How to practice your scales and why – String sets

When you first learn scales you start with positions, but once you play in positions you need to work on being free to change and move around on the neck. In this lesson I am going to cover some exercises that help you develop not only your overview of the notes but also your knowledge of the scale and the structures that are found in it.

Why you want to shift position while playing

The first way we learn scales is in a position, but for a lot of melodies it is a lot easier to shift position while playing, so we need to work on practicing scales so that we can make the position shift and keep the overview of the scales.

To demonstrate how some things are easier to play and phrase well when you move around on the neck I have made two ways to play a line in example 1.

The first one is using the same sort of triad shape for the whole line and can easily be picked with a repeating right hand figure as well. The same lick  played in a position is much more difficult to execute and the phrasing does not in the same way flow by itself.

The approach and some basic exercises

I already made a lesson on how you can practice your scales in positions and learn not only the visual shape but also the name of the notes and the notes in the scale. You can check out this lesson here: How to practice your scales and why – Positions

I assume that you know your positions. If you don’t know the notes in each of the major scales then you can practice it with these exercises. You need to know some theory to have the overview, but without that theory the overview of the neck is also a bit useless.

I am going to use a similar approach here. It is important that you learn the notes on the neck, but it is equally important that you build a knowledge of what notes are in the scales and when you improvise and compose with the scale you also need a strong knowledge of the structures it contains like triads and diatonic 7th chords.

The first exercise is to play the scale on one string. This is something that is not about technique or speed, it is about knowing the notes so that you can find the notes on the neck and  that you know what notes are in the scale.


So this is an exercise that you should work through slowly and on all strings, you probably need it more to check how easy it is and don’t worry about playing it at high speeds etc.

The second exercise is to start to connect the different positions that you use. In this lesson I am assuming that you already know the positions and have some sort of overview of the scales in terms of the notes.

The exercise is really simple, we just play a 6 note chunk of a position and then we shift that up the strings. In example 3  I have written out that exercise on the D and G strings.

I guess this exercise is not something you have to work out and learn by heart, it’s more about practising to think ahead and keeping enough overview to see what you have to play in the next position.

Diatonic triads and arpeggios along the neck

So if you can already connect the positions and know the notes of the scale. Then we can start making exercises where you use your overview to learn moving arppegios up a string set.

You should notice that I on purpose decided not to name the arpeggios in my example, you should be able to recognize them and it is a useful exercise to just go over them and figure out what notes are played and what arpeggio they form.

The first exercise is to play the diatonic triads of the C major scale. I start on the F major triad because that is the lowest one on this string set. I then just move up through the scale and play the diatonic triads. Playing this sort of exercise should  help you develop a practical knowledge of the diatonic triads and the order of the diatonic triads.

If we take the triads from example 4 and add a 7th then we have this exercise shown in example 5.

If you can describe the way you play an arpeggio with the number of notes per string. That would mean that example 5 here above is a 1-1-2.

You can play other versions as well, here is a 2-1-1 on the A D and G strings.

And finally there is a 1-2-1 fingering on the top string set.

You can of course also explore 1-1-1-1 and 2-2 or even more exotic things like 3-1, they are all interesting to try out and see what might work for you!

I hope you can use the information and exercises I went over here to work on getting a better knowledge of the scale and more freedom in your playing so that you can take advantage of some of the thing that work really well on guitar and are easier to play and phrase.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

How to practice your scales and why – String sets

If you want to learn how I put arppegios, chords and reharmonizations together then check out this WebStore Lesson:

There will never be another you – Reharmonization Solo

I also made a video demonstrating how some of the exercises can be used in lines:

If you want to download a pdf of these lines you can do so hear:

3 licks changing positions

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you want to hear.

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