The whole idea of scales verses “shapes” has always been a real important subject to me, and I find students needing to deal with this all the time. The problem comes from this “scale mentality”, which unfortunately makes far too many of us think in terms of just groups and lines of notes, as opposed to the real more musical approach of thinking in terms of shapes and chord changes.
The other day, I had to do some explaining to a student about this dilemma, and it was all I could do to make him “see the light” and to get him out of that whole “scale and mode” way of approaching the fret board. I quite frankly, learned on my feet, shooting “from the hip” and in front of audiences and peers. Yes, it at times can be intimidating, but in the end, the very act of learning in this manner, and always “playing for the song” will make you a far better player, with more naturally honed instincts. It will develop your ear much more, and interval and chord change “recognition” will become second nature o you far more quickly than if you try to do it in a studious, “by the book” way!
When we were working with the minor and major scales, and their interweaving, it just became more and more apparent how sometimes “minor can work over major”, but how “major cannot work over minor.” Of course, there are some key exceptions to this rule, especially when it comes to being a bit “jazzier” with your note choices, but there are certain “taboos” we always must avoid for sure.
This is another reason that I encourage the “shape” approach for players, because “scales” after all always contain the very notes of the chord you are playing for. The importance of relating the major chord and scale to its relative minor is always a big awareness to have, and it right away teaches you about the difference of harmonic “centers” when it comes to understanding how to phrase and how to choose your notes wisely. If a player starts to get to “scale-oriented” and is no longer playing for the song, I can spot it a mile away. This is when an audience starts to fade away too, and when their attention span goes out the window as well. After all, when you are listening to a player play, you are also tuning into their thought process and if you sense a “break” in that process, it’s like losing them in the middle of a sentence, or a conversation.
So attention to the notes and what they harmonically and emotionally mean over a given chord change is critical, and I strongly recommend that in your playing from here on out, you pay much closer attention to what your notes are doing over the given chord “shapes” and changes. Hey, worse comes to worse, you make a few mistakes that you’ll never make again….just remember to fix them, and to understand why they were wrong in the first place! More on this important subject in the future!