If you’ve already been playing on your guitar for a few months, you have probably mastered a number of scales, and are confidently fingering them. Now you’ve moved on to actually playing songs and you’re dismayed because you can see that the way the people in the videos play guitar scales is much faster than you’re able to manage.
You can get better, and faster, by practicing. But if you want to make life a little easier for yourself, learn the trick of playing a scale across single strings. It gives you flexibility to move horizontally and vertically when you’re jamming, or when you’re writing music. You won’t be stuck due to technical limitations.
- First step is finding the root
- Pick a scale and work on it
- Ways to practice
- Drill yourself
For example, say you want to play C major, the first thing you need to do is to ensure that you can find the note on all six strings. If you can’t do it without looking it up, then it’s time to move back a step and work on identifying your notes throughout the fretboard.
This isn’t just important for learning single string scales, if you can’t identify the note then you haven’t really got the hang of the note sequence and you probably haven’t even learned to tune by ear.
Skipping this step will lead to more problems later on. You can memorise the single-string pattern of one or two scales, but to get versatility you need to know what notes you’re putting your fingers on.
Pick a scale, pick a string, and then start working on the scale. It’s a simple pattern, and relatively easy as long as you have really worked on note and fretboard memorization.
Find the lowest note in the key (on your chosen string.) For a one string major scale like C major, this would an open E. If you didn’t know this, then you should do a quick refresher session on your scales as well.
Play the scale on the string, going from bottom to top, until you either reach the octave or the highest possible note you can reach. Then play back down the string. Do this a few times until you’re sure you’ve got it.
Then move on to the other strings and repeat this. Once you’ve got C major on each string, you will have a hang of how it’s done, and you can move on to other scales.
Ideally, once you’ve done step 1, you will be able to do this step without having to look up where your notes will fall.
Simply getting the hang of it isn’t enough. You still won’t be able to play like a pro, and do single string solos, until you can switch from box patterns into single string scales without thinking about it. You need to keep practicing until you can play single-string scales on each string, with each scale.
Using varieties like melodic minors to keep yourself on your toes is also a good method to check how much you’ve developed your muscle memory.
You can use a variety of practice methods to internalise the method:
• Use this format for different types of scales and modes. Play one string minor scales. Get used to playing the minor pentatonic scale on one string, and harmonic minor, and any other common families you use.
• Play through all the keys of any scale across all strings. It’ll seem overwhelming to start with, but it’s a good way of practicing, and also of checking how much you’ve really learnt about the key.
• Practice patterns like triads, and others.
This is all basically the same advice, which is to get used to being versatile while playing single string scales.
It’s difficult to keep doing the same thing and not get bored. That’s not the recommendation here. Instead, continue playing songs and practicing the way you usually do, but also keep a twenty minute session each day you practice to work on one-string scales.
You can set a timer and work on a single exercise each day for the twenty minutes, and once you’ve got it (it shouldn’t take an intermediate learner more than a day or two) you can move on to a different exercise.
The important thing is to be consistent. Don’t forget box scales either, because looking at the fretboard in only one way, either horizontally or vertically, is a loss in flexibility which will hold you back from complex songs.
Remember to keep practicing every day, and to keep enjoying the guitar!