Take your guitar playing to the next level and beyond. Insight into every aspect of guitar playing, as well as hundreds of lessons, tips, tricks, and articles from the author of 50 Guitar Hacks, Hacking the CAGED System,and Soloing Without Scales.
I see this a lot with beginners and experienced guitarists alike. Most of us start out by learning a selection of open chords, next we move on to barre chords once we have enough hand strength, and then we come across the missing link; triads, which at that point seem to confuse matters rather than doing what they should do, which is to expand our knowledge of chords and provide us with the basis to form any other chord. It’s one of those things that could be staring you in the face, but you won’t see it until someone points it out.
In hindsight, beginners should probably learn triads first, that way it’s far easier to make the connection between open chords, barre chords and triads themselves. In fact, learning an open chord or barre chord is like memorizing a phrase in another language; you can use it in the right circumstances and you’ll be understood, but you have no idea how it’s formed and therefore can’t make your own phrases (chords) outside of that structure. This can easily be solved by learning triads first, then applying that knowledge to open chords and barre chords.
Triads First A triad consists of three notes and can be major, minor, augmented or diminished. In this lesson, we’ll be dealing with major and minor triads only. All major triads contain the intervals 1, 3, and 5, so an A Major triad contains the notes A, C#, and E.
We can get this information from the A Major scale (or any major scale):
If we put this information on the fretboard, you should be able to see that the A Major open chord (in red) is made up of major triads. When you play a standard A Major open chord, you’re playing two roots (1), two fifths (5) and one major third (3). The low open E string is part of the chord but is not usually played because it’s not a pleasing sound (try it yourself) in this position. What I want you to see here is how major triads are arranged to form major chords.
In orange we have an A Major barre chord with much the same weighting of intervals as the open chord, the only difference is that here we have three roots (1), and a different sound due to the distribution of the triads.
In green we have another A Major chord. In this one the notes on the low E string are usually omitted, as well as the 5 on the high E string. This leaves us with two roots (1), two thirds (3) and one fifth (5).
If we break these chord shapes down further, it’s easy to see where the triads fall and how we could even add variations to these chords. Here are the triads that make up our open A Major chord:
So, instead of just playing an open A Major chord, you can add in and omit notes to get different sounds by using the triads above.
Here’s what happens when we break down the barre chord:
And if you haven’t worked it out already, here are the triad for the third chord shape:
These three sets of triads give us all the major triad shapes available on the guitar neck. You may have already been using some of them, especially on the top four strings, the others should help you to complete the picture or fill in the gaps.
Interval Magic The major triad alone forms the basis for a vast number of chords, which is why it’s easier to build up a repertoire of chords by knowing how to form triads and add intervals to them, rather than trying to memorize hundreds of chord shapes.
For example, if you know that an A Major 7 chord contains the intervals 1, 3, 5 and 7, and you can find your major triads, all you need to do is locate the 7 (G# in this case) on the neck and add it to the triad. You may have to shift the notes around to get a comfortable fingering, but this is an invaluable process that frees you from relying on memorizing chord shapes (phrases in a language).
Here’s our A Major barre chord shape again with the location of the 7s around it. Can you pull out the triads and add those 7s to them?
Try doing the same to create A7 chords. An A7 chord contains the intervals 1, 3, 5 and b7
Again, you should see the major triads and be able to find ways to combine them with the b7s within easy reach.
As guitarists we tend to focus on guitar-specific things such as learning licks, riffs, technique and the accumulation of gear. While this is all well and good, at some point you’ll wish you’d taken at least one if not all of the courses below as they’re universal skills that will raise your level of musicianship, which is critical if you play with others on a regular basis or want to make a living from playing guitar.
First up is a skill that’s highly undervalued by guitarists themselves but very sought-after in a guitarist by other musicians: rhythm guitar. If you plan to do any part or full-time playing, you’ll find that most of the time you’ll be playing rhythm guitar rather than soloing. Guitarists that focus on soloing, scales and whatnot will have huge gaps in their knowledge such as chords, timing, strumming, and even how to create a rhythm part.
