If you’re a guitarist who loves to practice, you’re probably well acquainted with a scale sequence or two...
But if you think they’re best left for the practice room, think again. The fiery solos of hard rock are laced with 16th-note scale sequences—think Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore.
Jazz and fusion guitarists—including Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, John Scofield and Frank Gambale—employ a wide variety of arpeggio and sequence-triad patterns. Intervallic sequences also abound in the country stylings of Alert Lee, Brent Mason and Danny Gatton, and the blues idiom is peppered with triplet-based sequences.
Under the circumstances, it’s obvious that there is a lot we can learn from the abundant use of sequencing patterns.
In this lesson, we’ll take look at the power of these patterns and explore ways you can put them to use to ignite your solos and licks with a new intensity. Once you’ve run through the basics, take what you learn here and apply these ideas into a solo to see how they can be used in real-life situations.
Just what is a scale sequence?
Traditionally, a scale sequence is a specific pattern of notes, usually two to four, that is repeated at various starting points within the same scale. Take a look at FIGURE 1A, which depicts the popular groups-of-four sequence.
This example begins by ascending the first four notes of the C major scale (C D E F), at which point the pattern repeats, only starting this time on the second degree of the scale, D. The next repeat of the pattern starts on the third degree, E, and so on.
This sequence can be applied to any scale or mode simply by following the diatonic scale degrees 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, 3-4-5-6, and so forth.
FIGURE 1B depicts the descending form of the groups-of-four sequence, this time applied to the C minor scale (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb). Starting from the root, C, the four-note pattern descends the scale as follows 1(8)-b7-b6-5 (C-Bb-Ab-G); b7-b6-5-4 (Bb-Ab-G-F); b6-5-4-b3 (Ab-G-F-Eb), and so on.
Another common scale sequence is the triplet-based groups-of-three pattern.
FIGURE 2A offers an examples of the ascending version, drawing on the A Dorian mode (A-B-C-D-E-F#-G).
FIGURE 2B descends the E Mixolydian mode (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D) via the groups-of-three sequence. This time, however, the triplets are converted to eighth notes, offering a rhythmic offset: triple meter superimposed over duple meter.
Try applying these sequences to your favorite scale patterns. And don’t feel that you always have to start the sequence from the root of the scale—sometimes it’s desirable to begin from another scale tone.
Here are a few more sequences you might want to try,
1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, etc.
1-2-3-4-5, 2-3-4-5-6, 3-4-5-6-7, etc.
1-2-3-4-3, 2-3-4-5-4, 3-4-5-6-5, etc.
1-2-3-4-5-4-3, 2-3-4-5-6-5-4, 3-4-5-6-7-6-5,etc.
1-7-1-2-3-4, 2-1-2-3-4-5, 3-2-3-4-5-6, etc.
Scale sequences can also be applied to non-diatonic scales, such as major and minor pentatonic scales. Check out FIGURES 3A-B for some intriguing possibilities.
It’s also common practice to apply sequences to diatonic intervals. Perhaps the most useful of these is the diatonic 3rd variety—a pattern that ascends in an “up two (scale steps), back one” theme.
FIGURE 4A. illustrates this process using the C major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B). The formula for ascension is 1-3, 2-4, 3-5, 4-6, etc. Descension goes as follows: 1(8)-6, 7-5, 6-4, 5-4, etc.
FIGURE 4B is a sawtooth sequence of 3rds applied to the C major scale. The sawtooth sequence starts out the same as the diatonic 3rds (1-3) but then goes up one scale step and back down a diatonic 3rd: 1-3-4-2, 3-5-6-4, 5-7-1(8)-6, etc., when ascending, and 1(8)-6-5-7, 6-4-3-5, 4-2-1-3, etc., when descending.
You can rack up a lot of melodic mileage by combining 3rds sequences with other scale patterns and modes. It's not just a great exercise, but it does wonders for your ear training as well. While you’re at it, try experimenting with other combinations of intervals too.