How do you use scales?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by de la mocha, Oct 19, 2005.

  1. de la mocha

    de la mocha

    Aug 20, 2005
    I can play like 10 different scales by memory but how do I use them? I don't get it. When I'm jamming with my drummer, I play whatever comes out, kind of freestyle, but then I throw a scale into the mix and it doesn't fit, it kind of stands out like "why did you play that?"

    How do you use a scale? Are scales just for practice? How do you put them in a song? I just don't get it. :help:
  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You don't just toss scales into songs. The idea of scales is building note recognition in different keys. You learn the scales, then when you play a song you think about what notes would sound good in it, then using your knowledge of scales, you make note choices. Scales exist just to familiarize you with the notes in different keys. They are a means to an end, not the end itself.
  3. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Well, sort of.

    Scales and modes (they are inexorably intertwined) all have a different feel to them based on their interval structure. This is what makes minor scales sound sad for example. What you want to do is use notes from a scale that has the feel of the way you want the line to feel. Flavor if you will.

    Now, they relate to chord structure as well. You must play certain scales (modes, really), over certain chords. The A minor chord, for example, uses the 6th mode of the C major scale, or, the A minor scale. Since you use the root-3-5-octave intervals, when you apply that to the 6th mode of C major, you get A(root)-then the flat 3rd(in relation to an a major scale)-the fifth-and the octave. Ta-Da, an A minor chord as it relates to the C major scale.

    This is but one example. Scales are integral to the idea of music structure. Don't just learn the fingerings, learn how different scales interact with other scales and chords.
  4. RhythmBassist01


    Aug 31, 2005
    Scales are used to create melodies.
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    While what you're saying is dead-on, I would hesitate to use the M word (must). For a beginner, yeah, sticking with strict usage of scales and modes over chords is a good idea just to familiarize yourself with the tones, but I hardly ever do lines that stick strictly with the key or the chord. Knowing which notes go with what chords backwards and forwards is always a good idea, but hardly anyone sticks strictly to it. At least the ones who sound like they're not running scales don't.
  6. de la mocha

    de la mocha

    Aug 20, 2005
    Okay, I get it now!!! Thanks guys! I love this website! :)
  7. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Purely to contrast, I find very often play purely using chord tones or scales tones for an entire chord/ section/ song in every 'pop' genre I play/ have played, and it works wonders for me in jazz too (altho chormatic passing tones cant be avoided of course, and my experience of jazz is limited), plus a nice bossa doesnt need much more than just root, 5th and octave a lot of the time.

    Actaully, thinking about it, I find when I learn covers the vast majority of it is purely chord and scale tones, it very infrequently deviates from very basic harmony. There are countless great basslines made out of just root, 5th and octave.. thankfully ;)

    Then if you add in some "none more jazz" scales, lydian b7, whole tone, diminished, dorian b5, which are still essentially just scales, well you get a whole wealth of cool sounding stuff just using fragments of scales in your playing.

    I think there's a lot to be said for keeping it simple tho, it sounds good, the band knows where they are, those basic chords keep the song moving.. and it means you can play through the tune while you find more intersting stuff and the band gets used to the changes.

    My advice to get a better grasp of scales and their use is to start thinking about everything you play in the context of the chord progression of the tune and the scale the chords are derived from. You'll probably find that most of what you play can be heard as a fragment of one scale or another.. usualy minor pentatonic ;) Writing out your bass parts in notation of notes names is a good idea too.
  8. Scales are reference points to me.

    If I'm jamming with a couple of guys, or am handed a chart, I look at the key it's in, and play something that does not sound dissonant.

    That's all.
  9. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    I use scales to get the sounds of runs under my fingers and into my ears.

    I also use them to practice fingerings and intervals in the context of a chord or mode - or both.
  10. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Typically, if I'm doing a walking line, I think of chords and scales. When I'm improvising, I think less of scales and more of tonality in general. When I'm writing music, I tend to approach my melodies from scales.

    I know enough about various scales and scale construction that I feel like I can get away with how I use them. Which, imo, is really what it's about. When you study to learn all this stuff, it gets ingrained in your head and it's less about "oh, how can I use such and such scale" and more about "oh, I just used 4 different scales... neat" :)

    But, as howard said, it often depends more on what you're playing. And ultimately, there is nothing at all wrong with playing strictly in the tonal center. There's also nothing wrong with flirting outside of it, just so long as you know how to get back in.
  11. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    You don't necessarily want to play the major scale of the key the song is in, but rather the appropriate scale or mode for a chord that you are playing over. You could be playing the major scale that corresponds to the key and still hit tons of wrong notes, if they don't jive with the chord.

    JimmyM - you are correct, must is a strong word in music.
  12. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    the secret is to play them very very fast, so if you play any wrong notes, they're indistinguishable from the right ones

    well that's what most guitarists do :ninja: ;)
  13. That doesn't work for bassists; if we play the wrong note, we just play it again next time so people think you did it on purpose. :bassist:

    On topic, I just pick a scale that sounds good or that I just like to play and omit a few degrees of it (more or less at random) and there is my melody. Do some pops or arpeggios or somethin, generally rub some funk on it, and you got a bass line.
  14. narcopolo


    Sep 12, 2005
    richmond, va
    i use scales to get from point A to point B.
  15. Jascal


    Oct 18, 2005
    I recently revived a bass guitar that was given to me and have enjoyed a second-go-around with learning to play music. The only thing I left alone was the wood and paint, everything else was replaced. Last time I had any type of formal music education Ford was president.... Anyway...

    I found this set of simple beginner level explanations for some terms used in formal music and they filled more conceptual holes in 30 minutes than I thought possible:

    Beginning Music Theory

    I have always bogged down when I heard certain musical lingo, and now I feel much more comfortable as the terms are quite simple, more so than I ever imagined. Another thing I did that was enlightening was have a friend who is deep into music theory listen to a tune and tell me when the various terms occurred or were applicable... stuff like dominant, subdominant, etc. All a mush-mash of confusion until specific examples cleared the air.
  16. But can a chord contain notes that are not in the scale of the key?
  17. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002

    Yes. Chords can be substituted from other keys and contain notes that are out of the key you're playing in. In which case you get a choice of many scales to play over the same chord, tonal scales that are strictly within the key, or scales from the key that the chord was borrowed from that may contain a couple notes outside of the key. This is, in many ways, the basis of playing 'out'.

    Not very typical to see chord subs anywhere outside of the jazz world though, but at the same time, there are plenty of chord subs that you can apply yourself that aren't necessarily written into any chart.
  18. I get it. So if you know the chords, the key is not so important.
  19. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    No, I don't think you can say that. The key is the tonal center of your song. No matter how far off you may go into LaLa Land in your note choices, everything is pulled back into place by the key of the song and everything you play relates to it. Or it should, anyway. So if you're playing in C and the next chord coming up is an Abdim7add#13, your note choices may not be in the strict key of the song, but they should lead the way toward getting back to C eventually. In practical use it may be considered a distinction without a difference compared to what you're saying, but I think it's worth keeping in the back of your mind at least.