How to practice scales on guitar

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by | Feb 22, 2022

One note per click

Step one is to set the metronome to 40 bpm. We’ll practice the harmonic minor scale rooted on the 6th string at one note per click. Only one note per click will force us to focus in a few things:

1- the scale itself
2- the metronome, which means you are working on your timing
3- your right-hand technique
4- relaxation

Two and three notes per click

The next step is to switch to two notes per click and after you are comfortable with it, it’s time to switch to three per click.

Three notes per click can be a little bit tricky, because we want to think in terms of triplets instead of two semi-quavers and a quaver.

As opposed to two semi-quavers and a quaver, triplets are evenly distributed between one beat and the next.

In order to be able to play triplets correctly, you need to be able to hear them in your head first.

You can listen to your metronome and count with it, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, so you can get the right tempo. As soon as you feel comfortable with it, you go and start practicing on your guitar.

Remember to put accents on every beat!

Also, note that you have to play the scale three times in a row without stopping in order to land with the root on the beat again.

Soloing tips

All of these exercises, as well as helping you develop technique, will also help you with your rhythmic vocabulary: when it comes to soloing in jazz, your preferred rhythmic figure is eight notes, but you also want to have more rhythmic options in order to make your solo more interesting. For example, you can use a combination of eight notes and add a triplet now and again, making the solo more diverse and complex. This is what these exercises will help you achieve!

4 notes per click

Still at 40 bpm, we are now playing four notes per click, and again, don’t forget to always put the accent on the click.

5 notes per click

As we saw with triplets, there is a catch with playing an odd number of notes per click. You’ll have to play the scale the same number of times of the notes you’re playing per click. For example, if you are playing three notes per click, you’ll have to play the scale three times; if you’re playing five notes per click, you’ll have to play the scale 5 times, and so on…

Same as before, the first step is to stop, listen to the metronome and try to hear this rhythm in your head before playing it. You can use numbers or words to count the notes per beat! A good word to use with five notes per beat (quintuplets) is “uni- ver-si-ty”: by saying this word every beat, you can hear how five notes per beat sound!

As always, play the accent on the first note, and don’t forget to play the notes evenly distributed between a click and the next.

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6 notes per click

Now, six notes per click is a little bit easier than five: you can think of two triplets, (1 2 3, 1 2 3) or simply count until six (1 2 3 4 5 6) from one beat to the next.

Although six notes per click is an even number, you’ll have to play the scale three times in a row to land with the root on the click, because six notes per beat count as two triplets.

7 notes per click

Seven notes per beat are definitely a challenge to get used to.

Just like before, listen to the metronome and try to hear this subdivision before playing it. For this one I use “go to u-ni-ver-si-ty” to hear 7 notes within beats.

Remember the rule of odd numbers before playing it, for this one you’ll have to play the scale 7 times to land on the root.

8 notes per click

Same as before, but this time play 8 notes per click!

This is easier rhythm-wise but more difficult from a technique perspective, since we have to play faster!

Practice tips

Remember that – as with everything in life – success doesn’t happen over-night.

We need to have patience and accept that we need to put in hard work to see the results.

If this is your first time, don’t try to go from 1 note to 8 per beat in one sitting!

Take your time, get used to the different beats, listen to the metronome and try to get your tempo right before moving on.

Of course, you can use this exercise with any scale of your choice!

Happy practicing,

Filippo Dall’Asta

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Below you can see Filippo Dall'Asta showing you how to play Minor 6 arpeggios over dominant chords

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