A brief introduction to scales
Ok. For a few weeks, I’ve brought up the topic of scales, but I haven’t really discussed what they are or what they’re used for in any detail. I’ll touch on that a bit here and follow up in later posts, but bear in mind, I’m still learning this stuff, so its not going to be complete.
What are scales?
Scales are groups of notes that follow a particular pattern, going from a starting note (called the root note or tonic) to the same note, an octave higher. There are many scales. The chromatic scale is one that includes all 12 notes of the Western musical language. To play it, just pick a fret on any string and play that note and the next 11 notes after it in sequence. You can also play it backwards.
Other scales have less than the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. The most widely-used of these are the major and minor scales. These scales each have 7 notes (8 if you count the octave at the end). The blues scale, which we looked at a little earlier, has only 6 notes (7 if you count the octave) and there are others with both more and less.
What are scales used for?
Musically, scales are used to give a structured and/or familiar sound to a song or musical piece. The notes that make up a scale can often be attributed to a particular region, culture or style of music. The tones of the major scale, for example, are associated with western music and can be heard in much pop, rock, jazz, classical and other styles of western music. There are Persian scales, Chinese scales, Indian scales and more. The tones that these scales group together give their music an identifiable sound. This is even more evident when instruments common to a particular culture are used.
Its even possible to mix scales together to further refine sound. What I’ve noticed some bands do is play music where parts of a song are played using the major or minor (Western) scales and other parts use scales from different cultures. A lot of the music I listen to is metal, so this will be skewed heavily in that direction, but examples of bands and artists which use blended scales include:
- Persian, Mid-Eastern: Amorphis, Melechesh, Orphaned Land, Therion
- Indian: Bhairav, Rudra, Shristi, George Harrison, John McLaughlin
- Chinese: Sorry, I’m not that versed in Chinese metal yet. The ones I’ve heard sound western.
We’ll get into some scale patterns soon, as I don’t have the theory behind the patterns all down at this point. Additionally though, that video I posted from Carol Kaye discusses scales a little, and what I find striking about it is her critique on the overuse of scales in music theory, as opposed to some kind of “chordal scale” or “chordal patterns“. I’m not completely certain what this all entails yet, but she’s a whiz, so its another thing to add to the list of material to research later.
Here’s a link to that blues scale pattern that I wrote about earlier: Blues Scale.
Along with the Talkbass forums, the following websites have more information on scales. Some of what I’ve written about comes from my books as well.
- Studybass.com – Bass Scales
- CyberfretBass.com – Scales for Electric Bass
- Talkbass.com – Starting to learn scales. Help!
- Talkbass.com – Scales and Noodling
I’m going to go practice now. 😉