Posted January 9, 2014 by Chris in Blog

Scales on one string


e all know that scales are a cornerstone of music. Even people who claim that they are not bound by scales are playing scales. They may be unusual altered scales or modes, and they may change keys regularly, but they’re using scales. Scales help us to compose music, understand the structure of songs, they can dig us out of creative ruts…they kind of central. This doesn’t mean you have to dedicate all your time to solely practicing scales, but at least some awareness of scales can be hugely beneficial. This lesson is suitable for players of all abilities and also translates to bass. 

Name Linear scales
Difficulty All
Skills Scales
Alternate Picking


Why practice linear scales?

The premise behind this lesson is that often scales are learned in box shapes, because this is an efficient and common way to play them and work them into your songs. However, box shapes aren’t always ideal for composition. By seeing scales in a linear way, on a single string, you get some great advantages.

  1. It gives you an obvious understanding of intervals, that is the number of semi-tones (which on a guitar is 1 fret) between notes in a given scale. Sometimes when you play a scale in a traditional box shape, the intervals aren’t as obvious when you’re skipping from one string to another.
  2. It helps joining box shapes and helps improvisation. Say you’re playing a melody over a chord progression and you want to move through a scale. Moving up and down the same string through the scale is a great way to do this, it will move you into another scale position fluidly.

Let’s begin

This is the F Major scale transcribed on the high E string. Start on the first fret and play each note up the fretboard. I skip back a note on each third just to make it more interesting. Remember to stat slow and work up your speed. Another tip is to play the chord (in this case an F major) at the start and the end of the drill. This helps to train your ears on the notes that they should expect, so any mistakes will sound more obvious.

linear scales

Linear scale exercise

Next Steps

  • Try to transcribe other scales and modes onto single strings. Don’t just use the high E string, try them all.
  • One idea might be to play the same scale on each string one after the other.
  • For more advanced players, try doing this using legato and slides and see how fast you can go.
  • Another advanced idea would be to play up the fretboard on the high E, then down the fretboard in the same scale but on the B string, then back up on the G string and so on.

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