By now, you probably know how to play a major scale as it is a fairly common scale and one that most musicians learn first. When learning scales on bass, we tend to learn a pattern that we can relocate to different parts of the neck. This is great because it gets it under your fingers, you get to see all the intervals laid out in front of you and over time you can add other patterns into the mix and gradually start to work all over the neck. However… this can create a few problems further down the road as you develop as a musician.
Learning by pattern alone means you are limited to seeing the key as a little box shape – even if you know loads of different patterns all over the neck. This isn’t very practical as you have to constantly refer back to shapes instead of seeing the big picture. Fortunately, there is a solution to this. The trick is to learn all of the scales by note name, and although this might sound daunting, it is easier than you think. There is a simple set of exercises you can do that don’t even have to be performed on the instrument.
The concept of spelling drills is to spell out every scale away from your instrument – either out loud or in your head.
- Recite the notes four times
- Practice without accidentals first
- Group scales into blocks of three and four to give you less to remember
You might struggle at first with reciting the musical alphabet, A to G, from any note other than A. This will get easier as you progress and get used to returning to A after G, but you can speed up the process by reciting each scale without accidentals (for now). This will give you a foundation on which to insert accidentals later so the whole process isn’t so overwhelming.
C D E F G A B
D E F G A B C
E F G A B C D
F G A B C D E
G A B C D E F
A B C D E F G
B C D E F G
After practising this for a while, you should feel comfortable with saying the alphabet from any note – now you can begin to insert accidentals into those scales.
Major Scales from Natural Root Notes (divided into 3 and 4 note groupings):
C Major – C D E F G A B
D Major – D E F# G A B C#
E Major – E F# G# A B C# D#
F Major – F G A Bb C D E F
G Major – G A B C D E F#
A Major – A B C# D E F# G#
B Major – B C# D# E F# G# A#
Spend some time reciting these scales until you have them nailed. It shouldn’t take too long as there are only seven scales and you can do them whenever you want. Get used to doing them when you are bored, commuting, watching TV etc.
Theory In Application
Now you can recite the notes in each major scale, you need to apply this to the bass. Start by choosing a major scale you find fairly unfamiliar (F is a good place to start), and recite each note before finding it on the bass. Doing this forces you to think about where the actual note is rather than just arriving there from a pattern.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you don’t need to differentiate between the patterns and the notes as you will know both.
As an extra exercise, try playing the scale on one string. This forces you to really know the notes on the fretboard.