I was watching a YouTube video the other day where Lee Anderton (aka the Captain) gets a guitar lesson from Ariel Posen. Ariel tries his best to teach him a few things in a very thorough and well-meaning way, but about half-way through Lee says something along the lines of, ‘Just teach me the quick and dirty way to do things, I’m a middle-aged man who doesn’t have the time (or the patience) to practice scales for 8 hours a day’, which is both totally valid and completely doable on guitar as it’s one of the few instruments that lends itself well to a wide range of methodologies, be they theory-based or the other extreme, which is what we’re going to look at in this post.
I won’t deal with pentatonic scales in this series of articles as you’re probably already well-versed in those, and are looking to be able to solo over simple and common chord progressions, or add more variety to your improvisations.
All the music theory terms you’ll find in these articles are for labeling purposes only, and will perhaps help you recognize these concepts in songs or pieces you already know. Our main tool for improvising will be the major scale, but I don’t want you to think of it as a major scale. It’s really just a generic pattern and/or collection of notes on the fretboard, and you just need to learn where they fall. To do this, we’re going to use three scale patterns that cover 99% of the notes on the neck.
We’ll start with F Major:
Here are the three patterns you need to learn. You can do this in front of the TV. Your objective is to learn where the notes fall on the neck and build up a little technique by running these patterns over and over; simply rinse and repeat until you no longer need to look at these diagrams to find the notes.
Remember, this is a generic note pattern which we’ve labeled F Major, or the key of F Major. We can start and end the pattern on any of its notes, and we can use it to improvise over any of the following chords:
Therefore, if someone’s playing a Dm in isolation, you can play the above patterns over it and it’ll sound good, just remember to relate your licks and runs to D, or use your ear to guide you around the pattern if you don’t know the notes on the neck. This works for any other chord in the wheel.
If someone’s playing a group of chords from the wheel, you can also solo over those to your heart’s content using the above patterns. Alternatively, if you’ve written a piece with the above chords, you can now solo over it with the scale patterns.
If someone’s playing any of the chords (or a group of them) below, you can also solo over them using this pattern. They’re just variations on the ones above.
Yes, try it out. The only work you need to put in is learning the scale patterns, but we’ve reduced them to just three instead of five or seven which you may have come across in other systems. Once you have the patterns down, let your ear be your guide and through trial and error, you’ll start to come up with some great-sounding stuff in no time! You’ll be pleased to know that the three patterns are the same for all 12 keys, so they’re a sound (and rewarding) investment of your precious spare time.
In Part 2, we’ll look at the key of C Major.