by Eric Dieter
What do guitar scales and bland, boiled chicken have in common?
If guitar practice was your diet, then scales would probably be your protein.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that most guitar players are lousy “cooks.” Instead of seasoning their meat (or tofu or beyond-meat if you prefer), they boil it and eat it plain. Yuck!
You may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about, but bear with me.
When you practice scales straight up, then straight down… you’ve GOT to be bored… because you are taking a perfectly good ingredient and boiling it until it’s bland and tasteless.
Guitar players spend lots of time “cooking” bland food, then wonder why, when they cook for their friends, the food comes out… BLAND!
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Scales are not generally used in this up-then-down fashion real-world situations. Is it any wonder then, when you go to improvise or “use” scales, that they sound like bland exercises?! That’s all you’ve been practicing, why would anything new and exciting happen if you’ve never experiment with new recipes?
Here are few tips to get your scale recipes a bit more flavorful:
1. Change the ratios. Instead of using all ingredients (i.e. each note of the scale) EQUALLY, play one or two notes 2-3x as MORE often than others.
Example. Instead of A,C, B, D, G, F, E (each note is only used once)
Do something like this, triple the E's and C's:
C A B C E G F E D C E
2. Limit your ingredients. If you dump every spice in your cabinet into one dish, I’m probably not going to eat it. There is a point of diminishing returns, when you add too many flavors that the dish just tastes weird. So it goes when you’re trying to create melodies/riffs/solos.
Here’s how to think about this one: Take just TWO strings only and jumble up ONLY those notes to make melodies. Start with adjacent strings, then switch up the pairs of strings you’re using. When you’re feeling adventurous, try non-adjacent strings (string skipping)
3. Add an exotic ingredient- Rhythm! Try clapping a one or two measure rhythm. Take that rhythm and see how long you can keep it going without stopping.
You could also toss in any other “ingredient” you like- be it a chord or a fancy technique.
4. Select one “primary” ingredient and always return to it.
Example: Select an A, play a few notes then always end on an A:
D D E F A, G F G F A, D B G F G A
You can also switch this up and constantly start with the A. The more advanced
approach would be to constantly rotate which note you return to.
These are just a few simple ideas to tantalize your musical taste buds. Hopefully these little recipes get your creativity flowing. If you keep thinking about ways to use your ingredients in a non-linear way, you’ll be craving more scale practice before you know it!
About the Author:
Eric Dieter is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher in Lancaster, PA. He has appeared on dozens of international albums as a session guitar player and tours with the synth-pop and prog-rock band. Eric has studied guitar at Millersville University and Berklee College of Music. Additionally, he holds a degree in psychology and a certification in hypnosis, making him uniquely qualified to train the minds and hands of aspiring musicians. Contact Eric if you are looking for guitar lessons in Lancaster, PA.
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