By: Brady Lavin
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, scales are important to any guitarist. Everybody knows the box method, with the five different patterns for each scale, and some guitarists subscribe to the 3 notes per string approach, but other than that, there haven’t really been any innovations with scales on the guitar lately. Enter New York jazz guitarist Adam Smale with A New Approach to Scales for Guitarists, which puts forth an interesting and useful 4 note per string method of learning and implementing scales.
No, no, this is not Smale doing to guitar scales what Gillette does to razors (“Think 6 blades gave you a smooth shave? Try the new Septuptromax!!!”). The 4 note per string approach actually simplifies things a lot. Instead of five different patterns for each scale, there are literally 2. Literally. Both patterns can then be moved around and altered to suit whatever need arises.
The method used to teach this new approach to scales on the guitar is interesting, different, and I think very effective. It focuses on what chord tones each scale matches and describes how to use the non-chord passing tones and what alterations they match. Take for example the F# altered scale. It matches a dominant 7th chord because it hits the major triad and b7, and it’s non-chord tones match any altered tone out of the most common (b5, #5, b9, #9). That same analysis is presented for every scale in the book, which certainly seems like every scale in existence. I mean, what else would you expect from a 183 page book all about scales?
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Another angle the author takes is that whenever a new scale is introduced, he will also say how it relates to other scales. If it is easier for a guitarist to think of a Lydian b7 scale as a Mixolydian #4 or the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale, Smale makes it possible. Often, the same scale is listed in multiple places in the book, with each instance referring to the others if it is easier to think of it that way. Along with those types of explanations are also qualitative offerings. For example, continuing with his description of the Lydian b7 scale: “It perfectly matches a Dominant 7th chord (a Major triad with an added flattened 7th) but because of the #4 (the distinct Lydian aspect) it has a slightly brighter, edgier sound to it.”
So now that there are all these scales under your fingers, what do you do with them? Well, sister, that’s between you and the people you jam with (or Band-in-a-Box, which I highly recommend you purchase if you don’t already have it), but the way each scale is presented in the book is designed to help you implement them in a performance setting. In the foreword, Smale discusses at length what makes melodic lines gripping and interesting, getting into the nitty-gritty of what chord tones to target on what beats. Then, when it comes to the scales themselves, Smale organizes the diagrams very well, giving multiple ways to play each of the two patterns in order to target the different chord tones. Sure, all the talk about targeting these notes on these beats may sound cold and calculated, but the idea is to incorporate these ideas into your playing, not to completely and utterly rely on them. The passion and fire in a guitarist’s playing is of the utmost importance, but a passionate guitarist with the ability to rip great-sounding melodic lines is the goal of A New Approach to Scales for Guitarists, and a noble goal at that.
For those who don’t necessarily want to delve that deep and just want to match cool scales to various chords relatively quickly to liven up their melodic lines, each scale put forth has a list of chords it can sound good with. Of course, one of the main points of A New Approach to Scales for Guitarists is to delve deeper and gain a better understanding of the guitar, but Smale makes it possible to learn a scale an hour before a jam session and apply it for some quick new ideas with minimal effort. A new scale, especially with Smale’s four-note-per-string innovation, had me breaking from my normal, go-to licks and lines, freshening up my sound immediately.
The main strength of A New Approach to Scales for Guitarists is it’s incredible versatility. Every section of the ebook is laden with heady theory stuff for more experienced guitarists, designed specifically to help you play what you hear in your head instead of what happens to come out of your fingers. But guitarists who don’t have as much of an interest or the time to devote to a daunting task can grab a look at the scale diagrams and quick reference and have a bevy of new ideas in a half hour. That ability to be used as both a method book and a quick reference book is what really makes A New Approach to Scales for Guitarists such a valuable resource for guitarists of any caliber.