create your own scale lessons

From the beginning, I wanted to write the scale lessons (and the chord lessons) with a type of redundancy that would get the student to thinking, "oh here is that part again". I would have prefered to use fewer lines to convey the message in, and in fact with my intermediate/advanced, I teach abstractions, and review of such concepts so that the students could recreate all of the relevant information that is shared by all scales given a short formula, such as Major scale (ionian mode) = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

The student could then take that condensed, elegant, powerful statement and turn it into a lesson such as the ones I generally post. I have posted a scale syllabus, and a lesson on modal families, where you can find such simple, powerful statements, and create for yourself.

So, we need to know, what are the steps to turn one of those statements into a lesson?

We need to have the following knowledge/tools at our disposal (this is not the time to be learning this stuff, you should already know it, but maybe if you haven't mastered it, this will give you a reason to do so):

FRom here on out I will give a typical lesson leaving the specifics blank or with a filler such as XXXXX for a scale name. I will write notes and instructions in italics, leaving the normal lesson un italicized.

So at the top of the page we put the name of the lesson in a header, and then we move on to basic scale definitions. It is helpful when teaching something new, to relate it back to what we already know. We remind others that there are multiple ways to view scales, some are more useful in some situations than others. The least useful is to list the tones as letters. Now when I'm playing flute, and learning a new scale, that's very important until I've mastered the fingerings and it has become second nature. The guitar on the other hand can manipulate abstractions much more powerfully than other instruments such as woodwinds and brass instruments. the guitar is simpler that way and lends it self to learning theory better than most instruments.

Recall that we defined scale a as:
a group of notes within an octave (and any octaves of those notes) usually played one at a time.

We can describe (define) a scale in any of these ways:
- by letters (representing specific pitches)
- by numbers (representing specific intervals)
- by step pattern (describing intervals from note to note)

So for example the major scale (ionian mode) can be described/ defined as/by: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (in the key of C), 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

Here we remind the student that scales can be classified, this will help us understand how to view the scale within a functional context, and give some guidance to think about ways to apply the scale in a fairly "inside" way. Insert one of the appropriate definitions for the scale under question.

We define a major scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,3,5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a major chord off the root note)

We define a minor scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,b3,5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a minor chord off the root note)

We define a diminished scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,b3,b5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a diminished chord off the root note)

We define an augmented scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,3,#5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct an augmented chord off the root note)

We define a dominant scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,3,5,b7.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a dominant 7 chord off the root note)

We define a (other) scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,#,#.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a [other] chord off the root note)

After having reminded of basic definitions, we analyze the scale fro the student and show how the scale can be represented by its step pattern, by note names, or by intervals.We then go on to show which of the above definitions apply and why.

From either XXXXX = (fill in step pattern), or C-XXXXX = C-(fillin note names for an octave)-C we can find the intervals (from the root note) to be 1,(fill in other intervals).

Looking at the numbers, we can deduce that the XXXXX scale is a Fill in the appropriate definition - major, minor, etc.) scale (add a clarification if necessary to help avoid confusion, such as not THE major scale that would be the ionian mode, etc.). that is, it contains the notes 1,(fill in appropriate intervals).

After showing how we can define the scale on hand and determining what kind of scale it is, we want to compare it to similar scales to help us learn the scale.

We also note that it is similar to the YYYYY scale. The YYYYY scale has the intervals 1,(fill in intervals for 2nd scale); and the XXXXX scale has the intervals 1,(fill in intervals for scale being studied).

Viewing one scale as an altered form of another scale can severly reduce the learning time for a scale and for applying it.
So we could view the XXXXX scale as an YYYYY scale with a (mention the cahnged interval) added/changed. If you already know the YYYYY scale, then you could play those patterns , adding/altering the (mention new interval again).

Here edit the fretboard to show the desired intervals for the scale. first I'll show 13 frets of the fretboard, and then I'll break it into zone based on octave patterns. That is a choice that has been made, a different choice may have been to use 3-notes-per string patterns, or a different types of zone system, after that I include 2 string patterns based on the interval between the strings, and have sometimes included single string patterns, those are useful for playing in tunings alternate tunings as well as in standard. I will for this lesson display the chromatic scale twice for the fretboard and then leave the other shapes blank except for the root notes (which is what the shapes are based upon. Typically when playing such patterns there is a default fingering which keeps the shape within a finger-per-fret rule, so I'll will leave extra space around the ocatve shape for now.

