This is going to be a pretty brief post since I’ve got about five minutes to write it in. Even so, I want to talk a bit about scales while it’s fresh.

Last night I was talking to a guitarist friend of mine, and he referenced scales and patterns as two entirely different things, which was kind of fascinating, but sort of threw me off. He’s a blues guy, so he said he knows patterns, but he doesn’t know scales.  This seemed odd to me, because I always figured patterns are essentially based on the scale, so as you play through a pattern, you’re effectively playing a scale – not chromatically, sure, granted, but you’re playing the notes in the scale. Therefore, by default, you’re playing in a scale one way or the other, and if you’re not, you’ll know, because you’re going to hit a note that sounds like crap when played with the others.  Like ‘oh, that sounds like shit, then it’s not part of this scale.’  So, I guess I never considered patterns and scales as entirely separate entities. I’m still not sure I do. The approach is different, but a car is still a car, whether you’re approaching it head on or from the side. It doesn’t stop being a car.  Please do correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s always more or less how I’ve viewed this relationship.

We talked about a bunch of things music, really, but that was sort of the central point of the conversation, after I mis-worded something (story of my life) that was interpreted not quite the way I intended.  I basically was saying I find it much easier to memorize songs and riffs for guitar and uke, where bass seems to be harder for that. I think it’s likely because of bass’s nature as a support instrument. Guitar can fill a lot of roles, and ukulele is definitely a solo instrument first, everything else second, but they’re both instruments you can just pick up and solo with on the fly. And sure, I know there are bass solos in the world, but that’s not really the purpose for which that instrument was designed, and that’s very apparent in my bass time.  I find it’s the one of the three that it’s very difficult to practice ‘in a vaccuum’ because it’s an instrument of interaction, so as I find myself wanting to start learning some actual bass lines from songs, to actually commit them to memory, it feels like a task that’s much more daunting than it should be.

On the up side, it dawned on me that ‘duh’ since bass is really quiet when not plugged in, it’s actually a great instrument to practice with first thing in the morning when the house is quiet before work. So, for a few minutes this morning I pulled it down and went ‘okay…scales. can I actually grab any from memory?’ Because that was also part of our discussion. If I look at one, I can play it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to remember it to pull it out when I need it.

Well, it turns out I do remember the major scale off the cuff but I count it wrong. I count it in a way that requires a mental shift if I move to a different place on the neck. I’ve apparently been counting it by fret instead of by finger. So I’ve been counting say 2-4, 1-2-4, 1-3-4. When you move away from that fret span, you now have to remember what fret you started on, which is actually not as easy on the fly as you’d think if you’ve been practicing that scale in the same place all the time.  Bass For Dummies lists the count by finger used, which is just much more practical on a scale you’re going to be moving around.

So, I still don’t see a glaring difference between scales and patterns in this way. They’re not twins, but I think they’re at least siblings. Of course, the basic purpose may have more distance, but a scale is a pattern in its own right, and a pattern is derived from a scale, so I do feel like there’s a close family relationship and it’s not particularly useful to discuss them as two entirely separate entities in and of themselves (of course, that depends heavily on context). Maybe I’ll change my mind about that later when I know more stuff, but for now, I still don’t feel like they’re that far removed from one another.

Until Next Time, maybe I’ll start working on bass for a few minutes in the mornings instead of ukulele for a while, and see where that gets me. Maybe.