive movements. By fully exploring the scale
using techniques such as string skipping, runs, arpeggios around those
safe starting and ending notes, you avoid falling into the trap of
simply plodding along aimlessly. Your phrases need that destination to
put them into context.
Anyway there's a lot to think about! Take your time.