View Full Version : When learning new scales....how do you memorize and make it stick in your brain?

03-27-2011, 10:01 PM
So, I'm doing a lot more lately in messing around with playing over changes in melodic and neopolitan minor, hungarian gypsy...stuff like that. But I can't for the life of me remember all seven of the forms for each one at the drop of the hat or day after day. What's are some of your guy's approaches to making each each one of the forms stick in your head?

03-27-2011, 10:09 PM
I find it helps a lot to sing along while playing the scales slowly. If I can sing the scale, I can play it... and use it more musically as well.

03-27-2011, 10:36 PM
You mean like modes? I understand the concept of modes, but I'm taking lessons now (and my teacher is a friend of Madsman and just joined recently), and I'm getting a firmer grasp as to how to apply them.

In a major scale, if you build a triad off of each scale tone, there will be four major chords: the I (tonic), IV (subdominant), and V (dominant). There are three minor chords: ii (supertonic), iii (mediant), and vi (submediant), and one diminished: vii°.

Certain modes work well over certain chords. And the Ioninan, Lydian, and Mixolydian work well with the I, IV, and V chords, I think...

I'd like someone else to chime in and fill in the blanks, but I'll add this much: if you know how to apply modes, then that helps you learn them on a need-to-know basis.

03-27-2011, 11:51 PM
I don't really know that there's any trick. One thing I might suggest is thinking more in terms of chord terms. For example, you're probably never going to be improvising and need to play exclusively, say, harmonic minor and not melodic minor. Instead, you probably are just going to want the sound of that combination of the minor 6 and natural 7, or natural 6 and natural 7, or whatever. What I'm getting at is, aside from technical kinds of exercises where your focus is really playing specific notes, the reason you're playing one of those scales is because of how the chord tones in it sound. So, focus on how those scales differ.

I already mentioned what I mean with respect to harmonic versus melodic minor. For another example, Neopolitan minor is basically harmonic minor with the 2 flatted. So instead of trying to memorize all the sets of notes, just try to pay close attention to the differences between the scales you know, and how they differ from a common reference point. For me, for minor scales, that common reference point is usually the diatonic minor scale (the aeolian mode), so I think of harmonic minor as "minor scale, but with a natural 7," for example. Then when you're improvising, the thought process isn't "what scale should I play over this chord," but rather "I like the sound of a natural 6 here," or "this flat 2 sounds good," which is really more important than finding the scale. This is also a good way to think about chord changes: for example, if the chord goes from Amaj7 to Emaj7, you don't need to think to find the A major scale, play only that, and then find the E major scale later on: the only note that changes is that the D from the A major scale changes to a D# in the E major scale, so that's the only note you really need to worry about.

As far as the mechanical aspects, just apply the scale sequences that are done to death for the diatonic modes, i.e. ascending and descending patterns.

03-28-2011, 12:22 AM
On the physiological side of things, you're wanting your muscles to be as relaxed as possible.

Breathing deep and consistently, having loose light grip and picking consistently will get the information into your muscle memory faster.

Chris Michels
03-28-2011, 12:41 AM
Generally, I plug into the matrix and download the info into my brain. (I wish) Seriously, what has helped with my memorization a lot is first learning easier scales with the fewest notes in a position. Then when I learn the more complex scales I only have to learn the differences. And you can't underestimate the power of backing tracks. No matter how cheesy they might be, if they work for a scale you're trying to learn then it's a great benefit to improvise in that scale... and more fun to learn.

03-28-2011, 01:42 AM
Two trains of thought I think..

1 - Ear and muscle memory.. the best way, because your ears and hands can move faster then your brain can think. Music isn't rational thought it's impulse and expression, like speaking. This has to be the end goal.

