If you've seen my posts in the Phrasing topic, you can assume I'm notorious for long replies here. So here goes... an article detailing my approach to scales and the fretboard.
When I was first interested in scales and theory, my memory wasn't too spectacular. I couldn't memorize "shapes" per se, but that may also be because I'm a lefty and it takes me a little more brain power to flip a fret diagram upside down and backward in my head. That was a major roadblock, but I knew I had to get past that eventually. Or not. I can't remember when, how, why, or how fast but I developed a pretty unique approach to scales. I actually gave my buddy a mini guitar lecture on this yesterday so I remember some of the more concise things I said.
I never, ever, ever
"worked" laboriously or even consciously on memorizing the fretboard, but over time (between the time I started, and about two and a half years after, which was a while after I quit lessons) I developed a sense of what notes are where. I don't like the feeling of being forced to memorize something, so maybe that's why this stuck - I never forced it. Well anyway I was quick to take advantage of this 'sixth sense' and work out a simple exercise to improve on it.
[This may/may not work for you, but it helped me a bit: (Note: I never practiced this to a metronome because I felt it was more of a free flowing thing but you are welcome to use one.)
Play random notes all over the fretboard and name them out loud as you play them. It may be hard at first but work to eliminate the pause between looking at (or hearing, but I'm not much of an ear player)
the notes and saying them until it is nearly instantaneous. Play the notes as fast as you can while maintaining this naming procedure.]
Back to the story: One of the things I was also was interested in as a beginning guitar player was the keys, and especially key signatures. I had a blank notation book which had on the inside cover a rudimentary guide to notation; the last item listed was a listing of the keys and signatures. I quickly memorized the order of sharps and flats (FCGDAEB, BEADGCF respectively) and most of the key names.
When I think of a scale I relate it to its key. My mind goes something like this: E major? Well it's got four sharps, F, C, G, and D, and the other three are natural. So I just play with those notes, keeping in mind which of those are sharped. If I think of a mode I relate it to its relative major key but also keep the inherent sound of the mode in mind. My rule is simple: when soloing, never stay in one position too long. It's bad for showmanship too! :biggrin: If I'm less familiar with a particular key then I relate it to a more familar one... e.g., I'm not good with F minor but I know it's got one more flat than C minor so I just play with C minor's notes, but flat the D as well. Harmonic minor is another good example - A Hmc. minor is the same as A minor except the G is G#; its easy to learn new stuff by relating it to previously gained knowledge. (Also, after a while some scales will become second nature - you won't even think of keys, you just know what notes to hit. Some are like that to me, it's extremely liberating to "know" a scale inside-out!)
Another approach I delved into, to some extent, is one-string scales. Joe Satriani wrote about this and I have the column but generally 'learning' scales up and down individual strings will get you more likely to change positions.
You are very welcome to use my approach. But if you do not think it's right for you, dig deeper into your own original musical mind and come up with a solution. That's how I did it.
I'm not sure if I left out anything important; if you have questions just ask me. And memorize that fretboard!
And just out of curiosity, how many people here actually took the rote memorization approach?
Anyway, good luck with this. I hope I inspired you.
P.S.: A reference for all to peruse -
nothing = C major / A minor
# = G major / E minor
## = D major / B minor
### = A major / F# minor
#### = E major / C# minor
##### = B major / G# minor
###### = F# major / D# minor
####### = C# major / A# minor
b = F major / D minor
bb = Bb major / G minor
bbb = Eb major / C minor
bbbb = Ab major / F minor
bbbbb = Db major / Bb minor
bbbbbb = Gb major / Eb minor
bbbbbbb = Cb major / Ab minor