Like many a guitarist who bought their first proper scale book, I felt baffled at the sheer amount of scales contained within it
What’s a Mixolydian? and how would you use a Phrygian Dominant?
I just wanted to improve my Blues licks!
Well you will be pleased to find out that I now know what the above scales are for but had I thought about my learning process a bit more, I could have saved myself a lot of time.
How you ask? Well most of us start off by learning the Pentatonic Scales,usually just the Minor to begin with.
And then we learn to add a note and create a Blues scale and then maybe we add the Major and Natural Minor scales.
So far,so good,but then when we want to expand our knowledge things can get confusing.
Say for example that we want to learn the modes of the Major scale.First we are taught that from each note of the Major scale we can play a mode,so for example the second mode of the Major scale is called the Dorian and if we are in the key of G then the next note up is A therefore if we play from A to A using the notes of the G Major scale then we have A Dorian.
We can also start on the next note up which is B.playing the notes of the G major scale from B to B will give us the Phrygian mode and right about now is where most people start to switch off.[at least when I explain it].
The excitement of learning something new is replaced with “How am I going to learn all that” ?
But that is what we don’t want to happen. Knowing these scales is a wonderful thin! The Dorian mode will make your Blues playing sound wonderfully sophisticated and the Phrygian will give you an instant doom laden Black Sabbath sound if you are using distortion and a lovely Spanish sound if played on an Acoustic and that’s just two of the modes.
It really comes down to perception,theory is just sounds,how one sound relates to another.That’s it!
So while I think you should learn all the theory you can.I also think that you should be experimenting with these new sounds on the guitar neck first.
Here’s what i mean: if you can play the Minor Pentatonic in one position the add a couple of notes and you have the Natural minor, flatten the 2nd and you have the Phrygian. Sharpen the 6th and you have the Dorian.Sharpen the 7th to a Major and you have the Harmonic Minor scale..
With the Major scale, flatten the 7th and you have the Mixolydian. Sharpen the 4th and you have the Lydian.
So from the Major and Minor scales you can create an vast range of sounds just by altering one note.If fact I believe that from the Major and Minor scale shapes apart from a very few [the Symmetrical Scales like the Whole Tone and Diminished] you can create nearly every scale you can think of, even the complex looking Jazz “Bebop” scales tend to be just Major and Minor type shapes with chromatic notes added.
In the diagrams I have highlighted the changed notes, you can download them as PDFs as well.But get them under your fingers and start to hear their sound.
To begin with play the Minor scales against a Minor chord and then try them out against a Minor 7th. How does the Phyrgian sound against a minor 9th? and so on.
Some things will not sound so good like the Harmonic Minor against a Dominant 7th, but that’s great, you are learning real usable theory!
For the Major scales,start off with just a plain Major chord and then try a Major 7th .Notice what a smooth sound you get with the Lydian over a Major7th and how the Mixolydian fits a Dominant 7th like a glove.
This is where your ears and hands begin to find the sounds you like and where the fear of dry academic theory leaves you. Believe me, once you have played a scale for a while you will begin to understand what it is for in a practical manner which means when you go back to the books [and Do go back to them!] they will make a lot more sense to you.
So to summarise.
See the similarities in the shapes but Hear the difference.
There is nothing to be scared of just a lot of great sounds to discover!