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What should my concentration be on when learning scales

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by hharda9791, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. hharda9791


    Oct 28, 2012
    I am working my way through a beginner bass book. I am now working on scales. ABCEF Major and now on E and F minor. My question is what should my focus be on. Just getting it right? Should I use a metronome? Should I learn it to the point I can make a song out them?
  2. Your goal should be timing, feel and fluidity. Practicing with a metronome is a good habit. Find a speed at which you can cleanly, smoothly and comfortably play your scales then start gradually increasing the speed as you master each level. Then just start learning songs. Once you have your scales down, the theory will start to fall into place after you get some songs under your belt. Practice learning songs by ear AND by reading charts/music. Being able to do both will give you quite an advantage over the average player.
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  4. Yes, definitely a metronome is a good idea!

    My recommendation "what to concentrate on" is to see how each of the 7 notes of the scale has its own identity. Whether you are playing C Major, A Major, Eb Major, etc., the relationship of these 7 notes is the same. Then you will realize that, even though there are 12 different major scales and 12 minor scales, there is really only 1 major scale (played from 12 different starting notes) and 1 minor scale (played from 12 different starting notes).

    When I realized this, it was a revelation. Hope you find it useful, too. :)
  5. As a teacher I have to say its important to invest early in proper technique. Make sure to watch your left hand thumb placement and alternating right hand fingers. It easy to make bad habits, but hard to break them.
    Also, try not to look at you left hand when playing. My first bass teacher told me that and I didn't focus enough on breaking the habit. When you read written music it's easy to get lost if you constantly look at your fingers instead of keeping the eyes on the page.
  6. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Playing all 12 keys up and down the neck AND being able to produce crisp notes - without looking at your fretboard.

    The frets around the first 4 frets have wider spacing than the frets in the 8th to 12th fret area. Your fretting fingers need to take this into account automatically - to produce good crisp notes all over your fretboard.

    I too did not spend enough time with this and today it is has come back to haunting me.
  7. Lots of great advice so far. The only other thing I'll add is:

    Learn to really hear the difference between the half steps (distance of 1 fret; between scale degrees 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 in the major scale) and whole steps (2 frets; between all the other notes of the scale). Play and/or sing some of your favorite major-scale melodies and hear how the use of half steps vs. whole steps is what gives the melody its flavor.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    See this.

    Now everbody know I'm a proponent of using the metronome to develop a more solid timefeel. But I have to take exception to the idea that "Your goal should be timing, feel and fluidity." You don't work on time by playing scales with a metronome. If you've read the post I link to, and as Bethelbass intimates, scale work (and by extension, arpeggio work) is about building a good physical approach to the instrument by working out issues of fingering, position shifts, proper left hand placement (if you're right handed), string crossing, plucking/right hand issues (if you're right handed) etc. You want to work towards a relaxed, tension free approach. You are also starting to work on fingerboard familiarity, that is, where the notes you are playing are on the fingerboard. So that means staying away from playing every scale with the same "shape", the sooner you are able to play any scale starting on any finger of the fingerboard hand, the better.
    So why use a metronome when doing these kinds of exercises, if it doesn't work on timefeel? Well, first, when you are learning where to put your fingers and just what notes make up (let's say) a major scale, the nome will just confuse things, it gives you just one more thing to worry about and that's NOT what you need to be doing at this point. So learn a fingering for a two octave major scale. THEN once you have that fingering, then start slow with the metronome. I generally recommend it set at quarter note=60 bpm. That means every time the metronome clicks, you play a note. With the nome set slowly, it may still be difficult to get up and down the two octaves. So you have to start pulling apart WHY you are having the difficulty. Do you not know the notes in the scale? Are you having trouble crossing strings? Are you shifting position too early or too late to make the fingering easy?
    This is why you use the nome for these things; it adds pressure, the pressure of time to the exercise. There are plenty of things that are sloppy, inelegant or imprecise that you can get away with at a slow tempo, but once the tempo starts coming up all of that bad technique makes everything fall apart. So the idea is to get things solid at a slow tempo and then gradually increase the pressure to look for faults by increasing the tempo.
  9. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    The single most important aspect of learning scales is learn how they sound. The E scale is the same as the A scale. They just start on different notes, but the construction is the same. Scales are NOT shapes or patterns, they're sounds.

