It’s easy for every lead guitarist to fall into the trap of being too repetitive. Which is really not unusual as all of us tend to play what we like over and over again. As a result, some of our new solos or improvs might become straight-up boring. So who can we blame for this? Well, that’s easy – the minor pentatonic scale! But all jokes aside, this popular scale is kind of overused. Not to downplay on its importance in modern music, but it just turns a bit stale if there’s nothing else that you implement in your music. In case you’re looking for a solid substitute or just something that will further spice up your playing, here are some scales to make your guitar soloing more interesting.
Before we start, all of the scales below will be presented in degree numbers as modified major scales. Each will also be presented as a tab in the key of A in the 5th position. There are, of course, many different types of fingerings, but this one will be the easiest one for you to try out. The root note will always be played with the first finger on the 6th string, 5th fret.
Just to get one thing straight, what we call “melodic minor” these days is essentially just an ascending form of the melodic minor, also known as the “jazz minor” scale. But not to bore you with music history, this one is built by raising the 6th and 7th degree of a natural minor. Or, the easier method, by lowering the major third in the natural major scale.
Due to its minor 3rd and major 7th interval, it is often referred to as the “minor major” scale or the Ionian b3. Either way, this one will most definitely help you sound jazzier. However, it takes some getting used to and is not easy to apply over any minor chord progression.
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7
For all the lovers of Yngwie Malmsteen and other neo-classical and prog virtuosos, the harmonic minor is the way to go. Essentially a minor scale with a major 7th interval, it brings more tension to your soloing and is most often used over the dominant 5th chord in a minor chord progression.
The main reason why it sounds so tense is the three semitones between the 6th and 7th degree and an ability to create diminished arpeggios.
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 – 7
This is a pretty obvious addition to this list. Just take your good old beloved pentatonic minor and add the diminished 5th interval (or augmented 4th) and you have a different, kind of a jazzier, vibe to it. It’s one of the best examples showing how just one added note can make a difference.
1 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – b7
Minor pentatonic with the major second interval
Another example of how adding (or removing) one note makes everything sound different, this is a scale that doesn’t have its official name but can give you a slight Latino vibe in your solos, kind of in the style of Carlos Santana. Another way to look at it is like it’s a natural minor without the minor 6th interval. A pretty simple one that can help you conquer new territories.
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 7
Dorian is the second mode of the natural major scale. Imagine playing the C major scale, only thing is that you’re going from D to D. Although it sounds a bit more cheerful compared to the natural minor, the only difference between the two scales in its 6th degree. The Dorian mode here has a major 6th interval.
Other than that, it builds the regular minor 7th chord, making it usable in a lot of cases where you can use the natural minor. At the same time, it’s really useful for most of the chord progressions where pentatonic minor sits well. It’s not too complicated and it can really add a different flavor to your solos.
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7
Just take the blues scale and the Dorian scale and put them into one. This one will certainly help you in sounding “jazzier” in a rock song. The chromatic passage with the diminished 5th and the major 6th interval make it really fun and exciting for experimentation.
It might not go well with some classic metal tunes since it gives out that jazzier sound unless that’s something that you’re aiming for. But adding it to a blues-rock song, you’ll certainly get some new exciting things going.
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – b6 – 7
Now, this one might be a bit tricky since it does feature nine notes. Yes, that’s right – nine notes in a scale. It does seem a bit too much, but there’s a lot of stuff that you can do with it. Just take the Dorian-blues hybrid explained above and add the major 3rd to it.
There’s a 6-note chromatic section in it, making it into one jazzy sounding giant of a scale. With the major 3rd interval in it, it can also fit easily over a major chord or a dominant chord.
1 – 2 – b3 – 3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – 6 – b7
Lydian Dominant (aka The Simpsons scale)
But not to make everything about minor scales, here is an example of an exciting major scale that you can implement in your soloing vocabulary. You’ve definitely heard this one in the opening of every episode of “The Simpsons”. Lydian dominant also has some other names, like Lydomyxian or Lydian-Myxolidian or the Acoustic Scale. It is also the fourth mode of the melodic minor explained above.
It’s like the Lydian mode of the natural major scale with its augmented 4th, but it also has a minor 7th instead of a major 7th interval. It does sound a bit weird at first, especially because it has those three whole tone intervals. But when you do get used to it, there are certainly places where you can use it, mostly over dominant chords.
1 – 2 – 3 – #4 – 5 – 6 – b7
Although this is one pretty interesting scale, there are not so many cases where you can use it. The Locrian mode is the 7th mode of the natural major and it’s probably one of the weirdest scales out there. At the same time, it’s also very difficult to apply in an average solo section.
The problem here arises due to its basic structure. It builds a minor 7th chord with a flat 5th, also known as the half-diminished chord. Add the minor 2nd and the minor 6th interval, and it makes it for one very awkward scale. However, there are some places where you can use it for short runs instead of the minor pentatonic or the blues scale.
1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – b6 – b7
This is a pretty exciting and “exotic” one. Being a third mode of the harmonic minor scale, it also features a one and a half step between its 3rd and 4th degree due to the augmented 4th interval, giving it some additional tension. But the interesting part here is that all the other notes correspond to Dorian mode.
Another way to look at it is to take the Dorian-Blues hybrid and just avoid using the perfect 4th interval. This way you retain the bluesiness of the Dorian mode while you still add some of that mysterious and intense features of a harmonic minor.
1 – 2 – b3 – #4 – 5 – 6 – b7