I have been studying and practicing scales and modes for many years. On the guitar, it is no mean feat to master all the important scales needed for improvisation because you always have multiple alternatives for where to find the same scale on the fingerboard; a guitar’s fingerboard is laid out in such a way that you can find the same note/pitch in several different places. This makes it a very complicated instrument to master in terms of scales. I won’t go into the technical details around it – that would be for guitar geeks only! The challenge in terms of improvisation, as it is on any instrument, is to learn the scales in such a way that you can use them as a pool of available notes to use over a particular chord or chord sequence. A scale tells you which notes you can and which notes you can’t play over any given chord because the scale is related to the key that the chord is from.
There are many great improvisors within the worlds of both rock and jazz music. One of my favourites is Pat Metheny, who is essentially a jazz guitarist but is also a very fine jazz/fusion composer. His knowledge and playing of scales is absolutely seamless and he is a total master of improvising over both modal tunes (simpler one or two-key sequences) and more complex changes.
My own goal is to develop sufficient knowledge and technique in terms of scales to be able to improvise musically over any chord sequence. This is an on-going project. I may never come close to the almost super-human abilities of Pat Metheny and his like but as a music teacher of mine once said: ¨There are a lot of good places between here and there¨. Wise council indeed.
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