Essential Scale Sequences
- Published in Scales & sequences
- Written by Alfred Potter
What are scale sequences?
A sequence is a repeated and ordered pattern applied to the notes of a scale or arpeggio.
Imagine walking in a straight line for 8 steps. You could go ahead one step at a time like you normally would or you could decide to mix it up. For instance, you could step forward 3 times and step back once. You could step forward 4 times and step back twice. You could even leap forward a distance of 2 steps and then take a step back. All of these would be different ways in which you could walk ahead 8 steps. They are different patterns. They are different sequences.
Why learn them?
From the moment you learn a scale, it is your duty as a musician to convert it into music. Playing scales up and down the same way forever simply won’t cut it. And so the use of scale sequences is the answer. Sequences are an essential part of fretboard freedom and musical freedom. The more you master, the more interesting and creative sounds you can make with scales. Using sequences can change the way in which your guitar leadwork affects a track/song/jam. For instance, simply playing up through the notes of a scale produces a rather bland and straightforward result, represented below by a straight line. Whereas by applying something powerfully intervallic like the second example in this article: the "Pentatonic 4ths" sequence, you can produce a far more jagged and melodic sound to the ear, represented below by the jagged rising line.
How to use them
Play through the examples. Alternate pick everything. Apply them to different positions/scales/modes/keys. Familiarise yourself with the different sound of each sequence. Next time you jam, make sure to incorporate them into your leads. Perhaps between licks, melodies or scale runs you already know. Remember to mix it up: play examples as 16th notes (4 notes per beat) but also try them as 8th note triplets (3 notes per beat). Different notes of the sequence will land on different beats and can change the sound. You may be very pleased with what you discover! Pay very close attention to the fretting fingering instructions under some ambiguous tabs. Play examples exactly as specified to avoid unnecessary difficulty and confusion.
Example #1: "Linear Fours" in C Major
Here is the first of four examples. Instead of playing the C major 3-notes-per-string (3NPS) scale up and down, we apply a sequence called "Linear Fours". The pattern goes like this: Forward 4 notes, back 1 note. When you step back that one note, the sequence begins again. Give it a go!
Example #2: "Pentatonic 4ths" in A minor
Now we will try out a pentatonic idea. This one is trickier as it requires you to employ finger rolling to hit adjacent notes. In other words, you'll need to rock a small barre back and forth with a fretting finger to play notes which have the same fret number but a different string. Go really slowly to ensure a clean sound. And make sure you follow the fingering instructions under the tab.
Example #3: "Skipped 3rds" Diminished Arpeggio
This example shows that sequences aren't limited to scales - they can be applied to arpeggios as well. Starting on the D note on the low E string we play through the 4 notes of the diminished arpeggio (Root, Min3, b5 & 6 AKA bb7). But we don't play them in order. Instead we play the first note, then jump over the second to play the third (Hence "Skipped 3rds") and then we step back a note to play the second. And from that note we skip up a third, then step back one, and so on it goes. Once again, pay attention to the fingering instructions below the tab. Love this sound!
Example #4: "Root, 7th & 5th Triads" E Lydian
This is the most complex example by far, and sounds amazing! I'll try to explain this one as simply as possible. We are basically sequencing an E Lydian scale by building triads of root, 7th and 5th off every note of an EMaj7 chord. But don't get too caught up with the technical aspects of this if you don't want to, just follow the fingering instructions (Slowly!) and enjoy this beautiful sound.
Check out the video lesson!