There comes a time in most guitarist’s development when they feel the urge to do something other than play pentatonic scales; however, this requires temporarily damaging your ego because basically… you’re going to sound shit for a while. Once you’ve accepted this, and turned down your rig or donned some headphones, things become a lot easier.
Step 1 – Learn the Patterns
The first step is the most painful, but we’ll try to make it a little less so by reducing the amount of tedious stuff there is to learn. All you need do here is learn the major scale (in every key) all over the neck. Uh oh… sounds like a lot of work but it isn’t as our only purpose here is to memorize the location of the notes on the neck; i.e. we don’t need to worry about note names or intervals, and once you do this in one key it becomes cumulatively easier. Try to treat these as generic patterns; in other words, don’t worry too much about resolving to the root or playing them from the root, just worry about knowing where the notes are on the fretboard.
For this I’d suggest using three of the seven patterns from the 3NPS scale system. They’re the ones we used in the, ‘How to Learn 3NPS Scales Fast’ article, and cover the entire fretboard as far as note location goes, the other four patterns being somewhat redundant for the purposes of this exercise.
Here they are for quick reference (in F Major):
Step 2 – Improvising Over Chords
For the sake of simplicity let’s say there are three types of chords: major, minor and dominant. Dominant chords include 7, 9, 11 and 13 chords.
Here are the three rules to follow:
1. To improvise over a major chord, use the major scale. Example: play the C Major scale over any C Major type chord.
2. To improvise over a minor chord use the major scale one tone below the note of the chord. Example: over C Minor, use Bb Major (but resolve your phrases and runs to C).
3. To improvise over a dominant chord, use the major scale a fourth above the note of the chord. Example: over C7 play F Major (but resolve your phrases and runs to C).
If you’re wondering how to do this on the fretboard, simply think of it as follows:
Bear in mind that this is a very simplified approach aimed at getting a player up and running with soloing over chords beyond just blowing over them with a pentatonic scale, or boring/confusing them to death with the CAGED system. As a guitar teacher, you will get students that just want something practical and accessible that doesn’t require too much thinking and allows them to get stuck in.
In Part 2 we’ll look at a few more soloing options that can be derived in the same way, and delve into the theory of what we’re doing for those that just have to know.