Outside Notes: You Can Play Any Note!

At any time, in any key, you can actually play any note. This can be a little confusing at first, but ultimately is an easy way to add character to your improvisations, and create much more interesting melodies.

Below is what you might call a scale diagram – if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re only 2 notes away from playing all the notes…
You can see the minor scale outlined with the red dots, (each conveniently labelled with it’s interval), and the new outside notes are coloured individually.

Outside Minor Scale.png

The Blue Note – b5

This interval sounds awful out of context, but it does have 2 uses. Firstly, you can make something sound tense by changing between a perfect and a diminished 5th – especially in rhythm playing, which has a cool kinda Led Zeppelin feel to it.
Secondly, and the focus of today’s attention, is using it as a bridge between the perfect 4th and 5th, which is what a lot of blues-based riffs and solos rely upon.

Major 3rd

If you’ve played a major scale, you should already be comfortable with the idea of a major 3rd, and hopefully comfortable that you, technically speaking, shouldn’t play this note when in a minor scale.

To heck with your rules. If you know where your minor 3rd is, this note is the fret above that. I came across this by watching a blues guitarist friend of mine, and noticed he was throwing this note in directly after the minor 3, (the same way you might throw in the blue note). The Minor 3 – Major 3 – Root lick has lived in my phrase book ever since.

The Phrygian Note – b2

I call it that, because it’s what gives the Phrygian mode it’s very particular flavour. The note is the fret above the root, and you can get away with it in a blues or rock setting, because these styles often avoid playing the 2 chord, (which would be Diminished in the minor scale). This ambiguity about what the 2nd degree of the scale is means you can make it whatever you darn well please.

Often I’ll use this in conjunction with the major 3rd to give a flavour of the Middle East in what I’m playing, (in my mind I refer to this as “the cool part of the Phrygian Dominant mode”)

How to “Sell It”

I get it, these notes sound weird so how can you really “sell” them to a listener.

  • Confidence. An audience will know you screwed up either from your face and body language, or because you stop playing for a moment to berate yourself. The best way around this is to intentionally play notes you know won’t work and get comfortable with them. Play a backing track, and try to hold a diminished 5th or flat 2 through the entire thing. Your brain and muscle memory will want to correct you – don’t let them. Pretty soon you’ll be fine with throwing outside notes into your everyday playing.
  • Short Note Duration. You can get used to these notes by keeping the notes really short, and gradually build-up your confidence in the sound of these notes.


Pentatonic Scales

Penta = Five, Tonic = Notes (there was supposed to be an image here, sorry about that)

Given the definition above, we would be safe to make the assumption that a Pentatonic Scale is one comprising of five notes. We would also be correct.

Scales are fundamental to music, both in composition and improvisation. Chords within a song are usually made up of notes taken from the scale, and solos or melodies use those same notes.

The pentatonic scales are simplified versions of the full 7-note Major and Minor scales predominantly used within western music. They perform a greater role than just being an easier version of the full scales though, as the notes in the pentatonic scales are arguably much more integral to the scale’s sound.

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Pentatonic Scales

Once you’ve memorized these scales, try soloing in them – find a backing track in C Major or Minor and just play along.

Then, when you’re happy with what you’ve achieved, think about learning the full Natural Major & Minor Scales.

Intro To The Modes

Before getting into modes it is advised that you have a strong knowledge of music theory in regards to the following topics:

  • Full, 7-note, Major and Natural Minor Scales.
  • Relative Major and Minor Scales – can you work out the relative Major scale of any given Minor?
  • Scale Construction – do you know what kind of 6 is in a Minor scale? Do you know what a perfect interval is?

If you’re comfortable discussing those topics please do carry on. If not you’ll be much better off learning about them before you work on The Modes.

Similar to a scale, a mode is a collection of notes from which chords and melodies can be derived. You probably recognize by now that a Major scale sounds generally up-beat and happy, while a Minor scale will be more solemn and moody. Each mode has it’s own distinct feel and it’s pretty important that you decide for yourself what those particular feelings are. For now, get used to playing these shapes as separate and self-contained exercises.

The difference between a mode and a scale is that you probably won’t be writing songs in a mode. It’s more likely that phrases of a mode will be thrown into a Major or Minor song just to add something a bit different.

As mentioned in the video, you should already know the Aeolian and Ionian scales because, to reiterate:
Ionian = Major
Aeolian = Minor

So! You only have 5 new shapes to learn. Below are links to the focus lessons all of which include the tab for that mode, it’s formula, examples of songs and an etude:
Dorian Focus Lesson & Etude
Phrygian Focus Lesson & Etude
Lydian Focus Lesson & Etude
Mixolydian Focus Lesson & Etude
Locrian Focus Lesson & Etude

Happy modings.

