Dansm's Guitar Scale Lessons
Fretting and Picking Scales
Modes are an easy way to divide up your fretboard into small blocks (called solo boxes) where you can play fast solos. The secret to playing solos is to keep your motion confined to a small number of frets but to use all the strings in that small area. This minimizes hand motion along the neck (which is very inaccurate and inefficient) and maximizes hand motion between strings (which is much more accurate and is extremely efficient). The only way to utilize this efficiency is to know how to fret and pick these scales. This page will discuss fretting and picking these modes to make them easy to play.
Picking
There are two ways to pick scales: flatpicking (with a pick) or fingerpicking. Your technique of playing scales is drastically different depending on the style of picking you prefer. Flatpickers should use alternate picking. This may take a while to get used to, but it will help your playing immensely when you master it. Alternate picking involves picking down on the first note, then picking up on the second, then down on the third, etc. This allows you to play much faster and eliminates a lot of wasteful hand motion that occurs when you only pick down.
Fingerpickers should try to change fingers frequently , but use your index and middle fingers most often because they are easiest.

Fretting
The most important technique necessary for playing scales, though, is your fretting style. This will allow you to play scales extremely fast with a minimum of hand motion. Notice how all the mode boxes I have provided are limited to a small number of frets. The number of frets used on any given string will not exceed four. Guess what: you have four fretting fingers. Therefore, the four frets you need to play exactly match your four fretting fingers: index, middle, ring, and pinkie. Play this excerpt from the G major scale using the fretting fingers shown, and notice how little hand motion is required:


I =index, M =middle, R =ring, P =pinkie

In this example, your four fingers are always playing the same frets: index=2nd fret, middle=3rd fret, ring=4th fret, and pinkie=5th fret. This means that all you do is place your hand on the neck with your fingers on these frets and push down whenever you need to. This makes your solos much much faster because your hand is not moving up and down the neck, it is just moving between strings. So when you are playing a scale box, just locate the four frets you will be playing on. On some strings you may have to shift your hand up or down one fret, but the four fret limit will still apply and you should be able to fret it all without much hand motion. Getting the proper hand motion when this must happen is one of the keys to learning scales.
One thing to work on while doing this: when you pick up your fingers to move them, pick them up about half an inch off the fretboard. Don't pick them up all the way because that means it will take you longer to put them back down again. You will be able to play so much faster if you follow this advice. This was one of the most difficult techniques for me to master, but it is so important for playing scales fast. We've come upon another reason to practice scales: you learn the proper hand motions involved in playing guitar, not just the frets you play in a scale.
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1997 Daniel E. Smith.