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How to Practice Scales

This is to give beginners an idea of how to play and practice scales. Later we will cover more advanced approaches to playing and practicing scales.

Scales Up and Down

Most of the time scales are thought of as a series of notes to be played up and down from low to high and back. Scales are numbered using scale degrees. For example, the scale degrees of a seven-note scale would be: Root, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

A scale covering a one-octave range is often practiced up and down like this:

Root-2-3-4-5-6-7-Octave of root-7-6-5-4-3-2-Root

That’s the first way you should practice a scale. It’s also a good idea to start on the high note, go down and then back up to the high note.

Mixing Up Scales

In music, scales are rarely used going straight up and down. This is only a starting point for getting comfortable with playing a scale and learning it. Instead music uses the notes of scales in various combinations. Sometimes the notes of scales get played in order; other times notes get skipped and reordered. To really learn a scale you need to practice jumping from any one note to any other note within the scale. It’s important to practice scales not only up and down, but in other patterns and combinations as well. Which brings us to...

Scale Sequences

One of the best ways to practice scales is by practicing sequences. A sequence is a repeated melodic pattern played on different notes. When practicing scalar sequences you would play the melodic pattern off of each note of the scale.

For example, using a seven-note scale you could practice a 3-note sequence like this:

Root-2-3 / 2-3-4 / 3-4-5 / 4-5-6 / 5-6-7 / 6-7-8

Here the sequence pattern is:

play three notes up the scale / go to the second note of the scale, play three notes up the scale / go to the third note of the scale, and so on...

Or, you could practice skipping notes in the scale like this:

Root-3 / 2-4 / 3-5 / 4-6 / 5-7 / 6-8

You can create any pattern of any length and use it as a sequence to familiarize and challenge yourself in playing a scale.

Practicing sequences not only gets your fingers familiar with the mechanics of playing a scale, but they also help you learn to hear the scale. You’ll find the more ways in which you practice a scale, the more ideas you’ll have at your fingertips.

When you practice a scale, first learn to play it up and down. Then, try playing the scale with various sequences. I’ll be showing you sequence patterns along the way. If you are confused about sequences, you will play and understand them soon enough.

Practice All Over the Fretboard

You should practice scale patterns all over the fretboard. Any pattern you can play in one area of the bass fretboard can be shifted to any other area of the fretboard. Practice scales on the upper frets as much as on the lower frets. When possible shift scale patterns to other strings, too.

An excellent way to slowly stretch out your fingers is to practice a scale starting on the upper frets where they are closer together. Then, shift down a fret, play the scale again. Progress until you reach the lower frets which are further apart.

Experiment with the Scale

Finally, I always encourage you to play around with the notes of a scale and try to create something with it. It doesn't even have to be good! Just treat it like an exercise. Nothing helps you learn scales and patterns better than inventing things using it. Don't be shy. The sooner you start creating, the sooner it'll sound good.

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