I get asked a lot about scales for guitar and how to practice them so I thought I would provide a quick but powerful scale practice routine. A systematic approach can be very productive versus what most of us usually do: focusing on parts of the fretboard, jumping around to different scales, not knowing them in different keys, etc. This routine will cover the major scale and its modes (including natural minor or aeolian mode) as well as the major and minor pentatonic scale subset.
I assume you have some basic knowledge of how to build a major scale from steps (whole step, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half), how to build a major pentatonic scale from intervals (R, 2, 3, 5, 6), how to build a minor pentatonic scale using intervals (R, 2, b3, 5, b7) and what modes are (scales starting on different notes of the major scale). If not, hit me up for a skype guitar lesson.
Before we get started I suggest you keep a practice log/journal on a daily basis. This will help keep you on track rather than trying to keep all this in your head and will show you just how much you’ve practiced over time. I find that breaking this down into manageable chunks, tracking progress and knowing that I will be working on this over a long period of time helps me to not get overwhelmed.
If you have massive Attention Deficit Disorder (like we all do these days), try focusing for 5 or 10 minutes on the scales. No shredding, surfing the web, etc.
Let’s pick one key to work on per week and go around the cycle of fifths. So we’ll start with the key of C major this week and F major next week, for example.
I highly suggest you learn the notes on the fretboard. Using this system there are only 5 movable shapes to learn covering all major scales, all the modes in all 12 keys!
The scales and modes approach on the fretboard will be based on the CAGED system. I teach that in my Fretboard Blueprint course. There are basically 5 movable shapes for the major scale that can be moved to any other key and used as a basis for other scales and modes.
Each week, for one key, we will do the following:
–play the root chord (eg. C) in the lowest CAGED position
–play the scale in the lowest CAGED position starting with the root note, ascending as far as possible in one position, then descending to lowest possible note in same position then back to root note.
–Do this for all 5 CAGED shapes/positions.
–Repeat for major pentatonic, so for C major this is C, D, E, G and A. Note this is just a subset of the major scale (5 notes out of the 7)
–Repeat for all modes (use same shapes just start on different note. So for D dorian, start on the note D, ascend and descend like before)
Note: Aeolian mode has the same notes as the natural minor scale. So C major = A minor in terms of same notes. Major pentatonic and relative minor pentatonic have the same notes. So C major pent = A minor pent. When you practice the natural minor/aeolian mode you can also practice the minor pentatonic.
You might want to spend more than one week per key at first if you’ve never done this before. Or you might want to split this up into levels. So level 1 could be just playing the scale in 5 positions each week, one week per key for all 12 keys, lasting 12 weeks. Then level 2 could be play the scale as well as the major pentatonic scale. Level 3 could be playing the scales, pentatonics and the modes (and minor pentatonic for aeolian mode).
This type of work and structural approach separate the serious musicians from the wannabees. Are you willing to put in the effort to be a truly great musician? I sincerely hope so. In another lesson we can talk about melodic minor and it’s modes, harmonic minor, arabic scales and so on (by simply adjusting notes from previous scale shapes) but this will give you a lot to work on!