AP-010 How do I select scales for guitar solos?

Patmac answers an improvisation question about the guitar.

Question

… Something I  don’t understand is, for example,  say a simple 3 chord song such as Can’t You See by Marshall Tucker is D-C-G. If I  were to make my own solo up to that song, rather than the one off the recording, would I play the licks in the D scale for a few seconds then change to a C scale as soon as the chord changes from D to C? And then when it changes to G would I  again change the scale to a G scale? I hope my question makes some sort of sense. Thank you again.

~James Henderson

Answer

This is a great question and a common problem.

If you look around the web, everyone says that Can’t You See is in the key of D, but it really isn’t.  It’s in the key of G, and that will guide our soloing options.

To learn how to find the key, read my lesson: Determining the Key

This might blow your mind since the song starts and ends on a D chord.  The difference is only one note (C vs C#).  The key of D has a C#. The key of G has a C.  Since, C major is one of the chords, the C# will clash.  Another clue is that D7 is played, which includes a C not a C#!

Regardless, the fact that the song starts and ends with a D implies that your soloing should probably be somewhat centered on D.  Let’s take a look at the soloing options that fit the key (and some will focus on D)!

Option 1: Play One Scale

When you play one scale, you want to match the key.  Since it is the key of G, you can play a G major scale (or G major pentatonic) over the whole song without any clashing notes.

If you want to think in terms of D, which is probably good for this song, play the D mixolydian mode.  It uses the same notes as G major, but you are rooted on D.  The only difference between D mixolydian and D major is (You guessed it!) a C!

You can learn about all the modes, including mixolydian in my lesson on Modes.

Option 2 Match the Scale to the Chord

Play the major or major pentatonic scale based on the chord root. In other words, play D major over D, C major over C, and G major over G. That works perfectly too. The benefit of this approach is that the root, 3rd, and 5th notes of the major scale are the 3 notes of the major chord. C major chords consist of C E G. The C major scale is C D E F G A B. You still find C E and G inside the G major scale, but it’s a harder to remember that it’s the 4th, 6th, and root note. G A B C D E F#.  Shifting the root helps you change one thing and use the same pattern to recognize the chord tones.

Option 3: Play Chord Tones

Use a chord tone approach by playing notes in the chord. This isn’t much different than Option 2 except you’re limiting yourself to the chord tones. I like to teach people to learn the chord – scale relationship so they can switch back and forth.

Option 4: Mix Pentatonics

Choosing a scale is all about matching the notes to the chords.  In general you don’t want any notes in a scale that are a half step from the chord being played.  Pentatonic scales are great because they omit notes.  The D major pentatonic scale omits the C# that is dissonant over the C major chord, so it is a perfect fit and might be the best scale to use on this song!

You can also play D minor pentatonic with one caveat.  You will want to the bend the F (out-of-key note) to an F# (in-key note).  This will create a bluesy sound that should fit well in this song.

Summary

There are a lot of ways to solo, but most of it comes down to playing in-key notes.  I explained a few methods of finding scales with in-key notes.  The first step is usually to identify the key!

If you want to learn more (and support Guitar Lesson World), pick up a copy of Guitar Lesson World The Book, which includes all of these concepts and more!

 

Subscribe for Free Content, Tips, and More!

3 Reasons to Subscribe to the GLW Newsletter:

  1. Free Stuff! You'll get free content that is exclusive to my newsletter subscribers!
  2. Content tailored to you. Over time, I'll get to learn more about you and deliver content that motivates you to learn, play and be inspired!
  3. No spam. Just real content that's meant to make a difference in your playing

Enter your name and email, and you're on your way!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Hello again! You're already subscribed to the GLW newsletter. Thank you for being a part of the GLW community. If you have a question, just send an email using my contact page. I'd be happy to help!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


guitar note scale  common major chord progressions  guitar lessons arpeggios  song chords on guitar  staff notation tutorial pdf  parts of a electric guitar  2 5 1 chord progression guitar  what pentatonic scale to use  books for guitar learning  7th chord formula  how to play dm chord  transpose c  bass guitar arpeggio chart  how to read notes guitar  red guitar chords  g diminished chord  all the guitar chords  g7th chord guitar  guitar skill building exercises  a minor jazz scale  how to play dadgad  guitar exercises tabs  i want to change the world tab  famous fingerstyle tabs  best guitar for fingerstyle  a chord progression guitar  how to play amazing grace on the guitar  understanding bar chords  what are guitar scales used for  what is am chord on guitar  how to improve lead guitar playing  12 bar blues in a major  giutar scales  b flat sus chord  dm7 5 guitar chord  what is an interval music  guitar lessons on line  how to play spanish style guitar  half step down chords  cmajor7 chord  open e note  break the rules chords  chords of d major scale  what notes are in the key of e  moveable chords guitar  guitar building tips  gcd guitar chords  interval half steps  how to strum a guitar correctly  never knew i needed guitar chords  easy 12 bar blues guitar  music notes treble clef  electric guitar scales tabs  how to learn power chords  guitar ninth chords  using 7th chords  how to finger pick bass  how to play the guitar chords  guitar song finder  free alright now guitar lesson  picking exercises  c note guitar  12 string guitar images  blues pentatonic scale guitar tab  a dim chord