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Lesson Series

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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 9: Continuous Scale Exercises

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 34 **

Hi guys and welcome back to my fusion guitar lesson column for issue 34. We’ve done a lot of pretty complicated material over the last 33 issues but for our 34th outing we’ll be dealing with a concept that is really very simple but will challenge you as much as anything we’ve looked at so far!

One of the big issues that I see improvising guitar players deal with time and again is grounded in their ability to visualise scales in a manner that prevents them from having to jump around the fretboard to keep up with chord changes. Most guitar players have a really hard time creating a continuous line over a set of changes without ‘jumping’ to a more familiar area of the neck and thus breaking the line they had started to play. This is because we are taught to visualise our scales and arpeggios from the lowest note upwards, constantly referencing back to the lower root note when we are looking for the next scale or arpeggio shape for each new chord. For this issue I want to introduce you to a system of practice that will help you to develop this visualisation process so that you can always see where the nearest scale shape or note is for a new chord to the one you just played over. If you get good at this you will always be in control of the direction of your line and be fully aware of where the nearest scale or chord tone is for each new chord you have to play over.

The concept is known as a ‘Continuous Scale Exercise’ and is incredibly simple in its premise. The hard part is actually doing the practice as it requires a lot of concentration and energy at first, but as with any exercise is becomes far easier the more you work at it. For the sake of argument let’s say that we had to play over two Major 7th chords a semitone apart, Gmaj7 and Abmaj7. Since these two scales do not occur in the same key we have to play different scales over each one and for this exercise we’ll be using G Lydian over the Gmaj7 chord and Ab Lydian over the Abmaj7. Our goal is to play eight scale tones over the first chord, initially ascending through one octave from root to root. Once we’ve played all eight note we must then play another eight notes ascending over the Abmaj7 starting on the nearest scale tone above the last note we played over our Gmaj7 chord. In doing so we have to be able to visualise our A Lydian scale in the same position we were in for the G Lydian and keep the scale line constant without breaking its ascending flow. The exercise then moves back to the Gmaj7 chord and we continue to ascend through another eight scale tones always visualising the next nearest scale tone for each new chord, until we run out of fretboard.

The exercise can be developed in a number of ways, for example - starting your line from each note in the scale, starting on each chord tone, descending rather than ascending scales, using combinations of ascending and descending notes, staying in one position, staying on one string. Use your imagination to come up with other ideas and you can really start to develop a fantastic method for always knowing where you are in a given scale and how to transition smoothly from one chord to the next without breaking up your line.

This exercise can be applied to any chord progression you choose and is very effective for developing your ears and learning to hear harmony in a linear way, understanding how scales transition smoothly into one another, rather than abruptly starting and visualising each new scale from its lowest note each time. As ever, watch the video for my examples and apply this exercise in your playing and you’ll really start to notice a marked difference in the way you visualise and hear scales on the neck.

I hope this is useful – good luck with your playing and I’ll see you in the next issue.

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