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