Why do scales matter?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by CrashandBurn, May 6, 2019.

  1. CrashandBurn

    CrashandBurn TDPRI Member

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    Hi all - I have a very basic question that I can't seem to find the answer to anywhere. I'm pretty shaky on theory and have been trying to learn but it's a struggle. One major (no pun intended) thing that holds me back is: Why do scales matter?

    I understand HOW to find a scale (pattern for major, minor, etc.) as well as how scales are used to form chords but that's it. Beyond that, all I find is "memorize all of these different scales" but I can't find an explanation why. I might have an easier time diving into memorizing these if I had some idea what the payoff is.

    Again, I get that it explains how chords are formed but there has to be something more than that. It seems that they are somehow important for solos but, again, I can't find anything specific to explain how exactly they are used.

    Thanks!
     
  2. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    different scales produce different flavors. different scales express different feelings.
     
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  3. MilwMark

    MilwMark Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    One thing is (if practiced with a metronome, with precision) they build timing and technique. They also build "muscle memory". An understanding of intervals between notes.

    I don't find them particularly DIRECTLY musically useful. I'm more apt to use chord shapes and extensions. That could just be me. I understand at some level those embody scales as well. But if I think from chords I end up more melodic and musical.

    Once I had the technique/skill/muscle memory, I stopped playing scales.

    YMMV.
     
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  4. fendrguitplayr

    fendrguitplayr Poster Extraordinaire

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    Scales are important as is good grammar to speak properly.
     
  5. monkeybanana

    monkeybanana Tele-Meister

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    Ear training. Altered, whole tone, etc. Those don’t come naturally to me. Actually nothing in music does unless someone wants to hear pots and pans haha so it provides direction and muscle memory for me while I am training my ear.
     
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  6. Wildcard_35

    Wildcard_35 Tele-Meister

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    Think of it this way: All our ears are programmed to "like" certain sounds. Isn't that crazy? Like, if you play a shuffle in G, and someone plays blues licks comprised of notes of a scale in the key of G or E over it, it sounds pretty pleasing. Play notes from the scale in the key of F, and it might not sound so good. In fact, it might sound downright sour or unpleasant (Correct me if I'm wrong!) So in a way, scales give us a sort of roadmap of notes we can play that will sound good when we play in a given key. Does that make sense?
     
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  7. Blue Bill

    Blue Bill Poster Extraordinaire

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    As Wildcard said, it's a roadmap. For comping and improvising, scales give you ways, or "routes" to get from one chord to the other with notes that fit the song, while avoiding notes that unintentionally sound jarring or dissonant. Its one of those things that, once you start learning how they work, you won't believe you ever had to try to play without the context they provide; like driving without a map or GPS. It does kinda suck to learn them, most people, myself included, struggle with it a bit, but for me it is very worth it.

    Also, by learning scales and modes, it will give you the vocabulary to communicate with other musicians. It will explain what makes different chord voicings and what they sound like. If someone says, "Play a major 7th on count 3.", you will know what this means, or a 6th. a 9th, etc. It will make you more fun to play with.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2019
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  8. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    Scales aren't important to soloing, unless you want your solo to sound like someone playing scales.
     
  9. Blue Bill

    Blue Bill Poster Extraordinaire

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    Good point BD. But if you can hear that the harmonies of a song sound Mixolydian or Dorian, or whatever, you can more easily add the notes that will fit into that sound, if you know where they are. I agree that a solo that sounds like a scale exercise can be soul crushingly banal.
     
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  10. ndcaster

    ndcaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    scales and modes are music's color palettes

    Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 4.15.45 PM.png

    no more ... but no less
     
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  11. JL_LI

    JL_LI Friend of Leo's

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    Scales are indispensable to me. I don't usually think of them as the letter notes, but in the steps of the scale. So I know where the root is located for every key, where the second step, the third, minor third, fourth, fifth, flatted fifth for the times I need that note, sixth, seventh and major seventh, ninth etc. Now think about this. If you can play an F major scale with no open strings, you can just as easily play an F# major scale or a G major scale or a G# (or Ab) major scale. Learn the form the scale takes up the neck and you can play any scale until you run out of frets. That's lots easier than memorizing scales on a piano or a trumpet. Learn minor scales. Learn major and minor pentatonic scales and pretty soon you can play in any key. Think of the open strings that are the crutches in cowboy chords as exceptions. To use them effectively, you have to learn the names of the notes. You won't play an open G string in an Fmaj chord but if you leave the G string open you'll get a very useful Fadd9 chord. I use it a lot for country. What happens is that that you begin to know chords by the notes in them, or at least by the steps of the scale included in them, not just by fingerings. You'll be a lot closer to knowing how to alter chords for the dissonances, resonances, and resolutions that sound so pleasing. Get this far and you'll be a lot closer to making music rather than noise with your guitar. I promise you its worth the time and effort to learn this stuff.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2019
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  12. archtop_fjk

