Week 2 Focus- Minor Pentatonic, Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor
Week 2 was a great learning experience. Like many great learning experiences, it was alternately frustrating and enlightening, humiliating and invigorating. I learned a lot about what I still need to learn and even managed to learn a little about what I was hoping to learn. Here is the day by day breakdown along with some cringe-worthy listens for your amusement.
Day 1: C, G – Well, this was humbling. I was feeling pretty good about myself after last week but throw some unfamiliar scales my way and the whole thing goes to hell. I didn’t even get through all of the key C in 30 minutes. Sure, I breezed through minor pentatonics, because, of course, that is the same forms as major pentatonics. Then I hit the harmonic minor. Wow, is this scale tricky! The leap from the b6 to the maj7 left me completely lost. Melodic minor was relatively easy in comparison. Even though I can’t play the damn thing at all, I found the harmonic minor completely inspiring. I loved the sounds here and I am going spend some time this week looking into how people actually use this weird scale in practice. The sound is very West Coast Cool Jazz and makes me want to bop around on it in the lower register.
Day 2: just D ☹ This was the first day of my challenge where my practice was legitimately terrible. I had family stuff going on and could not practice at my usual morning time. Practicing in the evening, my energy wasn’t there. I was not focused and I got through very little productive work. It was lousy. I am also seeing just how much harder it is to play through patterns I don’t know. The major scales and the pentatonics are quite comfortable, but in these new patterns, I get lost easily and can’t always just hear the mistakes instantly.
Day 3: A, E, B: Better and more focused. I am back on track playing in the morning and feeling good about my efforts today. One cool thing about learning the melodic and harmonic minor scales is that they are pushing me to know where every note is on the fretboard without just relying on the patterns of major scales to get me there. Since that is the point of this whole challenge, I think it is well served. I have been writing the notes of the keys down for each scale at the top of the chart that shows the scale so I can reference them and that has been a real help.
Day 4: F# and C#: A very successful practice session although I never get through both the harmonic minor and the melodic minor positions completely. The highlight, however, was when I played over a loop of F#min mixing the harmonic minor and pentatonic minors. I really liked what I played and saw my solos developing something that resembles and arc. I did get lost once and wound up off key but, for me, this was still something of a breakthrough. You can listen here though the audio quality leaves much to be desired (these are just scratch tracks after all):
Day 5: Ab and Eb: Playing through all these scales is definitely locking in a greater awareness of the fretboard for me and opening up my improvising. I am far more focused on the harmonic minor and barely running through all the melodic minor forms, but the awareness is really developing. I am also seeing some improvement in my ear as I learn these new sounds, which is very exciting. In my improving today, I tried moving from Abmin to Ebmin with some success. I got a very interesting minor country “Ghost Town” sound from the scales. I’d shared that recording here, but getting quality audio is still an issue so I’ll aim for better on Saturday.
Day 6: Bb and F: I really question whether I have learned these scales at all. The harmonic minor scale still just does not fall under my fingers easily. The irony is, of course, that I love it and keep finding new sounds in it. Is there anything that defines being a bad guitar player more than being least able to play the things that you find to be the coolest? It is going to take a lot more work to be able to incorporate harmonic minor ideas into my playing regularly but I definitely need to do it.
Day 7: Back to C: Rather than review the keys I struggled with (which was all of them) to complete the week, I decided to wok on creating a short song in C Harmonic minor based on a bass line I played around with all week. Most of the time, in the past, when I have written music, it has been very lyrics-first folky songwriting, so working with looped drums (care of Fruity Loops), looping my bass line and putting chords and solos over it was a new experience and challenge. It was really exciting and much more difficult than I anticipated. I still don’t love the rhythm guitar part or this solo. My timing is much looser than I would like as well, but I learned a ton doing this. Here is the final(ish) product for your enjoyment(?).