1. Essential Rhythm Skills There are a number of approaches you can take to learning rhythm guitar. I find students usually fall into one (or both) of two categories; they either need to improve their strumming technique, or their strumming technique is good, they just need a more chord-based approach to rhythm guitar.
Technique If you feel you need both of these skills, then start with strumming technique. Here are a couple of great resources you could use: Strumming for the Curious Guitarist is a great course by guitar teacher Dan Dresnok that covers pretty much everything you need to know about strumming, and more importantly, how to count! Dan is a solid, no-frills guitar teacher who explains and demonstrates things very well. Basically, it feels like you’d showed up at his house and got a great lesson, only in the digital medium, you get an entire course for the price of one lesson. Check out the course here.
Theory If you’ve already gotten your strumming skills down and want to improve your rhythm playing, you probably need to check out the chordal/theory side of things. I can honestly tell you that learning random chords and progressions won’t work to a great extent here; in fact, these are actually better for improving your strumming technique. The best approach to expand your knowledge, in my opinion, is to really get your triads down. Triads, when paired with rhythm playing, will unlock the neck for you and allow you to not only create rhythm parts, but understand how they work. You’ll see how to move between chords in the space of a few frets, embellish chord progressions and be able to form any chord off the top of your head. The course you can use to get this done is Michael Palmisano’s Leave the CAGED System Behind, which is not advertised as a rhythm guitar course, but does include this essential chord/theory knowledge. Part 2 has also just come out.
2. Ear Training Next up is Ear Training, which is something that every musician needs to do throughout their playing career. Guitarists are notorious for avoiding ear training because the ability to use patterns on the guitar somewhat undermines it. If you don’t believe me, try out the exercise in this lesson. Ear Training doesn’t have to be a painful process and I’m a huge fan of two resources for improving your musical ear. The first is Alain Benbassat’s (free) app Functional Ear Trainer (Android | iPhone), which, unlike most ear training apps, is based on cadences and learning to hear intervals in context rather than guessing random pairs of notes because if you want to work something out by ear, 99% of the time it will be in the context of a piece of music.
The second is another course by Dan Dresnok called Ear Training for the Curious Guitarist, which gives you the complete guide to developing relative pitch and working with intervals, and complements what you’ll be practicing in the Functional Ear Trainer app.
3. Music Theory Last but by no means least is music theory. This is another area where guitarists are at the bottom of the pile due to relying on shapes or learning about theory through guitar-based methods such as the CAGED System. While there’s nothing wrong with this, guitar-based methods tend to complicate things when communicating with musicians that play other instruments, as these theories and methods don’t apply to them. What I’d recommend is a more universal music theory course such as Rajiv Narang’s The Elements of Music | Music Theory and Foundations, which covers everything you need to know about music theory without making it overwhelming.
So, if you feel stuck in a rut, or want to get serious about becoming an all-round musician, a serious study of these three areas will sky-rocket your abilities and set you in good stead for a career in music.
If you’re serious about learning guitar, beyond having the technical ability to play your favorite songs, then at some stage you’ll need to learn scales. While this might seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Sure, the pentatonic scale will have you covered in most situations, but there will be times when you want to branch out or bring other sounds into your solos. The problem here is that a lot of new players think that running scale patterns will provide them with these skills, and completely overlook the skills they really need to be able to do this. Let’s check it out.
If your goal is to explore new sounds and incorporate them into your playing, you need to create the logical steps to reach that point; sounds simple enough but this is where most of the confusion is generated.
Let’s take the Lydian scale (you could insert any scale here) and see how not to go about things:
So, I tell Student A (who’s been playing for a couple of years) to check out the Lydian scale for the next class and try to learn how to use it. Student A comes back the following week and starts firing off 3NPS Lydian patterns and does a little (aimless) improvisation. It sounds like Lydian (at least to me), but when I ask Student A how to use it, he has some good information but he’s somewhat at a loss as to how to really explain the connection between the pattern he’s playing and how to apply the scale in real life.
Breaking it Down When ‘unboxing’ a scale, it’s a good idea to go over the component parts before you try to assemble the whole thing into something like a 3NPS or CAGED scale pattern. So, let’s start with a simple one octave pattern:
This is A Lydian. Use your low A string as a drone and really listen to the sound of the scale once you’ve gotten the fingering down; throw in some bends, slides, hammers and pull-offs if you know those techniques too. There’s one note in particular that gives this scale its unique sound, which one is it?