    archtop_fjk Tele-Holic

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    For me, playing scales are good for exercising the fingers and gaining speed (especially synchronizing the left and right hands), and you CAN use little snippets of scales in your solos. But scales don't in and of themselves make good solos. In fact, this is my current problem with my improvised solos - they always sound like someone's scale or lick exercise. The most I can do on the fly is to make sure I'm playing the scale in the right key or just go pentatonic and play the same scale from the home key over and over. What I find takes a LOT of practice is to be able to quote a melody and play some arpeggios along with some scalar sections in one improvised 12 bar solo, and make it sound good with no fluffed notes, poor bends, or muffed slides/pull offs. And so the pursuit continues...
     
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  13. DougM

    DougM Friend of Leo's

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    Scales are the building blocks for creating phrases and melodies when soloing or when coming up with riffs. They help you understand (along with your ear) what notes will work in any given key and with any given chord. I always know both the scale degree of every note (3rd or 4th, etc), but at the same time, I know the note names as well (G, A, etc).
    If you learn every note everywhere on the fingerboard, then you can play in any key anywhere on the neck.
     
  14. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    Arpeggios > scales
     
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  15. CrashandBurn

    CrashandBurn TDPRI Member

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    These are exactly what I meant in my original post. You’re saying that scales are important without saying why or how to use them.

    This makes some sense to me. Thank you! It at least gets me in the ballpark. It’s still hazy and vague in some sense (some quotes above say they are not important and are not necessary).

    I guess I’m asking if I take the trouble to memorize scales, what do I practically do with them then? I don’t know what it means to have “different textures” and things like that. I’m wondering if I learn a G major scale, what do I use it for?

    Thanks all for the replies!
     
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  16. jonyorker

    jonyorker Tele-Meister

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    Watching this thread as it’s exactly where I am as well!
     
  17. jrblue

    jrblue Tele-Afflicted

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    When you drive, your brain doesn't think in words to command your body ("turn the wheel 1/4 turn to the right") because you've heard the instructions before, thought it through, and practiced until it's manageable through muscle memory, the neural network you built through playing, a bit of conscious thinking ("let's drop it down"), and real-time feedback. So while conceptual thinking and learning may not be an effective approach for playing in real time. doing that conscious work sets you up the move from learning and practice to playing. No ne consciously thinks about how to talk while they're talking.
     
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  18. schmee

    schmee Poster Extraordinaire

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    Personally, I'm not sure they do matter that much. But they are a tool for muscle memory and to "get by" on a song. The reality is, players should probably focus more on melody than scales or "position playing" . Those that do are instantly more tasty to listen to. The melody is probably 80-90 % notes from a scale, but there are some key differences in there often. Not to mention they are not in the "order" you would practice the notes in scales. It seems Jazz guys play a lot of scale stuff but manage to put just enough melody in so you recognize it, although in some songs you wont until half way through!
    So what should you do? Learn the melody and stray from that with scales or learn scales and stray from them with Melody? I say the former.
    The emotion you can convey into your fingers is far more popular to listeners than fast scales. The emotion is slide up/downs, hammers, bends, timing and nuance.
    The most impressive people to me are the ones that can think a tone or note, then produce that. ie: play what you hear in your head. A few people get there, SRV etc.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2019
  19. Clifton C

    Clifton C Tele-Holic

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    I think they help protect the fish from the outside world.
     
  20. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    Playing the scale in 1, 2, 3 order (upward, ascending, one scale note then the next) or in reverse is useful in building the road map, but not so much for playing anything that sounds musical. sure, there are exceptions.

    Once you have the roadmap, or something close, then use the scale to find the intervals - not just the note next door, one scale interval up or down, but all the other intervals; check out how a melody that you like uses repetition or different intervals, but within the scale you have learned. How a melody uses an octave jump, for example.

    The scale is a tool for seeing how those different intervals fit in a pattern. If you can tie the pattern to what you hear in your head, then you can start playing what you hear in your head.

    If possible, sing along with the notes in the scale you play. Then try singing a note and play that note on your guitar.

    Just a few things to try.
     
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