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12 Guitar scale exercises to get you to make music

Before you learn these guitar scale exercises, I suggest you first go through this lesson on how to learn and use guitar scales

In today’s lesson, we’ll be taking things to the next step.

Rather than give you a random set of guitar scale exercises, I will take you through a process where you’ll not only learn scales more deeply, but also jog your creativity to start improvising your own melodies.

The following exercises can be grouped in three, depending on the purpose they serve.

The first group of exercises will help you learn the scales we’re going to use in depth, namely the major, the minor scale and their respective pentatonics.

In the second group I will show you a few ways you can use these scales to create your own guitar riffs, licks and solos.

In the third group I will give you incomplete phrases you will give one or more endings to, some of which will come with instructions and suggestions.

Guitar scale exercises group one: Learning the scales well

In each of the exercises in this group, we’ll be using a different scale sequence on the major scale, the minor scale and their respective

1. Minor pentatonic scale sequence

The minor pentatonic is the most widely use scale in Rock and Blues music.

The following is a simple sequence where you play the notes of the scale in this order 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, 3-4-5-6, 4-5-6-7 etc..

 

2. Minor scale sequence

Instead of the CAGED system, which I find inefficient I prefer 3 note per string patterns to learn major and minor scales.

The following sequence uses triplets over the 3 note per string pattern of the natural minor scale. The sequence goes 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6 etc. 

3. Major penatonic scale sequence

For the major pentatonic scale we’re going to use this sequence: 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, 5-4 etc. 

Note that in this scale sequence, the first note we’re playing is not the first note of the scale but the second.

4. Major scale sequence

For the major scale we’re going to use this sequence: 1-2-3-2, 2-3-4-3, 3-4-5-4, 4-5-6-5 etc.

If you want to learn these scales really well, you can apply each scale sequence to every other scale. This will prepare you better for the next section where we’ll start turning these exercises into real music.

Guitar scale exercises group 2: Examples of these scales in practice

The exercises in this group are actually short pieces of music written in each of the four scales we’re using.

This should give you an idea of how scales are used in practice.

1. Minor pentatonic scale

There a few things I want you to notice from this short musical example using the minor pentatonic scale.

The first four notes of the first and the fourth bar, are parts of the scale sequence given above. A good place to start a guitar lick, or even a guitar solo, is taking a snippet from these sequences and turn it into a…. 

Melodic phrase: Guitar phrasing is a crucial skill for those who want to create music on the instrument. Phrasing is about how and when you play the notes, rather than what notes you play. To achieve this we use phrasing techniques such as the ones in the example below: Vibrato and string bending.

Motif and variation: Did you realize that the same rhythmic and melodic ideas found in the first bar keep repeating themselves in different forms and variations in the following three bars? It’s very important to keep this concept in mind when improvising guitar solos. 

You don’t need to create new stuff all the time, but use the same motif – a very short musical idea – and makes changes to either the melody, the rhythm, or both.

2. Minor scale

The minor pentatonic is a cool scale to use, I personally use it a lot in improvisation, however it’s a bit limiting when it comes to expressing certain emotions through music because it lacks notes that form a dissonant interval from the root note of the scale.

The natural minor scale has the same five notes of the minor pentatonic, and two more.

These two notes happen to be among the more dissonat in the scale which is great, since resolving dissonance into consonance is one of the best ways to add melody in music.

What I want you to notice in the next short musical example is the notes that weren’t in the minor pentatonic and the effect they have on the melody.

Also note two other techniques used which are string skipping between the last notes of the first bar, as well as the slide between the first notes in the last bar.

3. Major pentatonic scale

I don’t personally use the major pentatonic that much. It’s rarely the scale I need to help me express myself musically and it’s not that popular in Rock and Heavy Metal music, the genres I’m into most.

That said, every scale can sound good if used creatively, so let’s give it a try.

In this short piece of music you should notice once again the concept of motif and variation.

 As well as the rest before the last note. 

Rests, that is, a specific period of silence, are a great tool in improvisation. The use of silence between notes, used strategically, can make a difference to your melody as much as the notes themselves.

4. Major scale licks

The major scale has two more notes than the major pentatonic scale, just like the minor and the minor pentatonic scale.

This gives us more note opportunities as used in the short piece of music below.

Look out for the notes of shorter duration, and the half string bends, all options you can use when you actually get to creating music in the next group of guitar scale exercises.

Guitar scale exercises group 3: Incomplete examples of these scales for you to fill in.

In the next part of this lesson I’m going to give you similar 4 bar melodies as we did before, but each will have one or more empty bars for you to fill in.

The sequences should have made you comfortable with the scale. The short musical examples give you ideas of how you can use scales.

Now it’s time to actually use them to make music!

1. Minor pentatonic scale exercise

This four bar melody misses the last bar. Start training your creative juices by creating 5 different endings for this melody.

2. Minor scale exercise

Answer the given 2 bars of music with 2 bars of your own. Keep in mind you’re free to “steal” motifs from the given bars and use them in different forms and variations of your own.

Once again, you can create multiple different endings to these 2 bars. Doing so will help you train your creativity further.

Note: Some people think that one is either born creative, or is not. That you can’t be creative unless you have it in you. This is entirely wrong. While it is true that a few people have natural gifts (I had the luck of teaching a 5 year old kid who could come up with simple tunes by his second lesson), most of us don’t.

This should not discourage you. 

Just like guitar technique, ear training or music theory, creativity is a skill that is developed through use.

It is in fact the main aim of these exercises to get you started in using your creativity and express yourself in music.

3. Major pentatonic exercise

In the next exercise you’re going to create even more since I’m only giving you the first bar.

4. Major scale exercise

In the last exercise, I’m only giving you the motif. Continue the melody from there and try to repeat the same motif in different forms and variations.

Conclusions: Come up with new motifs

Coming up with an entire piece of music at once can seem hard at first, but coming up with a simple motif, isn’t.

The next step is to come up with your own short musical idea and play around and expand on them to create music of your own.

In longer pieces of music than the ones in these examples, you will need to introduce new motifs as you go along, though the older motifs will keep repeating too.

And to take things another step further, learn about guitar arpeggios and how to use them. Arpeggios will give you even more options when creating melodic solos.


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