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Breaking Out of the "Same Old Scales"

06.04.2013
Arlen Roth

This seems to be a constant predicament for many guitar players over long stretches of time, and for many it can sometimes feel as if there is just nowhere left to go that is “new” on the fret board. Of course, there is nothing further from the truth, and of course, you know it! In fact, it’s the very fact that you do know there’s an answer but can’t find it that makes it doubly frustrating for the guitarist!
 
My basic credo was to try to learn something new every single time I picked up the guitar. I am very critical of my own playing especially if I “fall back” on the same ideas time and time again, or play something to me which is just too predictable, or lets my own expectations down. Of course, there probably isn’t a soul in the audience who realizes that I’m letting myself down by playing a lick or run that for me is “old hat”, but for me it’s a grave disappointment!
 
I even had a student today who in spite of being someone who has played for 20 years and says he “grew up” watching my Hot Licks tapes, finds himself in a “rut” and needed some new stimulus from me, which is never a problem! The first thing I noticed that was lacking from his playing was his ability to see in “shapes” and not just scales. A scale after all, is nothing more than a group of notes that will most likely contain the very “shape” of the chord we are playing over. If one chord is changing to another, the player must take into account the transition between those chords and shapes, and which notes can facilitate or help you shift from one to the other.
 
It is also very important to start to try to “blend” scales and shapes together, which will open up an enormous wealth of creativity that one can “tap into.” It’s like you sit down with the instrument, and you literally challenge yourself to come up with something new and creative. After all, what all of this is, is something we want to call art, and “art” is most likely not created using a boring “scales only” approach. Instead, we, like the student I had today, want to push the boundaries and have enough tools at our disposal to think creatively on the guitar, and to do it in a seamless and natural way. Sure, this comes easier to some of us than others, but I believe it’s something we all have inside of us, just waiting to be “tapped into” and to be explored! Best of luck in your new “scale” and “non-scale” explorations!
 

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