Essen­tial scales

Pare down your scale prac­tice to th­ese essen­tial shapes that are guar­an­teed to be of use ev­ery time you play a solo

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1. Mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale

b3 b7 In­ter­vals: 1 4 5 Hear it: AC/DC - High­wayToHell (solo) Well suited to blues and rock, the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale sounds great and it’s easy to play. The shape can be a frame­work for many other mi­nor scales too – just adding one or two new notes can change the sound, so ex­per­i­ment. Prac­tise by play­ing up and down the notes one at a time.

5. Mixoly­dian mode

b7 In­ter­vals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hear it: Guns N’ Roses –

Sweet­ChildO’Mine (solo 1) The Mixoly­dian mode (a mode is a type of scale) sounds great in funk, blues and rock. You can think of it as the b7 ma­jor scale, but with a – that’s be­cause the 7th is the only dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. Notice that the ma­jor pen­ta­tonic scale is con­tained within the Mixoly­dian mode so you can usu­ally switch be­tween the two.

2. Ma­jor pen­ta­tonic scale

In­ter­vals: 1 2 3 5 6 Hear it: The Temp­ta­tions –

MyGirl (riff) Great for folk so­los, or even rock and blues in ma­jor keys for an up­beat sound. The scale fits over a ma­jor chord thanks to some shared notes; ie the A, C# and E notes of an A chord are the root, 3rd and 5th in­ter­vals of the A ma­jor pen­ta­tonic scale.

6. Do­rian mode

b3 b7 In­ter­vals: 1 2 4 5 6 Hear it: Led Zep­pelin – NoQuar­ter The Do­rian mode is very sim­i­lar to the Mixoly­dian mode but with a mi­nor 3rd in­stead of a ma­jor 3rd. The Do­rian mode sounds par­tic­u­larly great over mi­nor chords and it has a very cool, jazzy sound. If you al­ready know the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale then you can sim­ply add the 2nd and 6th in­ter­vals to the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic to cre­ate the Do­rian mode.

3. Blues scale

b3 b5 b7 In­ter­vals: 1 4 5 Hear it: Led Zep­pelin - ICan’tQuitYou Start off with the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale, then add an ex­tra note in be­tween the 4th and 5th in­ter­vals, as shown here. The ex­tra note is known b 5th) as a ‘flat 5th’ ( or a ‘tri­tone’ (be­cause it’s three tones higher than the root note). This note sounds dis­so­nant if you stay on it for too long, but it works well in pass­ing. Oh, and it’s not just for blues!

7. Nat­u­ral mi­nor scale

b3 b 6 b7 In­ter­vals: 1 2 4 5 Hear it: Ju­das Priest – Break­ingTheLaw The nat­u­ral mi­nor scale (aka the Ae­o­lian mode) is the same as the Do­rian mode ex­cept it has a mi­nor 6th in­stead of a ma­jor 6th; giv­ing it a more mel­low sound, which makes it a good choice for mi­nor key bal­lads and sad songs. An­other way of mem­o­ris­ing it is a mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale with added 2nd and mi­nor 6th in­ter­vals.

4. Ma­jor scale

In­ter­vals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hear it: John Mayer – Grav­ity This is without doubt the most im­por­tant scale in mu­sic – and that’s be­cause all in­ter­vals and chords get their names based on how they com­pare to this vi­tal scale. When it comes to ac­tu­ally play­ing the scale, think of it as the ma­jor pen­ta­tonic scale but with the 4th and 7th in­ter­vals added in to give a more melodic but still bright sound.

8. Har­monic mi­nor scale

b3 b6 In­ter­vals: 1 2 4 5 7 Hear it: Joe Sa­tri­ani – TearsInTheRain With its ex­otic swag­ger­ing sound, the har­monic mi­nor is of­ten heard in neo-clas­si­cal metal, Latin mu­sic and some forms of jazz. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween the har­monic and nat­u­ral mi­nor scales is the 7th. In­stead of a mi­nor 7th, the har­monic mi­nor scale has a ma­jor 7th. There are some big­ger shifts here so prac­tise slowly.

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