How to always know what scales to use

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How to make the right choice fast

In this article I'm going to give you a quick, easy tool you can use to instantly know what scale to play over any rock, pop or metal chord progression. I'm not going to go into the deeper realms of music theory, I'm just going to give you a simple and very effective tool.

So let's say you have to figure out which one of the three scale tools you can use to play a solo. Here are the two things you must figure out:

1. What key you're in

In other words find out what chord is the root chord of the key your in. This is often the first and last chord you play in the song.

2. What type of chord progression it is

Is it a 1. Blues Rock, a 2. Minor or Major or a 3. Harmonic Minor context?

1. Find the key

To find the key of the song, ask someone around you or just assume that the last chord in the song is the number one chord in the key. So if the song ends on a C-Major or Minor, you're in the key of C!

2. Find the root note

Then go to your low E-string and find the root note. So if you're in the key of C, you would go to the 8th fret on the low E-string where you'll find the note C:

3. Find the scale

Now you know what key you're in. Now it's time to figure out which one of the three tools you can use:

Blues Rock or Regular Minor?

Play the C-pentatonic Minor scale. If this sounds great you've narrowed it down to a question of whether you're in a C-Blues Rock or a C-Minor context:

To find that out, play the Dorian pattern over your pentatonic scale and listen to whether or not the grey note sounds great or not:

(As you've probably noticed, I've added the blue note of the blues scale in this pattern) If it does sound great, you're set - and you can continue playing the C-Dorian scale with the C-Minor pentatonic Blues scale on top of it.

If it's not Blues Rock it's Regular Minor

On the other hand, if it sounds awful (And you wont be in doubt if it does) to play that grey note, you know that you're in the key of C-Minor, and you already know that shape:

Recap: you check whether or not the minor pentatonic sounds good or not. If it does, you check whether the Dorian scale or the Natural minor scale works by emphasising the grey note. This note will decide whether to use the Dorian scale with your Minor Pentatonic, or whether to use the Natural Minor.

If that doesn't work, here's what to do

Now let's back track a little and say that your minor pentatonic sounded really weird. If this is the case, there's no reason to try and fix it with the Dorian or the Natural Minor, because they'll sound just as awful as the minor pentatonic. Instead you move the scale pattern down 3 frets. So that you play the C-note with your pinky instead of your index finger:

You are know playing the C-Major pentatonic scale. Same scale, different perspective and a different name.

Now put the Natural Minor shape on top of that like this:

You are now playing the C-Major scale along with the C-Major pentatonic.

The Harmonic Minor and the Phrygian Mode

If none of this seems to work, you know that you're up against a Harmonic Minor context and you have to pull that scale out of your skill library. Now you take your Natural Minor shape and place it 5 frets above the C and turn it into the Harmonic Minor shape like this:

With this shape in place, you are ready to shred over a C-Phrygian chord progression, Yngwie style! Please note that there are a lot of details I haven't covered here. This is just the tool. And it's the tool that I use every day myself. I never have to play any other scales or use any other tools to play over any rock, pop or metal song. This is it!

So what about the other patterns?!

So what about all the other patterns? What about the four notes per string patterns? - You use the patterns in this article to figure out what scales to play over what. Then you move out into the other scale patterns from there. With this little tool you can instantly figure out what scale to use without even knowing the exact chords of the song. You can rely on your ears and this little simple system.

We've covered a lot in this series but tomorrow I'm going to show you a way to implement and use all this very fast. I'm going to give you a way to start of easy so you can use all that we've talked about instantly. Then you can build from that practical and useful foundation and achieve absolute and instant fretboard vision faster and in a more fun way. See you soon.

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