2 - For above, mine isn't developed enough yet so I have to rely on my brain a bit.. and in terms of remembering scales and modes (for me) it's working out how the note differs to the parent scale. Like Mixolydian = flat 7th of the major scale. So I try to know where the 7th and flat 7th is in each of the 5 CAGED shapes. The E and the G/E shapes are most important at first since they have the roots on the A or E strings.. the main shapes that get used alot in rock music. The D shape is important too though. I only think of the neck in terms of two scales.. major or minor. The rest (like a flat 7th) is just a variation of "major". And dorian is just a variation of "minor". I hope to be able to forget about point 2 some stage in the future, to rely completely on point 1. Sometimes I get lost in the moment and go completely by ear and hands and find the right notes, for example.. I will play a solo in a completely new part of the neck, first go without any thought but in terms of improvising it's nowhere near as often as I'd like.

CAGED is one way, but 3 note per string major/modal shapes are another and works just as well for alot of people. I just prefere the CAGED system since it relates arpegios/scales/chords all into one system. So when you are chord building you are also working on your scales and knowledge of where the intervals are at the same time. Another thing that has helped me lately is pinpointing interval shapes. This helps more for analysing chords and the relationship of the notes to each other within a chord, but has also helped me in melody and CAGED scales (where the intervals are in the shapes). For example some triad extensions sound better then others due to how the intervals are stacked onto each other. For different voicings.

When you can do it properly you start getting into Eric Johnson "voice leading chords" territory. In terms of scales.. if you wanted to omit the forth for example, you wouldn't play the note that is on same fret, on the string below the root. If you think of it like that it's bad (takes too long when playing) but if your hands know it without having to think, it's better. If you want to turn it into the harmonic minor, just play the note a semi tone before the root. I think in terms of long shredding runs, this way of doing it isn't as good, but for phrasing slower solos it's better. You can always learn 3 nps as well. 3np shapes is basically just 2 CAGED shapes combined. The same thing what I said about the forth, works anytime you want to convert a chord into sus4/11th.

There is also inverted intervals and also descending intervals which complicate matters (arghh), for example an inverted 5th is a 4th but yeah. In terms of my ear training these different intervals have made my life hell but it's getting better.

Wait what? This topic is about scales? It's all related IMO. What helped for me was starting back at the basics.. the major and minor pentatonic and building all chords and more advanced scales from there. And then working on ear training and intervals. When it all comes together and falls into place, you can reach point 1.

Stephen Brown
03-28-2011, 04:54 AM
What's are some of your guy's approaches to making each each one of the forms stick in your head?


Take the first three Monday to Wed. The other three Thur to Sat & the last one, Sunday.

It will sink in then.

Bear Report
03-28-2011, 08:47 AM
There's a Joe Satriani exercise/trick to do this. Without worrying too much about rhythm or tempo, try to play through a scale/mode all across the neck, starting from the root to the highest note available. Don't really worry about any specific shapes (you can hit every note possible on a single string for instance) just about always going to the next note. After a while, you'll start to really appreciate and understand the different intervals within that scale and it's overall character and sound.


03-28-2011, 02:20 PM
I've found, the quicker I can get it off the page and just play it looking at the guitar, the sooner I have it in my head. When I had to memorize the shapes for school, I would make a schedule and only work on getting one shape down per day. Then play it randomly throughout the day. It takes time to the point where you can practically recall it, but time is all it takes.

03-28-2011, 02:24 PM
If they're just different variations of minor scales, just learn them one at a time. Like harmonic minor just has a raised seventh. Once you get used to that, melodic minor has a raised sixth AND seventh, but they are flatted again when descending down the scale.

Learn them one at a time and note the subtle differences with each scale.

03-28-2011, 04:42 PM
I compare "exotic scales" to the Ionian (Major) and its modes, since you should know those inside-out.

I will just use the example you gave to illustrate: Neapolitan Minor

Neapolitan Minor is very similar to Phrygian

R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7
R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 M7
Neapolitan Minor

The only difference is the m7 was raised to a M7. If you know Phrygian all over the neck, you now know Neapoltian Minor all over the neck by only changing a single note.

schnarf already compared it to Harmonic Minor with a m2 instead of a M2, which is also right, but I wanted to bring it back to the common modes with only one alteration. Comparing it to Harmonic minor usually means you altered Natural Minor (Aeolian) and then altered Harmonic Minor to get Neapolitan Minor. But realizing how it relates to both Phrygian and Harmonic minor is helpful because it gives you two points of reference.

