If you’re not one of those guitarists that simply has to learn everything there is to know about absolutely everything on guitar, then you might like this simplified approach to the scales beyond the ubiquitous minor pentatonic and blues patterns. At first, I found it hard to understand that other guitar players just weren’t as obsessed as I was with learning everything there is to know, but through teaching I was able to understand that different players have different needs, and above all, different goals. This is particularly true when it comes to improvising as a lot of players just want a no-nonsense practical approach that doesn’t require too much thinking when you go to solo over something. You may be wondering if such an approach exists, but I think the following idea will have you covered in most situations.
Rites of Passage
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):
As you can see, these patterns cover every available note in F Major. For this method, you don’t have to use all three patterns if you’re in a hurry to start wailing away. You could use two or even one of the above patterns, but your reach on the fretboard will be somewhat limited. If you’d like to take your time, check out my other method which uses four patterns here.
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:
The note on the same fret on the string below will tell you which major scale to play over a dominant chord, and the note two frets below the root of the chord will tell you which major scale to play over a minor chord. For a major chord, you just play the major scale starting on the same note as the chord.
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.