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5 Ways To Improve Your Scale Memory


The typical intermediate guitarist often has had little to no expose with memorizing the fretboard. This skill is very helpful for many musical aspects like your creativity, your ability to improvise and application of music theory. Therefore starting the process of learning the fretboard is a task you cannot start early enough.


There are many ways to start. Here we will look into one part of that process that is helping you to memorize the order of letters in typical scales. Let‘s start with the notes in the C major scale. We use the first seven letters of the alphabet to name those notes, but we start with the letter C. So the notes in the C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C again. 


Bonus fact: For different scales we use prefixes like sharp “#” and flat “b” to denote the correct pitches. Example:  G major consists of G A B C D E F# and G. 


As you see in the examples we only used the first seven letters and we used them in the same order (though starting from different letters). Since this is so investing time into memorizing this order forward, backwards and in pattern will be helpful in the future. The beauty of these exercises is that you can use them anywhere. You don’t have to have your guitar in your hand to do it. 


Exercise 1: Forwards – C D E F G A B C

Just memorize the C major scale forwards. Repeat the order of the notes by saying them out loud or if that is not possible think about saying them out loud. This exercise will probably be super easy for you since we are trained from kindergarten on to keep this order in mind.


Exercise 2: Backwards – C B A G F E D C

Now go through the C major scale backwards. Going through this order backwards is something people seldom do. That why this second exercise may be a bit tricky to do at first. As a last resort you can write the reversed order down and read it a few times until you can keep it in your mind.


Exercise 3: Leave out one note – C E G B D F A C

Starting on C leave out one note and think about or say the following note. This patter repeats every  second time that you go through the scale. 


Exercise 4: Leave out two notes – C F B E A D G C

Starting on C skip two notes and think about or say the following note after those two left-out notes.


Exercise 5: Leave out three notes – C G D A E B F C

Starting on C skip three notes and think about or say the following note after those three left-out notes.


All of these patterns will help you and investing time to keep them in your head is time well spent. For example exercise three is the pattern of notes that make up chords and pattern 5 is the diatonic pattern of fifths.


As a bonus you could play those on your guitar. You could play the order on one string, one note for each string, two notes for each string, three notes for each string. To make that a bit easier you find a fretboard diagram below. Have fun!





The author is a guitar teacher, trained physicist and book lover who teaches in Hildesheim, Germany. If you are looking for quality guitar lessons in Hildesheim be sure to contact Rene Kerkdyk 

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