If you lower the interesting note by one fret, it’s no longer interesting, and you have the major scale:
Cracking the Interval Code It’s good to know what intervals are in a scale. Think of this as a unique way to identify a scale because the only thing that makes one scale different from another is the distance between each of its notes, in other words, its intervals. Think of the major scale (above) as having the neutral/default intervals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. It doesn’t matter what key you play it in, it will always have these intervals.
If we look at the intervals for the Lydian scale, we’ll see a slight modification to the 4:
1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, and 7
Let’s put this on the fretboard:
By now, you should have a better idea of the sound of the Lydian scale in your head, and you may even start to hear it in the music you like. The Lydian scale is also a major scale and can therefore be used over major chords. Think of it like this:
A major chord has the intervals 1, 3, and 5, as does the Lydian scale; you’re coloring it with other tones such as the #4, 2, 6, and 7. It’s the interplay between these color tones and the chord tones that will give you the Lydian sound.
A major 7 chord has the intervals 1, 3, 5, and 7, as does the Lydian scale; again, you can color it with the other tones from the scale. If you have a looper, try the scale over an A major or Amaj7 chord and see what it sounds like.
Recap So, now we know a few useful things about the Lydian scale; an accessible pattern, its unique interval code, that it’s a major scale, that the #4 is the cool note that makes it different from the regular major scale, and most importantly, we know what it sounds like.
You can probably see that Student A’s mammoth 3NPS scale pattern and some scattered information about the Lydian scale being a mode or something wasn’t really the way to go in order to understand and apply the scale. He also glossed over the actual sound of the scale, preferring instead to go straight for the scale patterns and wail over a backing track.
Applying the Lydian Sound Keep working on the sound of the scale and make sure to experiment with it. Inevitably, you’ll start to hear it in real music, which is what will help you make creative decisions as to when and when not to use it. Making a creative decision based on how well you know the sound is one way to incorporate it. Another way to go about it is to theoretically insert it, which is as simple as thinking, ‘major/major 7 chord coming up, I can play the Lydian scale over it’. This is all well and good, and you should experiment this way, but just because you can play the Lydian scale, it doesn’t mean you should. The theoretical approach doesn’t always account for taste, so you might not get the result you were looking for.
When Can I Learn the 3NPS Pattern? By all means learn the bigger 3NPS or CAGED patterns when you can really hear the Lydian scale because this will help you bring out the Lydian sound from the bigger picture, as oppose to getting a half-assed Lydian sound from trying to juggle too many notes.
Remember, you can apply this process to any new scale, as well as scales you already know to get a fresh perspective on them.
If you're committed to learning the guitar, it's inevitable that you're going to get into a rut from time to time. Ruts can last from a weeks to years and can be very frustrating but once you understand the psychology behind getting into a rut, you may even be able to avoid them altogether. This is a very useful skill to have since we have a finite amount of time on this planet and if you're serious about guitar, you'll probably want to be the best guitarist you can be for good chunk of that time. In this post we'll also look at a simple practice concept to also help you avoid getting into ruts on the guitar in the first place.
What is a rut?
A rut is essentially a problem that needs to be solved but is compounded by the fact that you're stopping yourself from seeing the solution. What do I mean? Think about it this way: you have a problem that cannot be solved by your current knowledge. In other words, you're trying to get out of a rut by using the exact same information or knowledge that got you in there in the first place - you're not thinking outside the box, as it were. Think of learning guitar as a pool of knowledge; the amount of water you can hold in your hands is your current knowledge - and your rut - while what you need to do is dip into the rest of the pool to find the answer. The water you're holding in your hands won't let you touch any of the other water in the pool. Here's an example:
Problem: My soloing isn't melodic enough, it just sounds like scales.
Not the solution: Keep playing from scale shapes but try to be more melodic (current knowledge).
Possible solutions: Try a melodic approach to learning scales, study chord tone soloing, incorporate triads into your playing, study a player that is melodic when they solo to figure out what they're doing that you're not... in other words, there are many things you could do but you won't see them if you're unwilling to look beyond what you currently know.