So lets look at some patterns (moveable shapes) with which we can play the Bop scale.



XXXXX scale "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


XXXXX scale "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


XXXXX scale "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


XXXXX scale "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


XXXXX scale "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


two adjacent strings:
Seperated by a P4


seperated by a M3


We recall, that we can derive chords by harmonizing scales. We've previously harmonized the major scale in thirds to get triads, and seventh chords (see August 19th's, and august 16th's lessons)

We now look at harmonizing the scale in question. We remember that we had harmonized similar scales before, or maybe just what the results of harmonizing a simpler scale were.

We found for the major scale (ionian mode) The following triads:

We can create "XXXXX scale" progressions. Doing so will give us a framework to analyze songs, and find good opportunities to employ the XXXXX scale. it's also good practice for songwriting, etc.

We see above the following chords for XXXXX:
in triads: [fill in the triads here]
in 7th chords: [fill in the 7th chords here]
in 9th chords: [fill in the 9th chords here]
in 11th chords: [fill in the 11th chords here]
in 13th chords: [fill in the 13th chords here]

So we could take any of the chords in the above paragraph and create a XXXXX progression out of it. We really should include some type of 1 chord (fill in examples based of XXXXX scale here) and it should be the predominant chord in our progression, with a feeling of resolution when we come back to it.

At this point if the scale didn't lend itself to tertian harmonization (harmonies in 3rds), this would be a good spot to give chords based on alternate harmonization schemes.

After some chords for the scale have been established we turn to looking at inside ways of considering the scales for soloing, and we compare the scale to an earlier scale that may have been studied. It is easier to learn information and retain it if there is a context to put it into. Comparing it with another sclae that is very similar (Hopefully not more than two notes different) will help us play with the subtleties of a scale and gain a deeper understanding of its unique character.

Take a minute to compare and contrast the chords from the XXXXX, and YYYYY scales.
XXXXX = [triads from XXXXX scale]
YYYYY = [triads from YYYYY scale]

They share the following chords (triads) in common: [list common triads here].
Creating a progression using only these chords would be slightly ambiguous, and could be interpreted as either XXXXX or YYYYY. In fact, such a progression would be a good one to record (or have a friend play) and solo over to uderstand the subtle differences between XXXXX and YYYYY (try switching from 1-XXXXX to 1-YYYYY and back, etc. over such a progression and see what different moods are created).

If on the other hand, you want to create a progression that has a more XXXXX character, you should include at least one of the other _ chords (list other triads here) not found in YYYYY.

Learning a scale is learning how to use a tool. There are many reasons to use a hammer, but a sledge hammer and a finishing hammer have very different uses, although they are both hammers. Many people learn scales as fingering exercises. A scale however is a collection of choices, what to play and what not to play at a given moment. It lends itself to certain melodic and harmonic ideas. Certain ideas are common to scales from different points of view.

Where/when does one usually decide to use XXXXX?
[This is a very popular jazz use for scales, use a functionaly similar scale to play over a given functionality]
- some would use it over the 1 chord in the minor scale/key context (play 1-XXXXX over place appropriate 1-7 chord here)
[rather than playing one scale over one chord, find a scale that covers 2-4 chords]
- over several chords that fit within a XXXXX context (see above chords for XXXXX). ex. over "place chord progression from A-XXXXX here" (place roman numeral system version here) you could play A-XXXXX.
[using functional substitution or a modal correspondance, you can still find an "inside application even if it is not a 1-scale over a 1-chord. For example over a C major progression (I-ionian), you could play an A-minor scale(vi-Aeolian)]
- over a related modal progression, use the relative XXXXX scale.

At this point, we point out specifics about a scale that need to be pointe dout such as a historical, or ethnic context. Mixed functionalities, or a symmetric or chromatic nature to the scale, etc.

We remind to sing every note you play. This drastically reduces the learning curve on playing by ear, composing, and playing what is in your head. We might also give pointers to some melodic fragment idea or scale articulation.

We can increase our familiarity by singing every note as we practice our scales/soloing. In previous lessons on scales i've given some basic pointers on starting to solo. Those things transfer here too. Just replace the scale in question with the gypsy minor scale (see lessons from May 24th, june 7th, july 5th, and august 2nd).

Next weeks lesson is on the Hungarian scale.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Next lesson - Hungarian scale
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Last updated October 2, 2003
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