7 Ways to Use Movable Guitar Scales to Write Solos and Riffs

7 Ways to Use Movable Guitar Scales to Write Solos and RiffsLearning guitar scales prepares you for the fun of playing riffs and solos. If you know your scales but you don’t know how to take the next step, try one of these tips from guitar teacher James W…

You have 7 notes to choose from and the following 7 steps will help you in ways you cannot even predict. Most guitar players learn the basics such as the 5 basic major scale patterns in G major and go on to learn them in the other major keys as well. Perhaps you know what a pentatonic scale is in these keys by now, and you’re ready to take the next step.

After you have learned these guitar scales all over the neck you have a roadmap that is both clear and useful, but you may be at a loss as to what to do with them. Simply playing the patterns in time with your drummer or metronome does not make it sound like music with a capital “M”. How do you write guitar riffs and create convincing solos? Take heart because I have the answer for you!

Step 1. Target The Note

Start by targeting the notes that are the basis of the key the song is in. For instance, if you’re playing in the key of G Major, playing the G Major scale in different positions on the neck is fun, so you target the note G in different spots on the neck. It is like connecting the dots. Now move the scale up a whole step to the fifth position on the neck but still target the note G. This is a good idea as it frees you up to improvise.

Step 2. Move the Basic Scale Patterns

Close your eyes and visualize the neck of the guitar and play freely. When you find a pattern you like, move it up a whole step. The reason this works is because there is only two notes difference between G Major and A Major. You will very quickly see that this is both fun and exciting as it opens up new possibilities in your playing to express yourself. If you hit a wrong note simply remove it from your solo or riff idea or slide into the next note using the “wrong note” as a grace note or passing note. Listen carefully for what sounds good.

Step 3. Give The Notes Numbers

We give each note of the scale a number. For instance in C Major C is 1, D, is 2, E is 3, and so on. Now it is time to begin by playing with the idea of assigning number patterns to each scale and moving the order of the notes around. For instance you might start by playing 1, 3, 5, 2, 1. Then mix it up. Your ears will tell you what works.

Step 4. Make Your Guitar Sing

Many of my friends and students ask me: how do you make the guitar sing? I like to sing or hum a melody out loud first and then find those notes on the neck of the guitar. It is also useful to go to the piano and find the notes in the scale of G Major or whatever key the song is in. Then sing the melody by picking the notes out on the piano and then transfer it to your guitar! This not only makes your solo more interesting but it helps you improve your ear and song arranging skills at the same time.

Step 5 : Riff This Way

What is a riff? A riff is a short idea played on the electric guitar that locks in with the beat. Joe Perry of Aerosmith successfully uses riffs to make songs really appeal to his fans. Listen to “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith and you will hear how Joe’s riff makes the song great and propels it forward. A great riff can even double as a “hook” that keeps us coming back to the song again. The rule is learn your favorite riff from a song you love to play along to. Take your time and play it correctly even if it takes several days or weeks to master it.

Step 6 : Hammer on and Pull Off

Use techniques like sliding into a note, hammer ons, and pull offs to increase your tempo with grace and ease. Have your guitar teacher show you how to do this if you are not familiar with the technical aspect of playing hammer ons and pull offs. You don’t have to get it all in one day. Be adventurous and take chances. If you are not on stage it doesn’t matter if you hit a wrong note as this is part of the learning process and good ear training. Next time you have a great idea record it into your iPhone. It may be a million seller and bring joy to everyone in the world.

Step 7: Rap to The Beat

If all else fails do this: Rap to the beat. Choose some grunting noises or three or four of your favorite words and rap to a drum beat loop on your laptop. Now transfer your rap/grunt sounds to the guitar using any notes you like in first position on the neck.

You are now a successful Riffmaster! Opening up to new ideas and new ways makes you a successful learner and guitarist all in one. Never underestimate your ability to learn something new and add it to your list of cool things to do on guitar.


James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country guitar styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons Team in 2010. Learn more about James here!



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