Scales and Intervals, Part 4: Review

If you’re still with us on the Scales and Intervals series, thanks for sticking with it. I guarantee you that while it may seem like a lot of information to absorb, especially if you’re starting with basic (or no) knowledge, that it will pay off, relatively quickly, and for years to come.

These are concepts that form the basis for developing the technical and the creative aspects of your playing. Obviously, both of those things are important, and knowing where things are and what they’re called will enable you to get where you want to go more quickly, and with fewer potholes along the way.

But for this post, let’s take a quick break from all the theory jargon, and show you a few practical things to work on, based on the material so far, that will give you real results, in a fairly short amount of time.

Check out the three main ways to play the C major scale across the neck, starting with the 1st, 2nd, then 4th fingers:


The above one we covered earlier in the series. Three-note-per-string scales are invaluable to learn, as they are the most adaptable, and present the most opportunities for creating great melodic patterns to run up and down through the scale.


The above form was the most conventional way to play a major scale for a long time, but most rock players went to the 3-note/string style in the ’80s, as those patterns are more applicable to shredding. Still, this is a good pattern to know, as it presents another way to anchor your fretting hand and prepare to navigate through the course of a solo or melodic phrase.


This last one is another good pattern for navigating and finger independence. It may be easier for you to play the D and G strings using the 3rd finger, instead of the 2nd. Either way, there’s going to be a little bit of shifting back and forth, but not too bad.

Practice all three forms with alternate picking, starting with downstrokes and with upstrokes, observing how the changes from string to string affect your picking motion in each form. Remember also these forms are movable, and the first (lowest) note is the root of the scale, so if you want to play a B major scale, start one fret down in 7th position.

In moving the forms to other positions, keep the note diagram for the entire fretboard handy, and observe the names of the notes in the other major scales. It’s especially helfpul to notice how many more accidentals (sharps/flats) are present in various keys.

For example, the C major scale, as we’ve seen, has no sharps or flats. But one position down, the B major scale, goes:  B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B, a total of 5 sharps in that scale. One position up from C, the C# major scale, goes: C#-D#-F(E#)-F#-G#-A#-C(B#)-C#. Technically, B#-C are enharmonics, as are E#-F, so the key signature (like you would see on a musical clef) of C# major is shown to have seven sharps, or every note in that major scale!

(About the only time you will ever see the notes B-sharp, E-sharp, C-flat, or F-flat, is when they are used in specific key signatures. Otherwise, they are conventionally known as C, F, B, and E respectively.)

There are mathematical patterns behind this, which we’ll cover in future posts when we get to concepts like the circle of fifths. In the meantime, just practice all three major scale forms in as many positions as possible (utilizing open strings as needed), and identify all the notes in each different major scale.

All those movable major scale forms should keep you busy for a while, and to add to the fun, let’s leave you with a couple of exercises based on third intervals. Here’s the first (3-note-per-string) scale form in thirds, ascending then descending:


Now in sextuplets:


The sextuplet rhythm and number of notes don’t quite land “right” the way the first example does, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, these interval exercises can be worked through all three scale forms diagrammed above. Start with both directions of alternate picking, then try incorporating legato, palm muting, and economy picking. Learn the patterns thoroughly in one position or key before moving them up and down the neck.

This series has grouped scales and intervals together, in order to show how the former is constructed from the latter. Hopefully this series has provided some insight as to how the two are related. Please check out the Intervals PDF on the Resources page for a larger chart showing the note and interval relationships within a given scale.

At this point, in order to do justice to each subject, we’re going to investigate deeper into intervals and scales separately. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll check out each type of interval separately, and provide tab examples and diagrams to help you get them under your belt. Then we’ll move on to some different types of scales.

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