Chromatic Scales

All the scales you’ve learnt so far have probably been Diatonic ones. A Diatonic Scale is one that ascends and descends in a pre-ordained pattern of Tones and Semitones. A Chromatic Scale is derived from a much smaller pattern. In this lesson we’re going to learn the two Chromatic Scales that have the most musical potential, (that doesn’t mean they sound great by themselves though!)


As implied by the brackets, the Whole Tone Scale can comfortably be played over an Augmented Chord.


It’s much easier to play this scale outside of a box pattern.. If you attempted to learn the pattern starting on roughly the same fret, like we normally do, you would probably struggle as there’s basically no memorable pattern.
The Whole-Half Scale can be used over a Diminished Chord.

Many guitarists will try and tell you that Chromatic Scales are only useful as an exercise to improve finger dexterity and left-right hand coordination.  There are, however, some much more rewarding applications – try out the following:
– Ascend a Major or Minor Scale, but descend with either of these Chromatic Scales.
 – Play normally over a chord progression, but dip in to either of these scales when you reach a Diminished or Augmented Chord.

The Mixolydian Mode

Mixolydian is the fifth mode of the Major Scale. It’s often referred to as the Dominant Scale, because it is built upon the 5th degree of the major scale. That’s also where we get the name for Dominant chords, which are a major triad with a flattened 7.

And that’s all there is to it, if we take our Major scale, (in this case G)…
R    2     3    4    5     6     7
G    A    B    C    D    E    F#

And turn that 7 into a minor 7…
R    2    3     4     5     6     7
G    A    B    C     D    E     F

That’s the Mixolydian Mode. Below is the tablature for G Mixolydian, which relates to the C Major scale.


Remember this is a moveable pattern, so if you were to play it a fret higher it would be Ab Mixolydian; another 3 frets on top of that would make it B Mixolydian, etc, etc.

Here’s a few examples of songs written in the Mixolydian mode:
Summer Song by Joe Satriani
Yoü And I by Lady Gaga
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Where No Man Has Gone Before, (the Star Trek theme tune) by Alexandar Courage

Mixolydian Etude

And now, because I’m incredibly generous, I’m going to give you a short piece demonstrating the real character of the Mixolydian mode. It’s a short etude in B Mixolydian, consisting of an intro with a lead guitar melody, a relative minor section to solo over, then an outro with a similar melody. Here’s the video…

First off, here’s the tab for the rhythm in the intro and outro. Note that this might not be the way you’d normally play these chords. It’s actually the available, (and suitable), open strings that I wanted to go for to get a nice ambient sound from the clean guitar, but here’s the names of those chords for anyone interested.image

Now, the first lead part, (this is the same as the tab in the video, but I’ve put it here to save you from running back and forth between frames. I’m nice like that)


The relative minor section is included so you can really hear the difference between the mode and the minor scale – that is, when the tonal centre is moved between something very familiar, (Natural Minor Scale), and something a bit different, (Mixolydian Mode)


Note: I’m not going to upload a tab, (or even bother to work one out), for the lead vamp. That would be pointless, all I’m doing is improvising in the C# Natural Minor scale, and occasionally dipping into the B Mixolydian pattern used to make the melody. If you want tips on how to solo in the minor scale, then you’re definately in the wrong place!

Here’s the tab for the last lead section, which is played over the same chords as the intro.


The Locrian Mode

(Occasionally spelt “Lochrian” by awkward people)

The modern Locrian is interesting. It exists more as a theoretical entity, but derived just the same as the other modes. It’s very seldom used in music, as there’s not much in it that listeners want to hear, but it does exist and can be applied nonetheless. Moreover, if you’re going to learn the modes, you may as well learn all the modes.

Locrian is the 7th mode in the Major Scale, and most closely resembles the minor formula, so that will be our starting point.

B Natural Minor
R    2    m3   4    5   m6   m7
B   C#    D    E   F#   G    A

In the Locrian mode we flatten the 2 and the 5, (we usually call that a diminished fifth)

B Locrian Mode
R   b2   m3   4   b5   m6   m7
B    C    D    E    F     G     A

The oddness of this mode is largely down to the lack of the natural 5th, which can make resolutions just plain difficult. Below is the tab for B Locrian.


As mentioned in the video, entire songs in Locrian are very rare and often unpleasant. The only example I’ve come across of a good-sounding song in the Locrian Mode is John Kirkpatrick’s Dust To Dust.

The Locrian Etude is currently being written, so in the mean time enjoy this 1, 4, 5 progression.

   I                                    IV                                    V
Cdim                               Fm                                 Gb
Cm7b5                            Fm7                             GbMaj7