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4 Tips for Practicing Scales

If you’ve been practicing scales for a few years, you might be feeling like it’s sort of a drudgery. It’s something you have to do … but it’s not interesting, and sometimes you’ll just mindlessly go up and down the scale using muscle memory. And while that muscle memory is important, it’s a big help if we can also break the scale into different shapes and feels.

So today we’re going to get into 4 tips for practicing scales, which will freshen up your approach to the topic, while also improving your technique.

Before we get going, you’ll want to check out our YouTube video 4 Tips for Practicing Scales, along with our Technique Combo PDF package, which has a bunch of Chad LB PDF packages—including the Scales for Jazz Improvisation PDF package, which has plenty of exercises in all 12 keys. It’s a great resource to have, because it also has a master list of all the scales you’ll ever use in jazz, along with chords that correspond to each scale.

Now let’s get playing!


Learning the base exercise

So first we’re going to run through an exercise to get us started. You may even recognize this shape.

What we’re going to do is step up from one to five, then go down two degrees to the third, then jump down to the root.

Basic jazz major scale exercise
Basic scale exercise

And that’s the first measure! So now we’re going to continue that shape diatonically up through the scale.

Using a scale exercise through a diatonic key
Playing the exercise diatonically through the key

If you want to use the exercise descending, you’ll just step up to the fourth instead of the fifth, so that you end a bit earlier and then walk back down to the original note. From there, we’ll skip down and diatonically enclose the next degree downward.

Descending figure for jazz major scale exercise
Descending through the exercise

What’s great about this exercise is that it gives us a practical shape that we use all the time as improvisers.

Diatonic descending major scale exercise in jazz
Full descending exercise through the key

So now that we have that