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Why Scales? Why Patterns?

Limitations Of Patterns

Learning patterns is not meant to be a cure all for your playing; it is just another way of organizing the knowledge you are gaining of the fret board.

One problem that occurs with this approach is you begin to not care about what the note's harmonic function is and treat all notes of a particular pattern or scale as equal.

A way around this problem is to learn the interval name from the root of the scale (or chord of the moment).

Something that is forgotten most of the time is the concept of listening and hearing the sound of the patterns and how each note sounds in relation to the root. Much time is spent in learning the patterns but not much is spent in listening to what they sound like.

Greek Modes

Once you have the basics down of the major scale patterns from each note, you should do exercises to connect the sound with the pattern. A convenient way to accomplish this is to study each pattern (starting on a different note of the scale) as a Greek Mode.

Most people have a mental block to this, because they reckon that once they have learned the major scale there is no need to further complicate things by studying modes (since modes are just the same notes as the major scale anyway! Right?).

The problem here is that the idea of modes is to hear how each mode differs in its sound (or interval structure), not to force the memorization of superfluous reiterations of the now familiar major scale.

Two solutions to this exist:
One is to learn the modes all based on the same root, another is to play each mode over a static root (not necessarily the same one for each mode).

I believe the best way to get a feel for this is to actually try to improvise melodies using each mode over a long two-chord vamp. Of course, the two chords must be carefully selected to give the proper 'flavor' to the mode.

An additional approach that should be attempted here is to use arpeggios based on the two chords in question to improvise melodies. This gives modal as well as chordal basis for improvisation.

Some chord changes could be chosen specifically to be ambiguous as to which modes will work over them. In this case the improviser has choices to make as to which modes to use, when.

So here, we are reinforcing the pattern with the sound of the mode.

In the second chord of each of these we have the P4.

Em D
ii I Dorian
vi V Aeolian

Em F#m
ii iii Dorian

Em Dm
iii ii Phrygian

Em F
iii IV Phrygian

V IV Lydian

E F#m
I ii Ionian
V vi Mixolydian

Edim F
viio I Locrian

Edim Dm
viio vi Locrian

In Closing

The guitar is a deceptively complicated instrument. It is easy to gain a simple understanding of it enough to be able to play simple songs. The logical layout of 1/2 step mapped up each string makes transposition much easier than for keyboard (or wind) instruments, but it is a double edged sword. The easy transposition makes it all too tempting to be lazy and move simple ideas around the fretboard with little or no thought about what it is you are playing and why it works, and gives us the false sense that all improvisation can be made by the proper scale/pattern choice. The reality is that you need to listen to what you are playing and decide what works, not just blindly follow some pattern and pseudo-randomly play notes from it. The patterns do help our memorization of chords, scales etc, but they are only one of many tools to help you organize the ideas that allow you to express yourself.

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