How to avoid a rut in the first place
Most ruts are a result of undisciplined playing and directionless practicing. In other words, if you have no goals other than vague desire to get better, or an unstructured practice regime, you're inevitably going to get into a rut.
When I practice, I use the following three simple concepts to avoid falling into a rut:
1. Practice what you know. This requires the least (mental) effort and involves honing all the things you already know, because no matter how simple or basic you think something is, you can always get more out of it or stumble across something new. These are the things that are second nature to you.
2. Practice what you don't know. If you glance down to number 3, you may wonder what the difference is between practicing what you don't know and learning something new. Practicing what you don't know refers to those things that aren't yet second nature; things you do know but you still have to think about to execute.
3. Learn something new. This is fairly self-explanatory and involves learning something you know little or nothing about. This will eventually pass up to the 'practice what you don't know' level, then finally it will become second nature.
As you can probably tell, this practice routine represents and ongoing cycle to ensure that everything you learn will eventually become second nature, and the great thing is that what you learn is up to you, rather than having one of those very specific scales, chords, arpeggios etc. practice routines that bore the hell out of you after two days.
Try if for just a week and I guarantee you'll feel like you're making progress, as well as avoiding any potential ruts.
If you want to learn guitar online there are a plethora of options these days; and with technology playing an ever-increasing role in learning, new apps, tools, and interactive courses are cropping up every day. Where most of these are aimed at guitarists wanting to teach themselves, Veevar Guitar combines an online learning community with face-to-face tuition, which is great news for both students wanting to learn, and teachers wanting a steady paycheck. We were intrigued...
The Veevar Guitar platform provides an environment in which students not only have access to the online course modules, but can also participate in different forums, get help with anything on the course syllabus, or look for a teacher for face-to-face lessons (this option is only available in the UK at the moment). The course is spread over five levels broken down into different modules which you can work through at your own pace and/or use as the basis for your face-to-face tuition. What I like about this is that the teacher and the student are on the same page; as a student, you don't have to worry about whether you're getting a quality lesson or not, and teachers don't have to worry about planning lessons for each student as all the material is right there. If you're not based in the UK, or don't want face-to-face lessons, you're still getting a comprehensive online guitar course with access to all the teachers on Veevar's roster via the forums.
Students can sign up here and get 20% off using the code VG20.
As I mentioned, the course has five levels broken down into modules which cover everything from the basics through to intermediate and more advanced concepts. The material is easy to follow with abundant video examples which feature scrolling tab and/or music notation, as well as live fretboard diagrams. You can also speed up, slow down, mute or single out any guitar part and even flip the image if you're left-handed! The creators have gone to great lengths to cover every detail, as well as any issues you might have in every module, and should you get stuck, you can always get in touch with your face-to-face teacher or ask all the available teachers and course creators in the forums.
Veevar Guitar is also a great option for guitar teachers (if you happen to live in the UK) who don't have time to do the legwork of finding students and tailoring lessons to their needs; this is all done for you leaving you free to concentrate on the teaching part, as well as all your other musical projects and commitments. All you do is sign up as a teacher and create your bio so that students in your local area can contact you and arrange lessons. You get the first 3 months on a free trial basis, then you'll be charged £60 a month to continue using the service. While £60 might seem a lot to a (UK) guitarist, as long as you're teaching more than 2 hours a month at £30 an hour, you're making money! Veevar also has the option to sell your own courses in the site's shop, which is another potential earner.
Teachers can sign up here by clicking 'are you a teacher' in the top right corner.
What we liked about Veevar Guitar was the emphasis on building a community of teachers and students around learning guitar from a single resource rather than students buying product after product and being left somewhat in the dark as to how really use them to progress on the instrument. It's still early days for the site but what could set this apart from forums, YouTube instructors, and other online courses is the community-based interaction on offer.
Check Veevar Guitar out for yourself here, whether you're a student or a teacher, and let us know what you think in the comments.
