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  • Why Scales? Why Patterns?

    According to Webster the definition of a musical scale is as follows:

    "a graduated series of musical tones ascending or descending in order of pitch according to a specified scheme of their intervals."

    With a definition that broad almost any ascending or descending series of tones is a scale. That would include the chromatic scale, which in western music is the Universal Set. In other words, every tone used in western music is included in the chromatic scale*. *This doesn't account for less than 1/2 step bends.

    Even those of you who claim not to use scales, therefore, are in fact using scales. I believe the more correct term is you are not using visual patterns.

    With that fact established we can move on to more useful and interesting conversation.

    Historical Background

    Greeks created musical instruments using strings and noticed the mathematical relationship to length of string and pitch. They also noticed the tendency for strings to have 'modes' of vibration, which was the basis for the overtone series.

    For instance dividing a string in half doubles the frequency or creates a tone with similar consonant characteristics to the fundamental tone. Various integer (1/2,1/3,1/5,2/3 etc...)divisions of the string created different pitches.

    Through some experimentation and observation they came up with the overtone series, which was the basis for the major scale.

    Later they classified and named the 'modes' of the major scale, for various provinces in Greece where presumably the music followed this particular modal form.

    Throughout western civilization since the Greeks began the study of scales the Europeans used the Greek system as a basis for music.

    The major scale is the chromatic scale with 5 missing notes. Interestingly enough the missing notes (the black keys of the piano in the key of C) form a major pentatonic scale starting on the b5 or a minor pentatonic starting on the b3. It is also interesting to note these are the first five notes in the cycle 4 starting at Eb (Eb Ab Db Gb Cb).


    Everything is based on patterns of notes in music. The patterns of notes map nicely to a piano keyboard in C major, but actually map more perfectly to a string in any key, because a string is naturally divided up by the frets into half steps and because of the particular temperament used, all half steps are created equal.

    It is for this reason the visual patterns are so favored by guitarists.

    You can learn a pattern on any string (EADGBE) and easily transpose it to one of the other strings.

    If the pattern spans three adjacent strings and is confined to the bottom four strings you can easily transpose it to the other set of three adjacent strings in the bottom four-string group.

    Warp Refraction Thanks Jon Finn

    This simple type of pattern transposition breaks down because of the odd tuning of the B string, however, if you play patterns on any or all of the E,A,D strings and B string the same pattern can be transposed to any or all of the A,D,G strings and E string because the intervals between the string groups match.

    If you learn where all of the possible occurrences of a given note are by pattern, you can mentally shift this pattern around to find alternate ways of playing the same note in the same or in a different octave.

    Learning patterns is a similar process to learning scales. The truth is you should learn to read music and write the scales out to begin the process of understanding its keyboard centric notation.

    It will also give you some insight into the cycle of 4ths/5ths and the concept of transposition using the cycle.
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