    Use the TB search function to find thorough and well written advice on learning scales and chords from Ed Fuqua, Malcolm, etc. You'll also come across my lengthy discourse on what "knowing" a scale really means.

  10. Listen to this over and over to get the sound of the major scale in your head:

    It works, honest. :)
  11. ics1974


    Apr 13, 2012
    If your going to practice scales make sure you are always aware of the intervals of the scale you are playing. This way you know where the chord tones are. Also I suggest only learning the major scale first so you can learn to build chords. Then learn your chord tones before worring about any other scale.
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I got what you said there, but I don't know that everyone did. The E scale isn't the same exact notes as the A scale, but it's constructed the same with all the same intervals.
  13. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Yeah it's easy when you know it, but it seems counterintuitive when you're learning. The book the OP's using probably shows him how to finger the diatonic major scale in a couple of positions for each of the keys it shows. But that's just mechanics. The key point about learning scales is that they're tools for making music, but they're not music.

    So grasping the concept that E F# G# A B C# D# is the same thing as A B C# D E F# G# because of the under-lying construction of W W H W W W H is what's important, not being able to execute the major scale over two octaves by rote.

    It's simply more important to be able to HEAR the next note of the scale before you play it at 60 BPM than to be able to execute playing it flawlessly at 120 BPM. Otherwise the beginner is going to be in a position of knowing a bunch of scale and not knowing why he learned them nor how to use them. So he could easily become one of those "don't need all that theory crap to just rock awn" guys.

  14. hharda9791


    Oct 28, 2012
    I am working at it. So the most important thing is to beable to play it clean and most importantly to hear that next note. Meaning not to just play it mechanically but to know it by sound. To hear the relationship.
  15. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes, here is what you do with those scale notes.

  16. You got it!

    Did you listen to the "Sound of Music" link I posted above yet? It really is super-catchy; once you get it in your head, you will never ever forget the notes of the major scale ever again. ;)
  17. hharda9791


    Oct 28, 2012
    Thanks this input has been great. Especially for the info leading to the Scott bass lessons.
  18. +1 To this, I would also agree with learning the major scale first, in this way when you start learning other scales you will have a foundation to work from, to see how the new scales vary and what types of chords are created from them.

    Your O.P. has generated really good answers of what needs to be be worked on. Something I have found really useful knowing is this;


    The above diagram is the basic shape of a G major scale, the numbers refer to fingers, this box shape as you have practiced can be moved around to play in different keys. The diagram bellow shows the scale positions.


    when practicing this shape try learn each scale position relative to the root note so that you can move to any of them without looking at the neck, when your middle finger is on the root, then the 3rd and 6th are under the index finger moving across the strings, 2nd, 5th and 8th (octave) are under the pinky moving across, the major 7th is under the ring finger and 4th under the middle finger on the next string.
    practice this until you can move to any interval from the root and back, then practice moving between intervals like 3rd to 5th, 6th to 2nd, 5th to 7th, say the names as you practice them until you can put your middle finger on a root note and move to any interval or between intervals of that scale without looking at the neck.

    Looking at chord shapes, I'll just look at triads for now, the root, 3rd and 5th, this forms the basic chord shape.


    The numbers refer to fingers, this would be a Gmaj triad, really practice this shape and look at the intervals, if you middle finger is on the root then the 3rd is one fret towards the nut on the next string under your index finger, the 5th is under your pinky two frets up on the next string, these shapes are movabile so really get them under your fingers. Take a close look and you will see that there are two third intervals that make up this chord, root to 3rd a major 3rd interval and 3rd to 5th a minor 3rd interval, three frets apart going up the same string is a minor 3rd, so a major chord is a major 3rd with a minor third on top.

    Lets look at how the next chord is made up in the scale, the A minor, we need to start at the second position of the scale and count up to the 3rd and 5th, even though A is the second note of the Gmaj scale I'm giong to call it 1 because it's the root note of the next chord, this is what it will look like,

    A minor


    I have kept the original fingering of the major scale so you can see where the patern fits in, below is the diagram of the intervals so you can compare,


    so if we count up and call A 1st the third note will be C (what was the 4th) and the 5th note will be E (what was the 6th)
    this is basically how the modes are made up.
    If we look at the A minor chord you can see it is again made up of two 3rd intervals but look at the first one it is now 2 frets towards the nut making it a minor 3rd, but look at the second 3rd it's now a major 3rd, so a minor chord is a minor 3rd with a major third on top, this works naturally in the major scale to make up the different chords.
    This again is another movable shape to learn, have a look where the 5th is, it can be 2 frets up on the next string like on our G chord or 3 frets down towards the nut skiping a string, if you look again at the G chord, if we used the open D string the 5th would look like this, I don't really want to confuse the patern at this point.

    There is a lot to work on here, this can take a while to get under your fingers, I hope this helps you, if you want me to post more of the other chords then I'll do so, I don't want to confuse things by putting to much.
  19. tonemachine

    tonemachine Banned

    Mar 23, 2010
    Exactly, John. It's about hearing the notes first and foremost and this should be emphasized by every teacher.

    Case in point, me vs my friend:

    Me: I'm a decent bass player- I know riffs, patterns, "safe notes" to play over many chords in many keys, I even know "out of the box" notes that can work. I can groove loosely, I can lock in with a metronome. Put a gun to my head (well, I'm not that bad) and I can identify the difference between a whole step and a half step and even some other intervals... but who "thinks" of that when they're playing? Now, what's my background? Growing up I played orchestral instruments and, while learning some theory, the focus was on following the dots on the staff. There was essentially no listening involved. Horrible that school teaching was that poor. Then when I wanted to rock, I got a bass and learned a billion songs listening to snippets over and over and making my *fingers* learn where to go to reproduce the sounds.

    It's easy enough on straight ahead rock/pop songs but when you stumble into the slightest amount of chromaticism (non-diatonic, non do-re-mi-fa...) with a weak ear, your patterns are almost useless. Limit yourself to your A major pattern over a Zeppelin song that's notated in the Key of A Major... you're gonna be Dazed and Confused (In G but go ahead and try your G major pattern over that one...). Go deeper into chromatic music with an arsenal of patterns instead of an ear and it gets ugly real quick.

    My friend- He can probably define for you a major third versus a minor third but he certainly couldn't tell you what a minor pentatonic box pattern looks like and he definitely couldn't tell you about the blue note, tritone, devil's note, whatever you want to call it. Harmonic vs melodic minor? Not a clue. How does he play? He's one of the best players I've ever heard. He is a groove monster with fingers and he can play machine gun slapping. He can play lyrical lines on fretless. He can figure out/play complex melodies (big intervals and non-diatonic notes) by ear very quickly. He has perfect pitch. The only time he uses a tuner is for silent tuning at gigs, otherwise he doesn't use one and he's always dead on. What's his background? Sitting in the back seat as a little kid humming along with the music, particularly the bass.

    I'd trade all of my knowledge for half of his hearing ability any day of the week (and while you may or may not be able to develop perfect pitch, anyone can certainly develop an excellent ear). Yeah, he says he'd love to know what I know, and if one doesn't have perfect pitch one should definitely know "the rules" but the point is that if you develop your ear then the rest will follow; i.e., you'll be able to play better than most people with your great ear and even the slightest knowledge of theory. As a bonus, if you can "hear" then your technique will follow because your brain will hear bad technique and automatically start making your hands eliminate the god-awful sounds that your bad technique is creating (this isn't to say that you shouldn't have a good teacher show you technique).

    So, young/new people- don't be in a hurry to play fast. LISTEN and SING/HUM FIRST and FOREMOST. Do not just regurgitate techniques and patterns, and certainly don't learn songs by "where do my fingers go?" like so many people, including me, have done. Sing and/or hear what you're playing and be patient- in your early stages, don't just practice a part enough to "figure it out" and then move on to the next thing. Practice things til you can sing/hum them and play them flawlessly. A little hard work on some songs in your early stages will make your whole playing life better.
  20. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Great post, i like it a lot. Really good explanations and advices.