If you’ve been following this series, you can probably guess how we’re going to form eleventh arpeggios. If you haven’t, feel free to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as they’ll provide you with a solid foundation for incorporating arpeggios into your scalar playing or scales into your arpeggio playing, depending on how you’re seeing things. What I love about this approach is that I don’t have to think of a separate pattern for arpeggios and scales or make any drastic changes to my fingering when playing. All the information I need is right there under my fingers, I just have to notice it.
In Part 2, we saw that the 2 is technically the 9 and used it for ninth arpeggios. Here, the 4 is technically the 11 (in green), so we’re going to use it to form diatonic eleventh arpeggios. First up is Cmaj11:
Just to recap, we now have the intervals 1, 2 (9), 3, 4 (11) and 7 only in very close proximity. Next up is Dm11:
Then we have Em11b9:
It’s interesting that playing through arpeggios this way gives you a completely different sound that running scale patterns. Play the three notes in red first, then add in the orange, blue and green notes to hear how the arpeggio builds.
Next up is Fmaj9#11:
I really like the sound of this one; when you play these arpeggios, note that your second finger is always on the root note.
Here’s the G11 arpeggio:
And the Am11 arpeggio:
And finally, the Bm7b5b9 arpeggio:
Remember, you can repeat these patterns across the neck on adjacent string sets as we did in Part 1 and Part 2. The idea here is to help you bring out the melody in a scale, as well as giving you some ideas for playing over chord changes and note choice into the bargain.
What about thirteenth arpeggios? Glad you asked. The 13 is technically the 6, so if we add one more note to these arpeggios we’ve come full circle and arrived back to a scale! If you wrote out the intervals in a thirteenth arpeggio, they’re the same as those in a scale: 1, 2 (9), 3, 4 (11), 5, 6 (13), 7. More on that here and here.
In Part 1, we looked at a way to pull arpeggios out of scales by looking at the bigger picture first, then focusing on a smaller part of it. This way, we were able to extract all the diatonic triad and seventh arpeggios and blend them with scales. In this second part, we’re going to use the same idea but expand it to ninth arpeggios, which have applications ranging from prog rock to jazz.
If you haven’t read Part 1, check it out now as it builds the foundation for what we’re about to see in Part 2.
For the diatonic ninth arpeggios, all we need do is add one note (in orange) to each seventh arpeggio pattern. Here’s a Cmaj9 arpeggio:
The note in orange is technically the second, which is also the ninth, but if we add it here we can keep avoiding those etude-style patterns.
Next up is the Dm9 arpeggio:
When we shift this up to E, we get an Em7b9 arpeggio:
This is due to the semi-tone between E and F which creates a b9 instead of a regular 9, or in other words just like the 7 and b7 we have the 9 and b7. If we add a 9 to a chord seventh chord, as above, we get Cmaj7 > Cmaj9, Dm7 > Dm9, but if we add a b9 we get Em7 > Em7b9. As we shall see, the same happens with the Bm7b5 chord.
Next up is the Fmaj9 arpeggio:
Remember you can move these patterns around the fretboard and join them up to form extended ones as we did in Part 1.
Here’s the G9 arpeggio:
The Am9 arpeggio:
And finally, the Bm7b5b9 arpeggio which also features that b9:
Are these really arpeggios? In the sense that they’re usable patterns that contain the notes of the requisite arpeggio, then yes, they are; in the sense that they make that gloop-gloop arpeggio up and down etude sound, then no, they’re probably not. The idea here is to pull arpeggios out of scale shapes in a way that’s almost like ‘highlighting’ as oppose to a clunky pattern which is often difficult to find and incorporate into your playing. If you’re missing the ‘shred’ element, try linking the patterns together as in this Am9 arpeggio which goes from the third fret right across the fretboard and up to the twelfth:
In Part 3, we’ll be looking at eleventh arpeggios… but you can probably already guess how those are formed.
