Scales are the key to advanced-level guitar playing. Here are the steps to mastering your scales and turning them into shreddin' lead guitar: 1) Learn and memorize each of the five pentatonic and seven diatonic scale patterns. Needless to say, this isn't going to happen overnight. Play each pattern straight from the lowest note of the pattern to the highest note of the pattern and back again. Don't do anything tricky with the pattern.
Play each pattern starting as low on the neck as possible (open string or first fret), play the pattern across all six strings and back, then move up one fret and repeat the same pattern. Continue to move up one fret at a time until you've played the pattern at every fret you can comfortably play. Consider this one "round" of playing a pattern. It may take you 10 or 20 or more rounds to even begin to become fluent with the pattern.
Personally, I put in hundreds, probably thousands, of rounds of each scale pattern over the course of a few years in my teens and early twenties. In all honesty, that's what it takes. 2) Then start working on the patterns using exercises - the kind that have you play sequences of scale notes that are not just playing straight from the lowest note to the highest note.
Exercises like this can be found on the net, and there are dozens of them in my course, Logical Lead Guitar, demonstrated on DVD and written out in tab and notation. These exercises help you to become fluent playing the scale patterns in a non-scale-like fashion. And this is the all important bridge to actually being able to play lead guitar. 3) Next, begin doing what I refer to as "puzzle locking exercises." Scales fit together in one key up and down the neck like puzzle pieces, so you have to work on sliding from one scale pattern into the next pattern without going to the wrong fret.
That's why I suggest these "puzzle locking exercises." There's a ton of them in Logical Lead Guitar, on DVD and in tab and notation. 4) Learn a melody - something really easy and familiar, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" - in each of the scale patterns. No matter which melody you choose, you'll find that it's probably easier to play that melody in some scale patterns than others. After you've attempted enough different melodies, you'll usually find that there are certain melodies that work best in each of the five pentatonic or seven diatonic scale patterns, and not quite as well in the other patterns.
And at first you might think that there are only a couple of patterns in which most melodies can be played very easily, and most of the other scale patterns are not so useful. But with time - and with the exploration of more melodies - you'll find that every one of the patterns has its strong points. 5) "Noodle around," as I call it, in each of the scale patterns. Plan on doing a lot of this, if you really want to become fluent at improvisation - creating your own unique solos - instead of simply knowing how to play other guitarists' solos. By noodle around, I mean that you should spend five or 10 minutes straight playing any and every simple, or even silly riff or melody that you can find in one pattern. Then choose another scale pattern and do it again for five or 10 minutes.
You can easily do this unaccompanied, or you can put on a CD of some song by your favorite artist and play over the top of them. Really, you should use both techniques to really learn your chops. Actually, after you've done this a few times and have begun to feel comfortable doing so, it becomes kinda fun! 6) After doing plenty of noodling around in each of the patterns, you should have begun to find specific licks that work really well only in one specific pattern. You need to catalog these licks, at least in your mind, if not by writing them down (in tab or sheet music) or even by recording them so you can refer back to them in the months ahead. 7) Begin learning solos from your favorite artists, as close to "note-for-note" as you can.
Use any resource you must to get the solo correct in the beginning - free tab off the Internet (many, if not most of these, are incorrect, however); the very accurate songbooks published by companies such as Hal Leonard, Mel Bay, Warner Bros., etc.; DVDs, such as the awesome Signature Licks series by Hal Leonard; or even from a teacher or friend. And here's a hint: If you are closer to beginner lead guitarist than expert, don't waste your time trying to run before you can walk. Whether you want to or not, you really need to learn simple, slower solos before you're going to be able to tackle something by Joe Satriani or Eddie Van Halen or Metallica or Avenged Sevenfold. Don't bother trying to fool yourself, you're just wasting time.
Learn a couple of simple solos, then move up to intermediate solos, then start working on the harder stuff.
E Walker is the founder of Planet of Rock Music Studios and contributes regularly to many guitar publications. Find out how Guitar Backing Tracks will improve your guitar playing skills. Jam anytime anywhere with Professional Guitar Jam Tracks