In the past five years of teaching guitar, I’ve met with some frustrated intermediate guitarists.
These chaps felt stuck because they’d been practicing scales, playing D Dorian or E Phrygian forward and backward, forward and backward–and though they’d gotten pretty quick at that, they had no idea what to do with the scale beyond reciting it. So they were dutifully memorizing all these scales, but not really getting much for their trouble. Not exactly the most fun you can have with a guitar.
How do you use a scale to play solos and write music of your own?
Basically you can think of a scale as being like a box of those crazy scented markers that they used to give us in grade school. Each note is a different smelly marker. You with me?
Oh man, these markers are great, aren’t they? Whenever our third grade teacher cracked open a fresh box of these bad boys, the excitement level got unreasonable fast.
I used these markers to illustrate my first book, actually, which involved a werewolf.
It was very, very scary and smelled like cinnamon. The blood of its victims smelled like cherries.
Yeah, my psyche’s probably a little messed up by all this, but I stand by these markers.
Scales are just as exciting. You can think of each scale as a new box of smelly markers. Each note’s a different color.
I did know a girl who liked to painstakingly work her way through the entire box from left to right. She’d take a marker out, draw a line, and put the marker back to exchange it for the next in line. I’m pretty sure she was actually suffering from OCD and not enjoying herself.
I imagine you’d probably rather not spend your days doing that with your scales.
You’d rather draw an awesome musical cinnamon werewolf, right?
So here you go. Here’s how to turn any scale into music.
1. Take any scale you know: the major scale, the minor pentatonic, the Hungarian minor, whatever you want.
2. Put on a drum track or play with a real live drummer. (Failing both of those, you can always set your own rhythm)
3. Play with the scale. Start by playing the first note of the scale. Play three notes forward, then backward two, then forward three, then skip four ahead… basically, experiment. Grab the notes in random orders. Make sure you play the first note of the scale once in a while; it’ll keep you in the right key. Other than that, anything goes.
It’s a simple way to start using a scale to make music right off the bat. Maybe it’s the marker fumes talking here, but this never gets old.