Truth be told, I always found arpeggios very challenging to learn and ended up trying to force them into my playing. At Music College we were given all these patterns to learn that you’d spend hours on end practicing, but which seemed to have little or no practical use or effect on your playing. Scales, on the other hand, were far more intriguing and offer fairly instant gratification when you go to improvise. This was all well and good and got me through in most playing situations, but I was still curious about arpeggios and desperately wanted to be able to incorporate that melodic edge into my playing; besides, it was getting to a point where I found it slightly embarrassing not knowing them…
Lightbulb Moment The lightbulbs came on when I realized that arpeggios are parts of scales. This may seem blindingly obvious to most but, in my mind, I really hadn’t made the connection between those the clunky patterns and the scales I already knew. The other missing ingredient was an awareness of diatonic harmony, which you can check out here.
Since I already knew my major scales up and down the neck, I started to pick out diatonic arpeggios, but not the clunky patterns, as I had deemed these more suitable for playing ‘etudes’ and more shred-oriented japery. I was more interested in having a way to access arpeggios based on scales rather than separate patterns.
So, I came up with these patterns on adjacent strings which can be easily moved around the fretboard. Just as a reference, here’s (a little of) what you can find in your average key signature (diatonic harmony):
An arpeggio then is the notes of a chord played individually or in some kind of sequence. In this lesson, we’re interested in the middle two columns, 3-note triads/arpeggios and 4-note chords/arpeggios.
The Most Important Bit The most important thing here is how you transfer this information to the guitar neck. This is critical, in fact, because if like me you’re not a fan of those clunky patterns, you’re never going to have the motivation to learn this stuff. If, on the other hand, you start picking out arpeggios the way we’re going to do it in this lesson, you might be in with a chance.
This is all the notes in C Major on a 24-fret guitar. It’s not essential to learn where every single note is up to the 24th fret (if you have one), as knowing about 75% of it will have you covered in most situations.
To simplify things, we’ll go up to the 15th fret in the following diagrams.
Triad Arpeggios Triad arpeggios are simply the notes of a triad played individually. The following patterns will help you pull them out of the bigger pattern.
The idea here is that you learn to see these mini-shapes light up when you’re improvising using the scale pattern, especially when playing over chord changes, as they will give your lines and phrases a more melodic edge.
The above pattern can be found in other places on the fretboard:
As you can see, the pattern is the same on all adjacent strings EXCEPT the G and B strings due to the ‘bump’ or warp factor as I like to call it. It’s still the same pattern but if it falls on these strings, you’ll have to shift the notes on the B string up one fret. I prefer to think about it this way rather than as a whole new pattern.
The next triad arpeggio is D Minor:
Can you find the other instances of this D Minor triad arpeggio on the neck? Once you’ve located them try blending them with the scale pattern. This should give you a Dorian and/or D Minor Pentatonic feel as well.
Repeat this exercise with the rest of the diatonic arpeggios from C Major. The great thing here is that once you learn this in one key, it’s the same in all the others.
Easy 7th Arpeggios Once you have the above patterns down, it’s simply a matter of adding one note (marked in blue) to form the seventh arpeggios.
First up is the Cmaj7 arpeggio:
We add the 7 just below the root to keep everything within reach and easily accessible. D Minor 7
E Minor 7
F Major 7
A Minor 7
B Minor 7b5
Try moving these patterns around the fretboard and blending them with the C Major scale. With consistent practice, you'll start to see these mini-patterns 'pop out' when improvising, and you'll be able to call on them when improvising over chord changes. In Part 2, we look at the remaining diatonic arpeggios.
I’ve been a huge fan of 4NPS (four-note-per-string) scales ever since I first saw them on the Allan Holdsworth REH DVD back when it was a video cassette in the late 90s. If you’ve ever seen Holdsworth play, you’ll probably be aware of his huge hands and equally impressive reach on the fretboard. 4NPS scales were clearly a walk in the park for Holdsworth, but what about the rest of us mere mortals? The main attraction (at least for me) of 4NPS scales is that there are no box patterns to learn, or fall into, as most take more than 12 frets to complete themselves. This can mean some pretty tricky stretches but as ever with guitar, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. By the way, if you’re new to 4NPS scales, take a look at our primer here.
Check out the Harmonic Minor 4NPS scale in F below. If you were to assign one finger to each note, you’d have some tough stretches to incorporate which would slow you down and may even cause you an injury in the process.
