Visualization Part 1: Learn To Master Scales

By Chris Glyde

"I worded the title of this one very specifically for many reasons. Learning scales really has nothing to do with just memorizing a bunch of dots on a piece of paper that can be translated to the guitar. In fact, these dot patterns are really more like tricycle wheels for further visualization skill development anyway. When I refer to something as a tricycle wheel, I saying that it’s not the end goal and that it’s just a step along the way to help you master the skill.

"Most guitar teachers and most students of the guitar memorize the first pentatonic and then never learn how to use it to make actual music. Usually, at best, they have the five pentatonic scales together. What they are almost always lacking is real knowledge about how to use the scale properly, how to combine it with other scales and how it moves around the fretboard.

"To practice this subject, I would first select the scale type you need to work on. Here are a few examples just in case you’re not sure where to start. Your choice could be as follows:

1) Pentatonic scales (good for beginners)

2) Diatonic Scales (This would be Major and Minor scales and their 7 modes)

3) Harmonic minor

4) Melodic minor

Most of you, I imagine, will be fine working with the pentatonic scales and those that think they’re ready for the diatonic, may be surprised that their knowledge of the pentatonic is actually lacking. Let’s discuss how to test this. "This test is usually easier with a trainer/teacher of sorts to help you, but for now you’re going to do what you can on your own anyway. The first step is to clearly get the scales under your fingers. I am not a fan of walking up and down scales, I think it’s boring. So what we’re going to do is take two scale shapes and work our way up to combining them. Here’s the general process and please note, pay attention to the concept, not so much the specific example. Many of you will already be able to solo in the first pentatonic, that’s fine. I want you to learn the process/ concept for training new scales. 

1) We will take the first pentatonic and for 2 minutes play in it, just it. You can play licks you may know, you can improvise little licks on the spot. The main point is that you’re moving around in the scale and it’s not just you playing up and down a scale. You can pull up a backing track while you’re doing this just remember that visualization is about learning how to apply scales so you need some harmony in the background. (Picture of first pentatonic tablature below):

2) The second step of the process is to use a second scale, in this case we will keep things simple and use the 2nd pentatonic. You will spend another 2 minutes playing in just the 2nd pentatonic. (2nd pentatonic listed in the tab below)

3) The final step is to combine the two. You will now play both the first and second pentatonic together integrating the two scales. This concept works for any type of scale. If you’re just learning a new set of scales you will find this a challenging exercise.

"Now, I want to focus in on a couple of important points about this visualization technique for memorizing scales. Again, this exercise is not about the first and second pentatonic, it can be applied under many different situations. So it’s important that you understand the process. I will make sure to spell it out again. 

"You must take two small sections of the scale you’re working on. This can be a whole scale shape like above, but it doesn’t have to be. If it’s too hard, make it easier. Start o by playing just strings E, A and D of the first pentatonic for 2 minutes, then play strings G, B and E of the first pentatonic for another two minutes. Then combine the two and play the full pentatonic shape for two minutes.

If this is too easy, play pentatonic one and two for two minutes, then play pentatonic 4 and 5 for two minutes and finally combine all 4 pentatonic shapes"The process is simple, pick two easy sections then combine them. This is a perfect exercise for learning new scales!" There are some other exercises for scale visualization that are tons of fun, but I will leave you with this one because you can get a great amount of mileage with it and I believe it contains a core concept that’s important to understand"One last thing on this concept, you can get a lot of mileage out of this idea by layering on restrictions. When you play solo’s you aren’t always playing adjacent scales, often times you are moving all around the neck. To replicate and practice this you should practice this exercise doing the following:

1) Non adjacent scales - practice switching between the scale patterns that are not right next to each other.

2) Multiple scales - treating each scale shape like a block is a mistake, so practice combining multiple scales and then switching between multiple scales. This is a great way to work on making sure you’ve mastered this scale shape.

3) Integrating other scale types — Often, when playing solo’s the key may change or you may desire a different sound over certain chords. In order to properly pull this o you need to be able to switch between all scale types on command. You should know how the pentatonic and the diatonic scales you’re playing fit together so you can switch between them seamlessly and you should know how many different ways they fit together. (Pentatonic means 5 and diatonic means 7… so hint, there’s more than one way they can go together.)If you start working on this exercise and work through it on all the scales and modes you want to learn, (pentatonic, diatonic, harmonic minor and melodic minion for starters) then you will be on your way to visualization mastery and improvisation mastery.

About The Author

Chris Glyde is a dedicated guitar teacher based in Rochester New York. By exploring new ways to make his instruction better he has managed to uncover some excellent tactics for guitar excellence. If you found this article interesting and find yourself in Rochester, check out his guitar lessons in Rochester.