How to Use Guitar Scale Sequences to Create Licks and Riffs

If you are learning scales on guitar, you have probably encountered guitar scale sequence exercises like this:

Or this:

The purpose behind these exercises is that the scale gets ingrained in your head, that you develop the muscle memory and have a lot of choices from which to use in your guitar solos.

The first time I was given guitar scale sequences as an exercise by my teacher, I found the whole thing of figuring them out and repeating them all over very tedious.

The reason they were presented in such a boring way to me back then, is that the exercises were only focused on the memory aspect of learning the guitar scale, not the application aspect.

Yes, I did numerous 1234/2345/3456/4567/ etc. exercises. It wasn’t exactly hard work. And it was time well spent.

However, it’s a pretty dull thing to do unless you understand the ultimate purpose behind spending your time practicing guitar scale sequences –applying them to real life musical situations.

In this lesson I’ll show you exactly what to do to use guitar scale sequences to create your own licks, riffs and solos.

Once you have understood the process, it’s only a matter of creativity which can be trained by writing as many licks, riffs and solos as possible.

Even if most of what you write ends up discarded and never used to record or perform, by writing them you will be improving in both the technical and the creative aspect of guitar playing.

Step 1: Learn the A minor pentatonic scale’s most commonly used pattern.

All examples in this lesson will be taken from the A minor pentatonic scale in this particular position, but the concept of guitar scale sequences can be applied to any other scale.

Step 2: Learn the following scale sequence on the A minor pentatonic scale

This 1234/2345/3456 etc. sequence is very common and the example licks and riffs below will be taken from this sequence. Once again, there are many other guitar scale sequences you may want to explore, whether on the minor pentatonic or any another scale.

Step 3: Use guitar scale sequences to create riffs and licks.

If you know the sequence above by heart, along with a dozen others, and stop there, guess what will happen?

You won’t be able to play guitar licks, riffs and solos, but only sequences.

And no one wants to listen to just sequences.

The magic happens when snippets from these sequences are turned into melodic phrases.

Next, we’ll go through some examples to explore how we could use guitar scale sequences as a tool for creativity.

Example 1.

The first eight notes of this lick are literally “copy and paste” from the scale sequence you learnt in Step 2. They’re the last four notes of Bar 3 and the first four notes of Bar 4 in the scale sequence provided in Step 2.

The only difference is the rhythm since I change the notes from quavers to semiquavers, for the purpose of my lick.

In the second half of Bar 1, and the entire second bar, I’m not using the scale sequence at all.

Instead I use long notes and guitar phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato to create a melody.

The last bar, once again, uses a scale sequence from the progression. The first seven notes of Bar 3 in the lick are the first seven notes in Bar 3 of the scale sequence you learnt in Step 2.

Once again, quavers are turned into semiquavers.

The eight semiquaver in the bar though, does not follow the sequencing pattern as I choose it to be the note that precedes the final note, A, the root note of the scale.

As you can see, though nearly a third of this lick is made of a scale sequence, they don’t sound like sequences at all, but like an actual guitar lick made of melodic phrases.

Example 2.

Though it may not look as such the first bar is taken entirely for the guitar scale sequence you’ve learnt in Step 2.

I’m using the last three notes of Bar 5 and the first four notes of Bar 6 from the scale sequence, followed by a bend, and repeating the final note of the progression once again.

In Bar 2 of this lick I deviate from the regular sequence and use a pattern that may easily have been part of a different sequential pattern.

Note: In this lesson we’re using only one sequence to explore ideas, but keep in mind that the more different guitar scale sequences you learn, the more choices you have to write you own solos.

Taking ideas from different sequences and mixing them in the same lick or solo is one way of adding variety I will not be using in this lesson, but which you may wish to explore.

Example 3.

The examples above focused mostly on lick and solo ideas. Now we’ll explore how you can use scale sequences to write guitar riffs.

The riff above uses snippets from the guitar scale sequence in Step 2, for the entire first and fourth bar.

The power chords in the other bars, the rests in Bars 2 and 5 as well as the palm muting in Bar 3 transform a monotonous exercise into a real guitar riff.

Note: A riff is meant to be repeated so when you finish Bar 5, start from bar one again and repeat the whole riff as many times as you want.

Keep this in mind when writing your own songs. If you have, say, 100 bars of music to write in the form of guitar riffs, you don’t need to compose different music for all 100 bars. You can repeat the same riff, possibly with creative variations, for a part, or all of the music.

More guitar scale sequences

You may have noticed that since all three examples are derived from the same scale sequence my choices were pretty limited.

Now, that you know how to use sequences in real life musical situations I will give you a few examples of different guitar scale sequences you can learn and experiment with.

I’m using different rhythmic patterns on purpose, to get your minds thinking of the different options you have.

An exercise can do yourself, is to apply the rhythmic pattern of one sequence to another.

Sequence one

123/234/345 etc. pattern in triplets

Sequence 2

1-3/2-4/3-5/4-6 etc. pattern in quavers.

Sequence 3

2 – 1/ 3-2/4-3 etc. pattern in semiquavers

There are numerous other patterns of guitar scale sequences. Learn as many as you need to have enough choices for your guitar improvisations.

If you don’t know from where to start improvising, read step by step guide to improvising on guitar and then apply the ideas have just learnt from this lesson on sequencing to your own compositions.

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