How essential is the major scale to guitar soloing?
A Fretboard Theory customer sent me this question about guitar scales and guitar soloing:
“I have learned the pentatonic scales up and down and connect them well but always revert to patterns 1 and a bit of 2 and 5 when guitar soloing. Any tips to ensure I don’t always fall into this trap?”
There is nothing wrong with favoring certain patterns. In fact, you really need to simplify things and get good at phrasing in one position at a time before you try to fly all over the whole fretboard. So it sounds like you’re on the right track. And many accomplished players favor the same lead pattern you have put together.
He also asked:
“How essential is the major scale? Could I not get by soloing with just the pentatonic scale?”
About half of popular guitar melodies, riffs, lead solos and bass lines are played in major scale patterns. Here are some examples:
Major scale patterns
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Kurt Cobain) – Nirvana
“Reelin’ in the Years” (Elliot Randall) – Steely Dan
“Light My Fire” (Robby Krieger) – The Doors
Pentatonic and major scale patterns
“Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page) – Led Zeppelin
“Johnny B. Goode” (Chuck Berry) – Chuck Berry
“Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson) – Eric Johnson
Pentatonic and major scale patterns with added harmonic minor
“Sultans of Swing” (Mark Knopfler) – Dire Straits
“Hotel California” (Don Felder, Joe Walsh) – The Eagles
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Slash) – Guns N’ Roses
Music theory in general stems from the major scale and its structure so you definitely want to know and play it well. But don’t get ahead of yourself. I recommend focusing on the easier pentatonic scale patterns first. Be sure to learn lots of pentatonic scale songs while you’re at it. Give yourself plenty of time to get comfortable with using the patterns and time to develop good technique, then move onto the major scale patterns and repeat the whole process.