A Comprehensive Scale Practice Routine for Guitar and Bass Guitar

The Circle of Fifths
The Circle of Fifths

I would like to share the method I use for scale practice. This idea is a little complicated to explain, but I'm just hoping that someone else finds this as useful as I have. This has helped me be able to move freely around the neck in any direction in any key, any mode, anything, and it has also helped me to get to know which note is where on the fret board.

This routine can be applied equally to guitar and bass. As this hub is mostly taken from a thread I posted on a forum for guitarists, I will be refering to guitars whenever the physicality of the isntrument becomes relevant.

I came up with this while trying to find a straightforward practice routine that was as comprehensive as possible. At first I found it very strenuous and frustrating mentally to keep track of where I was, but as my mind got into shape it became much easier, and now it's barely a mental effort, and I use it either as a warm up or as a way of practising new techniques.
I recommend not spending too long on this to begin with, and don't worry about finishing it, because when I first started at least it took well over an hour to complete one scale. There's no need to put yourself through that, just don't overdo it and you'll master it before long.

A couple of concepts I will explain first though; the Circle of Fifths, and juxtaposition.


The Circle of Fifths

The Circle (or cycle) of Fifths (or fourths) is what jazz musicians use to make sure they cover every key when practising an exercise. A Google image search of 'circle of fifths' will give you more diagrams than you can shake a stick at, but the point is this: each note in the circle is followed by a note which is a fifth lower, for example C is followed by G, which is followed by D, and so on. All you need to do to make sure you cover every key is play your exercise in C, then look at the next note, and play it in that key, and keep going until you have gotten all the way round the circle back to C. Then you will know that you have covered every key, and will never be caught off guard if you need to play something in a key you are not used to.

I have included a diagram which you can use.


Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is when you arrange a scale of notes in a specific way. In this post, I will be saying things like 'juxtapose the scale in thirds', which means each time you play a note, you also play it's third. For example, if you are playing C major, juxtaposed in thirds, instead of just playing C D E F G A B C, you will play C then E, it's third. Then you will play D, and then F, it's third. So the whole scale would go C E, D F, E G, F A, G B, A C, B D, C. It looks confusing, but just think of it as taking two steps forward and one step back. If you want to go back down the scale, just reverse the order: C D, B C, A D, G A, F G, E F, D E, C.


The Routine

Now that all that's out of the way, let's get to the point!
The basic concept of this practice routine is to limit yourself to one section of fretboard at a time, and really learn the scale within that range. Then nudge the range up a little, so that it mostly overlaps with the previous range, and repeat until you have covered the fretboard.

First of all, chose a scale. The scales I use are Major, Melodic Minor, and Harmonic Minor. You will find that if you pay attention to what note of the scale you are on at all times, and the shapes that result, you will have covered the major scale, minor scale, and all modes of the major scale just by practising the major scale. What I mean is you don't need to practice C Ionian, and then D dorian, as every note and shape will be exactly the same. As long as you remember to look at it as a C ionian and a D dorian, you won't need to practice them separately.

When you've chosen your scale, you now need to chose a key. Look at your circle of fifths and pick the first one, 'C'. Each time you do a key, you should tick it off. When you have done all 12 keys, it's time to pick a new scale to do. Or you could do the same scale again, and you'll know it even better!

The range to use is 5 frets, starting with 0, the open string, to 4. When you have done that range, move it up 1 fret. continue until you run out of fret board.

So here's how you put it into practice. Let's say for example that we are using the major scale in the key of C.

First, take your 5-fret range of 0 - 4. Find the lowest note within this range that is in the C major scale. In this case, it would be the open low E string. Go from this note to the next note in the C major scale, which would be the F on the first fret. Continue this until you reach the highest note in the C major scale, which is G, the 3rd fret of the high E string. Then go back down the scale to the low E. If you don't do much scale practice, your brain may be mush already, in which case take a break or maybe even call it a day, because this is where it gets a little rough.

Step 1
Starting on the lowest note of the scale, the low E string, you will now juxtapose the scale in thirds. So you would play the open low E string, and then the G on the 3rd fret of the low E string. Then you would play F on the 1st fret of the low E string, and then the open A string. Continue this until you again reach the G on the 3rd fret of the high E string, and then go back down the scale.

Step 2
Then juxtapose the scale in fourths. Start again on the open low E string, and this time you leap all the way to the open A string. Then play the F on the 1st fret of the low E string, and then you again leap up to the B on the 2nd fret of the A string. Continue this until you again reach the G on the 3rd fret of the high E string, and then go back down the scale.

Step 3
Then juxtapose the scale in fifths. Start again on the open low E string, and this time leap to the B on the 2nd fret of the A string. Then play the F on the 1st fret of the low E string, and then you leap to the C on the 3rd fret of the A string. Continue this until you again reach the G on the 3rd fret of the high E string, and then go back down the scale.

Step 4
Then juxtapose the scale in sixths. Start again on the open low E string, and this time leap to the C on the 3rd fret of the A string. Then play the F on the 1st fret of the low E string, and then you leap to the open D string. Continue this until you again reach the G on the 3rd fret of the high E string, and then go back down the scale.

Step 5
Then juxtapose the scale in sevenths. Start again on the open low E string, and this time leap to the open D string. Then play the F on the 1st fret of the low E string, and then you leap to the E on the 2nd fret of the D string. Continue this until you again reach the G on the 3rd fret of the high E string, and then go back down the scale.

Step 6
And finally, the "Frere Jaques". This is a weird juxtaposition, which resembles the open line of the tune 'Frere Jaques'. You play the first three notes of a scale, and then punctuate it by repeating the first note. Then you repeat this pattern on the second note of the scale, and so on. If you played this in C major, it would look like this: C D E C, D E F D, E F G E, F G A F, G A B G, A B C A, B C E B, C.

When you've done all this, take your 5-fret range and move it up 1 fret, so that your new range is from the F on the 1st fret of the low E string to the A on the 5th fret of the high E string. Repeat all six steps in this new range. Continue doing this until your 5-fret range hits the top of the fret board, and you're done for the day! I have gotten to the point where all this takes me around half an hour, and I find it's a good way to start the day's practising.


A few extra notes:

  • This is more of a mental exercise than a physical one. Unless you give your full attention to everything you are doing, you might as well stop. However, that much focus can hurt before long, so remember to every now and then, take a break, sip some water, and scratch your bum before continuing.
  • The Frere Jaqcues, and the juxtaposition in thirds both make great warm ups for the left hand.
  • If you want to make it more difficult, try naming each note out loud as you play. If that's not enough, try singing each note as you play it. Now try singing the name of each note as you play it. Brain turned to mush yet? :P
  • Just to reiterate, this practise routine, for me at least, was extremely frustrating to work through in the beginning. Don't push yourself too hard, and don't worry about completing it every time. Just do what you can, and build up your ability. Your brain will get used to it, and it will become easier in time. It's a mental mountain that really becomes a molehill.



I hope this will be helpful to some people out there, and happy practising!

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Comments 5 comments

Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US

Excellent article. You've mastered well both theory and practicum, and I'm glad that you're offering such good stuff to others. Looking forward to more good reads from you.


Dgerrimea profile image

Dgerrimea 6 years ago Author

Thanks Danial, I'm glad you enjoyed it!


Darrell 4 years ago

Darn good advice. I have to keep a printout close by to remember it all. Thanks. A video tutorial of this technique would be awesome.


Eric 4 years ago

Some shift-positions seem to be inevitable, for example in the 2nd position the higher F is not available without moving positions. Would you recommend moving into 3rd position briefly? What's the easiest way around this?


Kevin 2 years ago

wheres the diagram?...thanks for a fine article

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