The thing about 4NPS patterns is that as if you insert one slide per string, you’ll avoid all those big stretches. Look at the following diagram, it’s the same pattern but here you’re going to slide from the first to the second note on each string and hammer on the rest; you should only be picking once per string.
The pattern on every string then is pick-slide-hammer-hammer. By doing this, you reduce the 4NPS stretches to those you would do if it were just a 3NPS pattern. To come back down, simply reverse the pattern by using your fourth finger to do the slide; this is a little trickier but it’s worth persevering with as it exercises the weaker half of your fretting hand. Here’s a diagram to help you:
You can also reverse the pattern and keep the slide on the first two notes of each string as follows:
Exotic Practice Material If you liked this exercise, you’re going to need some practice material, so here are four more 4NPS scales, of the exotic variety, for you to practice the above slide, hammer and pull-off combinations. Feel free to move them to other tonalities. I’ve started them here in F so that you can see how to access patterns you might not be able to stretch to without doing yourself an injury. Also, make sure you’ve got the fretting hand sequences memorized before you attempt these.
Hungarian Minor 4NPS
I love this scale as a great (and less obvious) alternative to the harmonic minor. Those stretches on the E and A strings are far less daunting using slides.
Phrygian Dominant 4NPS
If you can some speed up on this scale, you’ll get a sound that’s very reminiscent of Yngwie Malmsteen as he uses this scale a lot to execute runs similar to this one.
Lydian b7 4NPS
If you’re looking for something a little more ‘out there’ to play over a dominant 7th chord, then the Lydian b7 scale is an excellent choice.
You can find tons of stuff on modes right here on the blog, but I’d like to share this quick exercise which tests whether you’re really hearing them or not. One of the major drawbacks of using patterns to navigate the fretboard is that your ear gets left out of the equation. If you can memorize a pattern, you don’t actually need to know what it sounds like to play it. For example, if I asked you to play the melodic minor scale, you’d most likely fire off a couple of patterns you know, which is fair enough but if I asked you to sing the scale and gave you a starting note, it would be another story. In this lesson, we’ll look at a way to bridge this gap and really internalize the sound of a mode, or any scale, beyond mechanically playing patterns.
Step 1 Let’s start out with the major scale/Ionian mode itself which you should recognize by its familiar do-re-mi sound. Play the following major scale pattern in A:
Did you just fire off the scale pattern without really listening to it? How much did you involve your ear in this exercise? Be honest… it’s natural that most of your attention goes to what you’re doing in a technical sense rather than being guided by your ear.
Step 2 The next step is to play the scale starting on the same note but ascending the G string. Try it and see what happens without looking at the diagram below!
I imagine playing on a single string either forced you to navigate the fretboard by note names, intervals or by using your ear.
You should have played something like this:
Step 3 In Step 3 we try to force the ear into action a little more by playing the single-string pattern ascending and descending on all the other strings. When you do this, you’ll notice that if you make a mistake your ear will correct you. This is a highly-beneficial exercise because it’s the exact thing you need to be able to do when you venture outside of a scale pattern, or when an idea or melody pops into your head and you want to find the notes to play it. A lot of the time patterns won’t allow you to do this simply because your ear is not paying attention as you randomly run up and down them. This exercise turns the tables and brings your ear into the equation because you can no longer rely on the pattern.
Hearing the Modes Let’s apply this exercise to the rest of the modes starting with Lydian. Here’s your starting pattern:
Once you’ve run through the box pattern a couple of times, try playing it up and down the G string, then on all the other strings as we did in Steps 2 and 3 above. The Lydian scale is only one note different from the major scale, but your ear needs to be aware of it. If you find yourself getting around using note names, intervals or visual references try looking away from the guitar, doing the exercise in an unfamiliar key, or even playing in the dark.
Here are the starting patterns you’ll need for the rest of the modes:
Aeolian (Natural Minor)
Final Task As a final task try thinking of any of the above scales and singing them up and down. Don’t worry if you can’t do this as it does take time, but what you should have is a much clearer idea of how the scale sounds in your head, and this is great progress!
We’ve got a ton of blog lessons on modes for you to check out here, and if you’re looking to bridge the gap between pentatonics and modes, our latest eBook, ‘Beyond Pentatonics’, does just that.