Get Scale Practice Right And It Will Boost Your Playing

Scale practice sounds, dry and boring and more than anything else about moving your fingers on the instrument in a way that is anything but music, but when you practice exercises like scale exercises then the purpose is to make it easier for you to play the things you want to play in your solos. It is really that simple, and keeping that in mind will help you come up with a lot of exercises that are much more efficient in making you play better.

Let’s take a look at what exercises you should be working on, but also how you should play them and think about them which is probably different from what you expect.

The Basics

With any scale you want to practice then you of course want to start with the most basic exercise of playing the scale. You can practice scales in many ways, in a position:

on a single string:

or across the entire neck.

To begin with, it makes a lot of sense to stick with positions, especially if you want to play songs with chord progressions that require different scales.

Just learning to play the scale, what notes are in there, and how it looks on the fretboard in that position. The important thing is just to not just stop there, because that is not enough and you can come up with more exercises that you want to get into your playing.

How To Play It What notes Seeing It On The Fretboard

What Are You Trying To Learn?

But when you solo then you are not just running up and down the scale, that sounds boring. You want to be able to create lines like this excerpt from Wes Montgomerys solo on Satin Doll:

And in this solo, there are a lot of 7th chord arpeggios and triads.

So it only makes sense that if you want to use those in your solos then you should also practice them in your scales. That is also why I made a video on “The Most Important Scale Exercise in Jazz” which is on practicing diatonic 7th chords arpeggios.

The reason that this is so important is that the basic chords you improvise over are 7th chords and this exercise is how you connect the scale to the harmony of the song.

First, you want to learn the basic arpeggios, and later in the video, I will show you some ways that you can expand the exercises so that it becomes almost small licks you can use in your solos.

This exercise can be a little tricky to play if you never tried it before, but there is a really useful hack to help you into it.

Each 7th chord is a stack of 3rds in the scale:

The C major scale is : C D E F G A B C

If you stack 3rds from C you get: C E G B

but instead of playing the entire 7th chord arpeggio then you can ease into it by first practicing the 3rds:

The 3rds are a good exercise for flexibility in your playing, and for the rest very much a technical exercise. The Diatonic triads are useful in solos and something that you anyway want to explore.

And then continue to the triads:

This also shows you why the 3rd interval is so incredibly important as a scale exercise, it helps you connect the scale to harmony.


How is it used: The Next Level!

As you saw both in the first Wes solo and can see in most bop-solos then the arpeggios and triads are played in specific ways in the solo, and you might as well incorporate that into how you practice the arpeggios through the scale.

In that way, you are just turning a scale exercise into a flexible lick that you can insert directly into your solo.

The most important version of this is probably using the 8th note triplet with a leading note:

This exercise is helping you vary the rhythm in your solo and teaches you how to use chromatic passing notes in your solos, and it is all over Bebop solos!

Another great way to use triplets is to use them to resolve the top note in the arpeggio like this:

This way of using the arpeggio lends itself really well to help resolve the top note for example in a II V like this:

A triad version of this exercise is also great and a shortcut to some Wes licks.

You start with this basic exercise

Taking this through the scale also becomes a great phrasing exercise

and this is also what you might recognize from this lick that Wes uses in his 4 on 6 solo from The Incredible Jazz Guitar Album:

Making Exercises From Licks

In general, it can be very useful to experiment with using fragments of licks that you transcribe as scale exercises, and in that way, both play them better and hear them move through the scale.

This can become this exercise:

You may be thinking that this is very complicated to keep track of what notes and arpeggios you have to take through the scale, but that is probably not how you want to approach it.

What Is Practicing The Right Way?

When you are practicing exercises like this then you can’t rely on analyzing everything, that is a separate skill and something you need to build in other ways. Instead, you should look at the exercise as a short predictable melody that you take through the scale and try to hear your way through it.

Again starting with this may seem difficult, but if you start with 3rd intervals and triads then you can get used to how it works and you will find that it is not as difficult as you might think.

With exercises like these then it really pays off to worry more about precision and clean execution than speed. This is simply because if you can easily play them cleanly at a slower tempo then speeding them up will become easier. You will probably also realize that if you speed it up before having control then you are going to have to go back and fix things later, and at that time you may also have developed some bad habits.

The Source Of Your Exercises

As I mentioned earlier then it is useful to take fragments from the solos of the people you transcribe and listen to. An amazing resource for this that you can get a lot of inspiration from is this Joe Pass book which has some rock-solid bebop lines that you want to have in your vocabulary and that can give you thousands of ideas for new exercises and lines to work on.

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