Scales and Arpeggios

Audio Examples

Transcriptions

Note: The fingerings at the top of the transcriptions are for the fretting hand. Those at the bottom are for the picking hand: up- and down-strokes (U, D) for the plectrum, and 2, 3 and 4 for the middle, ring and little fingers.

Scales and Arpeggios [Issue 48]

"What do you think about when you solo - scales or arpeggios?" I've been asked this question a lot and I also hear it presented to other improvising musicians. To be honest, I think of both and neither. I'm not sure if there's a strict definition for a scale or arpeggio, but I like to see a scale as successive notes played on one string, whereas an arpeggio is one note played on each string to form a melody or phrase.

I'm sure that's not the textbook definition for either, but at least it gets me away from thinking that the notes of scales or arpeggios need to be played in some sort of logical succession, which is exactly how most people practise them. We usually run them in their correct, linear order, up and down, which is a good exercise but not very musical, so when it comes time to make music it ends up sounding clinical and lacking spontaneity.

The goal is to combine these two techniques in such a musical manner that it's difficult to discern which is being used, so here are some examples combining both scales and arpeggios. I'm hoping you'll find them a little out of the ordinary.

Exercise 1

This exercise is in the mode of C Mixolydian but also has a couple of passing tones such as a minor third and a flat fifth. As you'll see, these examples are all in the key of C and are located in pretty much the same area of the neck, but, of course, try them out in different keys.

Exercise 1
Exercise One Notation

Exercise 2

This is for C Dorian mode and the opening arpeggio makes a nice Cmadd2 voicing if played as a chord. This one has some wide intervals so it sounds nice played at a faster tempo.

Exercise 2
Exercise Two Notation

Exercise 3

This one's for C Ionian and the opening phrase almost sounds like two-hand tapping. Experiment with this figure in a variety of keys and on different groupings of strings.

Exercise 3
Exercise Three Notation

Exercise 4

This is for C Mixolydian again and has a repetitive phrase at the beginning. Try using the same phrase across all six strings. I started the phrase on the fifth string, but try it on the sixth and repeat it across the neck.

Exercise 4
Exercise Four Notation

Exercise 5

This one's also C Mixolydian and has string-skipping ideas right at the start. I also like the intervallic displacement of this one. The faster examples are just there to show how different these ideas sound at high tempo, but don't focus on speed, as they sound good, if not better, at a moderate tempo, as you can really accent certain notes - don't overlook that.

Exercise 5
Exercise Five Notation

As usual, I've included my own personal right- and left-hand fingerings, but as always I encourage you to use what feels natural. I would never play these things the same way twice as they aren't practised shapes, just possibilities within the modal context, so the point is not to learn them verbatim, but to use them as a starting point for your own ideas.