The Major Scale - Sequences

Published March 8th, 2005. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

This lesson has been revised and published in THE INFINITE GUITAR. Info >>>

Why sequences are important to practice - Now that you have the major scale under your fingers, it's time to move on to the next step which is to start building technique. We will do this by working on various sequences and patterns until they become effortless. I must admit, sequences are and sound very mathematical which, by the way, is exactly what good improvisation shouldn't sound like. But by learning and practicing the various sequences I'm about to show you, you should eventually be able to forget them while retaining a high level of technique that will allow you to play practically anything your ear tells you to. Each sequence you learn will pose a different technical challenge and that is where true learning begins. The ultimate goal of this lesson is to gain technical fluidity.

What exactly is a sequence? - It is a musical equation or formula in a sense, one that generally repeats it self from each of the consecutive notes of a scale. It is math, musical math. Although there are various variations and combinations, there are basically two different types of sequences: the "intervalic" and "group of" sequence.

"Intervalic" Sequences - This type of sequence jumps directly from the starting note of the scale (C, in the example below) to the designated interval without sounding the notes in between (in the example given below, a 4th). We then play the next note of the scale (in this case a D note) and jump to the diatonic 4th of that note (G in the example). The process continues from every consecutive note in the scale. The example given below is an ascending intervalic 4ths sequence:

While the "intervalic" sequences utilizing the "perfect" intervals (4ths and 5ths) sound angular and modern, you may find the sequences that utilize the major/minor intervals (2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths) are more round or organic sounding. Although these things are a matter of taste and opinion, I personally prefer the sound of the "Perfect" intervals. Being neither major nor minor, they have a rather ambiguous quality that I like. They are also unnatural to play on most instruments making them harder to find in music in general which is also a characteristic that is appealing to me.

"Group of " Sequences - "Group of" sequences rather than jumping directly to the interval, the player plays the diatonic notes between the starting note and the interval in question (4ths in this example). The process continues from every consecutive note in the scale. The example below is an ascending group of 4 sequence:

Before we get to work on the sequences, let's make sure you have your major scale patterns down. If you don't have them down yet, take some time here and memorize them. The one will be using for the sequences is pattern no. 4 but it's in your best interest to know them all:
Pattern 1
Pattern 2
Pattern 3
Pattern 4
Pattern 5

How to practice these sequences - All the sequences I've written out are written out using only one scale pattern and in one key (C major scale pattern 4 above), the simplest rhythmic notation and ascending only. What you need to do:
  • Practice them in using all scale patterns and in all keys.
  • Practice them using different rhythmic figures such as triplets, sixteenth notes and various combinations.
  • Figure them out descending as well. Just do the same thing in reverse, high to low rather than low to high.
  • When you have the major scales under your fingers, move on to the other scales such as the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

Diatonic 3rds
Ex.1) Intervalic 3rds sequence - No real technical problems here except for the F to A interval on the third to second string (third measure, third beat). You'll have to use your pinky to play both notes but since there is no jumping over strings, it doesn't pose too much difficulty. What we are basically doing with this sequence is simple; we play the first note of the scale (C in this case) and then play the note that is up a third from it, not playing any of the notes in between. We then do the same with the next note of the scale (in this case, from D):
Ex.2) Group of 3rds sequence - No real technical difficulties with this one either. As it is a "group of 3" sequence it may sound more natural using triplets, I've simply notated it using eighth notes to make it as simple as possible. It actually "rubs" a little bit played this way which is in my liking:

Diatonic 4ths
I'm going to get into specific variations with the 4ths section only. The last two sequences where just to get you warmed up so now I'm going to show you some different variations of the different sequences. I'm only going to do this here with the 4ths and not with the other intervals for two reasons: one, It's way to much work to transcribe them all and it will take me forever. But the most important reason is because I want you to use your head. That is the only way you are really going to learn these things is by figuring them out for yourself. I'll only help you here with the 4ths, you'll have to figure out how to do the same things with the other intervals yourself.

Ex.3) Intervalic 4ths sequence - This is one of my favorite sequences and it poses a lot of problems. Because 4ths generally fall on the same fret of the adjacent string, you'll have to use a lot of the same fingers for corresponding notes and try to keep them from ringing together. You'll also get your first taste of string skipping. The F and B notes (third measure, third beat) fall on the third and first string which means you'll have to jump over the second string to get there. We are doing the same thing as in the previous sequence only this time using 4ths rather than 3rds:

Ex.4) Intervalic 4ths sequence (variation 1) - I just simply reversed the intervals:
Ex.5) Intervalic 4ths sequence (variation 2) - A combination of the previous two sequences:
Ex.6) Intervalic 4ths sequence (variation 3) - Rather than playing the root followed by a diatonic 4th and continuing the intervalic jump from each consecutive note in the scale, the next sequence starts with the root followed by two diatonic 4ths:
Ex.7) Intervalic 4ths sequence (variation 3.5) - I'm sorry, what I'm about to tell you is either going to open your mind and force you to think "out of the box" or make you hate me for making this whole business of sequences too much for you to deal with. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph at the beginning of this lesson, each sequence will pose different technical problems and each new problem comes with a chance to learn something new. The previous sequence is a good example of such. While the sequence works fine when using a clean tone, it is very difficult make it sound right if you use an overdriven legato style of playing (as I do). If you try to use a sequence like it or any other run that utilizes 4ths you will find that it is hard to play smoothly because of the lack of pull offs. When I realized this, I found myself confronted with two choices, to either abandon the phrase as unplayable or rethink the way I need to play it. As you probably assume, I rethought the whole thing and came up with an alternate strategy. The example below is the exact same sequence as above but played using a different fingering. You will find it way more difficult to play and remember but it suits my legato style much better than the previous fingering. It was well worth rethinking and helped break out of my usual way of looking at scale patterns. Work on it slowly at first, it should take some time. Remember, the sequence is the same as in example 6 but the fingering is different so pay close attention to the tab:
Ex.8) Group of 4 sequence - No real road blocks here. To create interest you might want to play this sequence using triplets: