It takes more than playing scales up and down to create a good guitar solo.
However, scale runs – ascending or descending a scale using linear, repetitive or staggered movements – are an important component of soloing and a good source of ideas.
Scale runs can be used to create content for your solo, to join different licks in the solo as well as to create intensity when played fast.
In this lesson we’ll explore different types of scale runs in the A major and the A minor natural scale, using 3 note per string patterns.
Major scale runs
We’ll be deriving runs from the A major scale using the following scale pattern.
Memorize this scale pattern, preferably using the suggested picking directions. (I always use directional picking. It is the most efficient type of picking if you want to play fast. Learn more about building your speed and directional picking in this free E-course).
The next thing we’ll do is derive guitar scale runs from this pattern.
In this exercise you will be applying scale runs for the entire pattern, however in real musical situations you will only be using snippets of it.
The first scale run is a sequence where the notes move in groups of three – 1,2,3 – 2,3,4 – 3,4,5 etc.
Once you can play the scale run fluently, you should use it in a more musical context, as in the example below.
Try coming up with 5 (or more) different licks using snippets from the scale run above.
You can use snippets of different lengths, start on different notes and use different rhythmic patterns.
When practicing this, try to think in terms of phrases rather than individual notes. If you’re having a hard time finding the notes, you should go to the scale run and practice it outside of a musical context a bit longer.
Note: Practicing these runs also helps train your ears predict the coming note/s in the scale you’re playing in. This ability is priceless if you want to improvise or solo on the guitar.
The following is another run on the scale of A major. This time the notes move in groups of 6 or 9.
In the next example, I turn this run into a lick and also change the rhythm by using triplets instead of eight notes.
Come up with your own 5 licks using this sequence. If you don’t usually use triplets in your solos, it’s a good time to practice them and get this rhythmic option under your belt.
Minor scale runs
Next we’ll be using scale runs on the A minor natural scale in the first position, using a 3 note per string pattern. (Go to this lesson if you want to learn this scale all over the guitar fretboard).
In the first run we’ll apply to this scale we’ll be moving in intervals of a third – 1,3 – 2,4 – 3,5 – 4,6 etc.
The next lick starts with intervals of a third ascending in the first half of the first bar, descending in the second half of the first bar while the root note A is bent up to in Bar 2.
In the next run, the notes of the A minor scale will move in this pattern: 1,2,3,4 – 2,3,4,5 – 3,4,5,6 etc.
The lick I created from this pattern is a fast scale run that ends with two notes bent up to the root note.
Scale runs in guitar solos
In this lesson we have explored some scale runs in the major and the minor natural scale as well as how to use them to create guitar licks.
Needless to say, your guitar solos will not be made of scale runs alone.
The following is an example short 8-bar solo to give you an idea of how to use the above in a more musical context.
This solo is in the A minor scale, using the same pattern we have used above.
It uses various snippets of these scale runs combined with longer notes as well as techniques like bends, slides and vibrato.
Once again, you should come up with your own guitar solos using the scale runs you have learned in this lesson, as well as create new ones.
Conclusion: Where to go from here
Scale runs are very effective but should be seen for what they are: a tool.
A guitarist is not thinking “Now I should probably use x pattern in staggered thirds” when creating solos.
Rather, he’s creating melody in his mind and playing it on the guitar.
The pattern, along with many others, is stored in his memory and automatically recollected while creating.
What this means is that you should dedicate time to both learning guitar scale runs (and build guitar speed if you’re into playing fast) as well as using them creatively in guitar licks and solos.
This applies to scale runs as well as to everything else that you’re learning.
Once you learn a new thing (a chord, an arpeggio, a technique, a rhythm etc) use it in a musical context because it is only then that you will understand its full value.
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