And it is interesting that you should mention Hugarian Gypsy, because:

Aeolian (minor)
R M2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7
R M2 m3 A4 P5 m6 m7
Hungarian Gypsy

Hungarian Gypsy is Aeolian (minor) with a raised P4 (so A4).

But the same way the Ionian modes connect, notice that Hungarian Gypsy uses the same intervals as Neapolitan Minor, but starting on the 4th note. Hmm. Notice that Aeolian uses the same intervals as Phrygian, but starting on the 4th note of Phrygian.

1 Phrygian - Neapolitan Minor (raised the 7th of Phrgyian)
2 Lydian - Lydian #6 (Raised the 6th of Lydian)
3 Mixolydian - Mixolydian Augmented (Raised the 5th of Mixolydian)
4 Aeolian - Hugarian Gypsy (Raised the 4th of Aeolian)
5 Locrian - Locrian Domiant (Raised the 3rd of Locrian)
6 Ionian - Ionian #2 (Raised the 2nd of Ionain)
7 Dorian - Ultralocrian bb3 (well, if you raise the root of Dorian, you really changed all the other notes in reference to the root. Hence it isn't called Dorian#1, which would be a ridiculous name. But for visualization sake, that is exactly what happened).

Look at all those exotic scales you learned by changing one note in the "common" Ionian based modes.

Just like you practiced your Ionian based modes until it was impossible to forget them, do the same with Neapolitan Minor. You take out 7 birds (modes) with one stone (the root scale).

This is all for getting them under your fingers, but you need to ask yourself why the alteration to a common scale occured in the first place. There are tons of references on the net, but the best way is just to use your ears.

You should also relate it to the major scale to get a grasp of every scale from one single HOME scale.
R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 M7 - Major
R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 M7 - Neapolitan Major
This is good for ears and theory, but not so much for learning the patterns with your fingers as there will always be too many alterations.

03-28-2011, 05:07 PM
I came to learn the modes, and subsequent chord theory, in a slightly backwards fashion. Before I understood how the modes worked, I memorized the Numerical formulae for them. If Ionian/Major is 1234567, then Aeolian/Natural Minor is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7.

While I found it a slightly bizarre way to do it, when the penny finally dropped on how they actually work together and off each other, I also found that I had a substantial understanding of intervals and how they sounded, and THAT is the big KEY to understanding and being able to make it work.

I also learned the scales in a three note per string fashion. Turns out, it's a simple seven string pattern, with only three 'shapes', that repeats (with a one fret shift UP as you go on to the B string).

For example - F major - starting on the low E, using the following fret numbers & making note of the 3 shapes in question....
*135, 135, 235, 235, 356, 356

Followed by G Dorian - Note that the Low E notes are exactly the same as the High E notes that you end on when you play F Major...
356, 357, *357, 357, 568, 568

Now, one thing to look at is how the *135 in F major is the same three notes as *357 in G Dorian, but different octaves. It ALSO shows how the pattern repeats itself.

Essentially, if you run three strings of two whole steps, then two strings of half-whole (w/ your index shifted up one fret leaving fingers 2 & 4 on the same fret as the first three strings), and then two strings of whole-half, you will then come back to three strings of two whole steps. That's the pattern. When you account for the one-fret position shift as you cross to the B string, it should be pretty straight forward.

You can also do this with the Harmonic Minor scale for some lovely reaches.

Hope my explanation isn't too confusing. If nothing else, try to learn the modes first in ONE position, using ONE octave, and using the Major scale as your reference point to try to get the intervals and their sounds trapped in your brain.

03-28-2011, 09:33 PM
I find it helps a lot to sing along while playing the scales slowly. If I can sing the scale, I can play it... and use it more musically as well.

+10000 to this, is a really efective way of learning new scales.

Another way that I use is to build chords (requires some music theory, but very basic) upon the scale, record it to a simple drum loop and jam over the progression, I found it very useful because is "very musical" lol

Good luck :)