Traditional methods of learning scales such as the CAGED System and the 3NPS System don’t really lead to melodic guitar solos. This is mainly due to the rote, drill-type way in which they’re learned—endlessly, and often mindlessly running up and down scale patterns then fighting with your fingers to do the exact opposite: play something melodic. I had a great teacher at Music College called Mike Goodman, who wasn’t into flash, technical guitar playing, but could play these beautiful melodic lines at the drop of a hat. He developed this by learning scales in the following way…
Start with Triads
I remember the classes well, even though they were some 10 plus years ago now. It was a real eye-opener for everyone in the class, and while you kind of have to go back to the basics, it doesn’t take too long to get some pretty interesting, and above all melodic, results.
He first told us to play just minor triads and gave us a diagram similar to the following one:
We played around with the notes of the minor triad (1, b3, 5); above you can see them in G minor while he gently strummed various G minor chords. Once we’d done that we had to add in one note, the b7 as follows:
At that point we realized we were playing the good old Minor Pentatonic Scale, only now it sounded completely different, like rediscovering the scale in a melodic way. I guess it comes down to creating an awareness of where the strong notes are, and beginning to choose the notes you play, rather than just blasting through the scale, or playing a bunch of well-worn licks.
It’s at this point that you can see both how powerful this technique is, and also how much work is required to really incorporate it into your playing, the latter being what most of the guitarists in the room seemed more concerned about.
Why does it work?
I believe it works simply because the nature of learning scales in this way forces you to think melodically as oppose to working with a linear set of notes in box pattern, and it certainly beats the tedium of the CAGED system.
Modes from Triads
As you can probably imagine, this process can and should be rinsed and repeated with any scale you wish to learn. Here’s an example with the Lydian mode:
The Lydian mode contains the intervals 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 so start with the major triad:
Play around with the notes, we’ll use G as our starting note again. Really take your time on this as the more time you spend on each stage, the better your results will be.
Next add in the #4 as follows:
The #4 really defines the Lydian mode so make sure you take your time to hear it in contrast with the major triad.
Next we’ll add in the natural 7 as follows:
You now have the very essence of the Lydian mode and should be coming up with some interesting, and above all, Lydian sounding stuff—certainly beats running up and down scale patterns.
Next we add in the 6:
Remember to take your time as you add each note in, there’s no rush.
And finally the 2:
You now have all seven notes that comprise the Lydian scale but with a whole new perspective on how to play them! I find it’s worth spending a bit of time getting the 1, 3, 5 and 1, b3, 5 combinations down as these are the foundations for a great many scales. You can even think of most scales as major or minor triads with added notes.