Friday 11 March 2022

Make Scales More Fun!

Mike Olekshy –

Tired of the same stock scale patterns you’ve been practicing? These simple tweaks can transform the sound of well known guitar scales, coaxing sounds that beg for more experimentation and creative expression!


Let’s start with one of the first scales a guitar player will learn - the minor pentatonic scale. This is a five note scale that is very commonly used for lead playing. The notes of the scale are the root, minor third (or flat third), fourth, fifth, and the minor seventh (or flat seventh). 

Let’s add the note between the fourth and fifth - commonly referred to as the “flat five” - to the scale.

Choose the A Minor Pentatonic scale and play through the pattern, adding the flat five to it. Note how the sound of the scale just got a more “bluesy” upgrade. It’s no accident that the flat five note is also referred to as the “blues” note, as it evokes a very bluesy sound. Not surprisingly, this scale is known as the blues scale.

Improvise and experiment with the added note in every pattern of the minor pentatonic you know. You’ve just unlocked a whole new sound with a very simple adjustment!


Now let’s take the natural minor scale - root, 2nd, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 - and mess with it a little. If we sharpen the flat 7 (or minor 7th), it becomes a “major” seventh. Play through the scale with this adjustment, and note the distinct sound that emits when you play through the b6, 7, octave (root), and above. This is known as the harmonic minor scale.

This scale is a great choice to play when you are playing in any minor key, but the V chord in the progression happens to be a major chord. For example, in the key of Am, your I chord is A minor, and your V chord would be E minor. But sometimes, you’ll encounter chord progressions where that V chord is actually major - in this case E major or E7. So improvise with A minor for all the chords in the progression, but switch to A harmonic minor just over the E chord. The notes will highlight that chord perfectly!


One more cool tweak is to start with the Phrygian scale. The Phrygian scale is the 3rd mode of the major scale, and it’s formula is root, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7.

You could think of this particular scale as a natural minor scale with a flat 2. But let’s take it one step further, and raise the flat third one semitone (or fret) to a major third. Now play through the scale and check out the resulting unique sound!

It sounds very exotic with a distinct flavor that can add so much to your riffs or leads. This resulting scale is known as the “Phrygian Dominant” scale. It sounds particularly great when you’re playing over chord progressions that use the I, bII, and bVII chords.

Of course, there are many more examples of taking a scale and adding or shifting a note to create new sounds, so be sure to experiment often with this approach to unlock new ideas! You can always use the scale finder on to help you learn more and get better more quickly!

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