Published On: Wed, May 21st, 2014

Guitar Techniques: Any Major Dude

You’ve been running, but you can avoid it no longer. It’s time for a major scale workout!

They’re the scourge of many a music student – but if approached correctly, major scales can massively benefit your playing. Normally, when practising a specific technique, it’s best to isolate it with a specific exercise, but scales enable us to work on picking technique, timing, position shifting (see Exercises 2 and 3) and dynamic control, all in one go.

All three exercises are written in quavers and are best practised to a metronome. Use alternate picking starting with a downstroke, and play each exercise as quavers to the metronome (two notes per click). Start at crotchet = 100 (novices can begin slower, say 60 to 80).

Then try playing them as triplets (three notes per click), then semiquavers (four per click). The Roman numerals indicate the correct fret for your first finger. Since the fretting fingers are spread out one-finger-per-fret, this tells you where the other fingers will be.

1: The A Major Scale

The Roman numeral IV (that’s ‘four’ for all you non-classics scholars out there) indicates that this one-octave A major scale is to be played in the fourth position. This means the first finger is placed at the fourth fret, so the first two notes in this scale at the fifth and seventh frets will be played with the second and fourth fingers respectively.

2: Major Scale with Shifts

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This three-octave A major scale makes fuller use of the fretboard but involves two position shifts – one on the way up and one on the way down. Make sure these are done as smoothly as possible and that the fretting hand thumb moves with the fingers.

Obviously this is not the only fretboard path for a three-octave major scale, and this pattern will be harder to achieve on a guitar without a full cutaway… but try it anyway. If it proves to be too difficult, then pack your bags and move down three frets to the key of F#, which will make the upper notes more accessible.

3: Two Octave Major Scale

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For our third exercise, we’ll look at a two-octave major scale with the root on the fifth string. Unlike Exercise 1, this time you’ll need a position shift to play the second octave.

To make a change from using alternate picking starting with a downstroke, try alternate picking, starting with an upstroke. Other possibilities include using all downstrokes and all upstrokes (mind, these two options will only be feasible if you’re playing at slow and medium tempos). If you’re plucking the strings with your fingers then try alternating index and middle, then middle and index, then middle and ring finger, then ring finger and middle, then index and ring finger, then ring finger and middle finger. Confusing? Don’t worry… just try each one at a slow tempo and build up gradually.

Incorporate dynamics into the scales, too. For example, play the ascending scale loudly, then the descending one quietly, then vice versa. Another possibility is to play the first octave of the scale loud, then the second octave quiet, then continue alternating between loud and quiet for each successive octave.

Also, try a crescendo on the ascending part of the scale – that is, starting quietly and gradually getting louder – then on the descending part of the scale try a diminuendo… starting loud and gradually getting quieter.

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