Tip: Scales To Use For Soloing

Let’s get into a topic that gets a lot of guitarists excited, and some maybe a little frustrated: scales to use for soloing. Specifically, single line, improvised soloing. This could apply to rock and jazz players, but others might benefit also from learning the theory being applied.

Super practical example: You’re playing some tune in C major and want to improvise over the changes (that’s “chord changes” or “chord progression” if you’re new to guitar lingo.). What scale do you use? Correction: what scales — plural — could you use? Let’s go from the most obvious to not as obvious options.

The obvious option is the C major (A minor) pentatonic. Need a pattern for this? How about the following:


And let’s have a basic phrase in C major:

||: C major, A minor, D minor, G7 :||

You don’t need two guitar(ists) to practice this. Get a program like Power Tab or record yourself playing the change just given, and then play notes taken from this penta-pattern over it.

How does it sound? Not terrible, right? But there’s a rough spot: If you’re playing the C major pentatonic over a G or G7, you might hear this dissonance: the C note clashing with the B in the chord. It doesn’t sound terrible if you don’t emphasize the note. Just remember that soloing isn’t all about playing your fingers off. You have to listen, listen, listen.

In the next issue we’ll answer this: Is the C major pentatonic the only scale you can use over a progression in C major? I think you already know the answer.

Copyright © 2007 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – August 15, 2005 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Scales and Soloing Series