For those who don’t know me, I don’t like wasting time and I don’t like learning things I’ll never use.
Which is why, this week, I’m going to simplify soloing for you.
Forget your modes. Forget your endless inversions. This week, I’m going to show you 3 scales (which – bonus – you may already know how to play) and show you when to use them so you’ll have more than enough variety in your metal leads.
Scale #1 – Ol’ Trusty Minor Pentatonic
If you don’t know this scale, you’re about to have your mind blown. This is the number 1 scale used by guitarists in western music, and metal is no exception.
Personally, I very rarely use it in Hybrid Nightmares due to personal preference, but it’s incredibly useful as a fall back scale when everything else is failing horribly.
Now, I’m giving you this scale in two different inversions, which is really all you’ll need. Why two and not one (or three, or ten)?
The first is the root 6 shape, which means the root note is (funnily enough) located on the bottom string. If you know the names of the notes on the bottom string (and if you don’t, c’mon – it only takes a month of effort max to memorise 24 frets), you’ll be able to find the right key for the chord progression using this pattern with ease.
Let’s say you’re in standard tuning and need to solo in Eb minor. You could use the 11th fret for a sort of high-mid range solo, but that’s the only position you’ve got.
Enter the root 5 shape!
Now, we can use the root 5 shape, which is only slightly harder to remember, on the 6th fret or the 18th fret.
That’s 3 different positions from just 2 inversions, covering a grand total of 15 frets (depending on how many you have).
That’s already more than 50% of the fretboard.
Plenty of notes to choose from.
So why bother learning any additional shapes?
- If you no longer feel creative when using these scales, then (and only then) it might be worth trying a different inversion of the minor pentatonic.
- The Minor Pentatonic is one of my 3 “core scales”, but by its nature, it is musically a little simple. If you want a more complex sound, you will need one of the other 2 core scales.
So, onto core scale number 2!
Scale #2 – Happy Sunny Major (or Sombre Dark Natural Minor)
Our second scale can be learned as either a major scale or a natural minor scale, depending on where you consider the root note to be.
For our purposes, I’m going to refer to this as a major scale, though if you prefer to think in terms of minors and are willing to do the music maths here, that’s also ok.
This is a 3 note per string pattern, so you’ll need to work on your hybrid/economy/sweep picking to get the required speedup for this one (in particular, most students struggle with the up-down-up pattern on the way back).
Again, we have two positions for maximum fretboard coverage, but I’d recommend only learning one pattern at a time so your brain doesn’t mix them up.
Scale #3 – Egyptian-y Classical-y Harmonic Minor
We all enjoy the sound of the harmonic minor scale, but everyone has a slightly different opinion on what it actually sounds like.
I use this scale almost every solo because I love the way it changes the feel of the underlying chords. It’s harder to make it work, but when it does, it feels great.
It’s a little awkward to remember and play at times due to the larger stretches, but trust me, it’s worth the effort.
But wait – what about?
You name it – we can already play it using the same shapes above. Here are some examples:
Major Pentatonic – Find the relevant minor key that for the major pentatonic you’re looking to play. Then play the minor pentatonic scale instead. Voila – your ears will hear it as a major pentatonic because it has all of the same notes!
Dorian/Phrygian/Mixolydian/Any other mode – Again, find the relative major scale and simply use that instead. Same shape, just a different context to give the desired modal sound!
Yes, there are some exceptions (chromatic, blues and whole tone come to mind), but these are the only three scales I consciously anchor my playing around. From there, I highly encourage you to move outside of these scales using your ears as a guide, and you’ll naturally find your own voice and a bunch of nice variations to incorporate into your playing (if I’m in a comfortable key, I usually ignore the scale patterns unless I hit two dud notes in a row – then I retreat back to the nice safe patterns until I’ve gotten back into the groove).
This approach will simplify your scale practice immensely, but the theory side can be a little tricky to grasp if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of relative keys.
If you’re still a little confused as to how you can use each of these scales in their relative keys, I’ve prepared a free soloing cheat sheet that lists all the relevant scales you can use over each chord or key, which you can download here.
Alternatively, ask your questions in the comments below and we’ll help you out!