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Guitar Scale Exercises to Improve Picking and Fretting Hand Technique

When first learning guitar scale patterns, it’s important to get the shapes under your fingers so muscle memory takes over and you can play through the patterns without thinking. In this lesson we’re going to take a look at some guitar scale exercises that will not only help you get the patterns under your fingers, but also improve both picking and fretting hand technique.

Scale Exercises

For the exercises in this lesson we’re going to be using the first position of the major scale.

A major scale first position horizontal diagram
A Major Scale – Position 1

While the exercises in this lesson work out of a single position of the major scale, the concepts should be applied to all positions of major and minor scales. The exercises can even be adapted to the pentatonic scale.

As with all guitar scale exercises of this nature, it’s best to practice with a metronome to keep your timing consistent. Depending on your skill level, you’ll want to start around 70bpm and adjust from there. The example audio tracks are played at 72bpm.

As you work through the exercises, I recommend using alternate picking to help develop your picking technique.

Exercise 1: Ascending and Descending Scale Pattern

With this first exercises we’re simply ascending and descending through the first pattern of the A major scale. While the tab shows 8th notes, the exercise can be adapted to quarter or sixteenths as well.

Ascending and descending scale exercise
Ascending/Descending Scale Pattern

Exercise 2: 2-note Ascending/Descending Step Back Pattern

This 2-note step back pattern is a lot of fun to play once you get the groove. In the ascending direction, you’re going to start with the root note and then drop down one note to the major 7th, then play the major 2nd and back to the root and so on. You’re always stepping back a note as you ascend the scale.

Ascending scale stutter exercise tab
Ascending Scale Pattern

We can also take this note pattern and descend the scale. This time, instead of going down a note in the scale, you’re going up…root to major 2nd, major 7th to root, and so on.

Descending scale stutter pattern on guitar
Descending Scale Pattern

Exercise 3: 3-note Triplet Pattern

With this next exercise, we’re going to play a triplet pattern to switch up the feel of the exercise. With triplets, you’re playing three notes per beat.

ascending major scale triplet exercise for guitar
Ascending Triplet Pattern

Now for the descending pattern:

descending major scale triplet pattern on guitar
Descending Triplet Pattern

Exercise 4: 4-note Scale Pattern

In this exercise, you’re going to use a 4-note pattern. Starting from the root, you play up four notes, then go back to the 2nd and play up four notes, and so on.

4-note ascending pattern guitar scale exercise
Ascending 4-note Pattern

We can descend the scale using a four note pattern as well.

4-note descending pattern guitar scale exercise
Descending 4-note Pattern

Exercise 5: Ascending and Descending Scale in 3rds

This exercise gets a little more tricky at first, but you’ll be able to develop a groove for it. With this exercise you’re playing in thirds, which means you’re playing notes that are a 3rd apart.

Starting with the root note, the second note you play will be the major 3rd. On your next note you move up one note from the root to the major 2nd and then play the perfect 4th, which is a third from the major 2nd, and continue with this pattern.

Ascending Major Scale in 3rds

You can also descend the scale in thirds:

Descending major scale exercise in 3rd
Descending Major Scale in 3rds

Exercise 6: Ascending and Descending Scale in 6ths

If you thought playing in 3rds was a bit tricky, this pattern takes it up a notch. In this exercise you’re playing the scale in 6ths, which adds in some string skipping to challenge your picking hand technique a bit more.

Ascending Major Scale in 6ths

Now let’s reverse the pattern and descend the scale.

Descending guitar scale exercise in 6ths
Descending Major Scale in 6ths

Exercise 7: Pedal Point

Our next exercise is a pedal point exercise. A pedal is a note that is either sustained or repeated. In this instance, we’re using the root note as the pedal as we descend the scale. This is another great string skipping exercise as well.

Pedal point guitar scale exercise
Descending Pedal Point

Now let’s reverse it and ascend the scale.

Ascending pedal point scale exercise guitar tab
Ascending Pedal Point

These patterns can also be combined to make one continuous pattern. You can also change the pedal note to a different note in the scale. For some additional pedal point exercises, check out the 5 Pedal Point Licks Make Great Lead Guitar Exercises lesson.

Exercise 8: Ascending/Descending Combination Pattern

This last exercise is a combination pattern where the movement is both ascending and descending at the same time. The first note in the exercise starts the ascending run and the second note starts the descending run.

Combination pattern guitar exercises tab
Combination Pattern Exercise

Additional Scale Patterns

As stated at the beginning of this lesson, these guitar scale exercises can be applied to all of the major and minor scale patterns.

major scale patterns diagram
Major Scale Patterns
minor scale patterns diagram
Minor Scale Patterns

For more, see the major scale lesson and minor scale lesson.

AGT book of scales cover

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