How to master the Minor and Major scales

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The same scale used in a different context

Let's get one thing straight: The "Natural Minor scale" is just your old Minor / Major scale, used over a Minor chord progression. In the last article I covered blues rock and how to mix the "Dorian" scale (Which is still the old Minor / Major scale with a new name!) with the blues scale. To play over chord progressions in a regular Minor key we'll do almost the same thing. We won't leave the A-Minor / C-Major scale patterns so everything will be quite easy here.

What's new today?

Yesterday we took the D-minor pentatonic and added the G# to create the D-Blues scale. And we laid that on top of the C-Major / A-Minor scale to produce a mixture of the D-Blues and the D-Dorian scale. (If this is completely confusing to you, go buy a book on basic music theory or send me an email with your specific question and I'll answer you)

Today we're going to use the same scales to play over chord progressions in natural Minor and Major. At this point, it doesn't matter whether or not you're entirely clear on the difference between blues rock and regular Minor and Major. This will become very easy to understand in a later article. Right now we're establishing the three tools you need to be able to improvise over any chord progression - and this article is about the second tool.

Not much have changed

Also, it's very important that you keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. Remember we're really just using the notes from the A-Minor / C-Major scale, so focus on the patterns that you have learned already and think of these new tools as a way to expand what you already know. Also, I'm going to give you a few backing tracks later in this process, that you can play around with to make all this very real and self evident.

How to use the blues scale in this context

Now let's start from scratch again. We're still in the key of A-Minor / C-Major and now we want to play a solo in the key of A-Minor. This time we're going to place the blues scale on the A in the scale and not the D. This well known pattern is your A-Minor pentatonic with the addition of the D# which makes it the A-Blues scale.

Let's see how the natural A-Minor scale looks in the same position using a traditional pattern:

When we mix the two, we create a nice improvising tool. You use the notes of the A-Minor pentatonic as your home base. And then you pay frequent visits to the blue note D# and the notes from the A-Minor scale.

Try for a minute to play around with these two shapes. Start by playing the A-Minor chord so you hear that ringing in your ears. Then shift between these two scale patterns. Any note within the A-Minor pentatonic will sound cool over any chord in an A-Minor chord progression! It's your "safe place" to be. But if you don't leave your safe place, it can get a little boring.

Harmonic Minor Alternate Picking Lick

Take it to a new level

Now let's see how that might look in a four notes per strings pattern. Let's focus on the top two B & E strings. You can find all these patterns under resources as always. Now start practicing this shape and try to go from playing all the notes to only the notes of the blues scale - and back again:

Then take that shape across the fretboard in a four notes per string pattern. To go across all six strings we have to move that pattern up one octave. If that's too high for you, just stay where you are and go as low as you can. Now practice playing within these shapes again:

Colors to paint with

The more you practice this the more you'll be able to play what you hear in your head. At one point you'll able to sing along with yourself when you play because you know what you next note is going to sound like. These different shapes within the regular Minor / Major shapes are like colors you add to your musical painting. Practice each and every four notes per string pattern and focus on producing the minor sound when you play. Strum the A-Minor chord once in a while if you forget where you are musically. Then have a great time fooling around with each of the seven four notes per string patterns, but stay on only two strings before you take them across the strings.

How to play over Major chord progressions

Now here's the extra bonus: To play over any Major chord progression, just remove the blue note! Play a C-Major chord and use the same scales to improvise over that. So you use the same tool to play in a C-Major chord progression as you would an A-Minor. (That's why I call it the A-Minor / C-Major scale) In my next article I'm going to cover the Harmonic minor scale which is the same scale with one small modification.