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Music Theory For Bass

Scalar Exercises

By Cliff Engel

The primary goals of these scalar exercises is to help you internalize the sounds of scales, expand your
fretboard familiarity, and also aid you in visualizing the entire fingerboard as an available pool of notes
from which you have the opportunity to utilize at any given time depending on the requirements of
chord/scale theory. Unfortunately, many bassists get stuck in a rut with their playing because they
rely too heavily upon just memorizing fretboard diagrams and tablature. The fretted configuration of
the bass guitar makes it very easy to memorize examples based on different patterns or shapes. You
can certainly use the fretted design of a bass to your advantage in assisting you to get started with
exercises. However, playing any instrument using only patterns is not a very musical approach.
Patterns and shapes can be helpful as long as you don't allow them to dictate the music you are trying
to create. There is nothing wrong with using shapes, but if you have memorized just a few patterns
and find yourself reverting to those same shapes when you improvise, everything you play will tend to
sound like everything else that you play because you are using the same patterns over and over again.
It is really easy to fall into this rut and often difficult to break this habit. Instead of only utilizing the
patterns implied in fretboard diagrams or memorizing the numbers indicated through tablature, try to
always remain aware of the notes you are playing or have available to play on particular chord types.
Although patterns might appear to be a shortcut and easier to commit to memory initially, try to think
in terms of notes so that you can transcend the limitations which often result from playing the bass
only through patterns.
As bassists, we are often required to navigate lead sheets or chord charts which generally contain only
the melody and chord changes of compositions. In order to improvise bass lines and solos based on
the information provided in lead sheets, we need to understand the potential notes we can use as well
as which notes we probably wouldn't want to include within our lines.
In this collection of exercises, you will find a series of both traditional and contemporary approaches to
playing the C major scale and its related modes. There are hundreds of different scalar exercises that
musicians can employ for practicing scales so consider these basic templates and expand them. You
will discover that many of these exercises begin on non-root notes which equalize the significance of
each note within the scale so that your fingers don't always gravitate directly to the root of each chord
due to the muscle memory and conditioning that has been acquired from constantly starting there.
The exercises consisting of broken thirds, fourths, fifths, and their associated bi-directional variations
can be easily extended to feature other intervallic combinations such as sixths, sevenths, and octaves.
In addition to the conventional one and two-octave exercises, 2, 3, and 4-note sequences along with
triad and chordal sequences have been included as well. In the final exercise, the C major scale is
played across the entire span of the fingerboard. The traditional method of practicing scales over a
one octave range may help in figuring out the notes and build technique, but that procedure by itself
won't significantly increase your improvisation skills because you are constantly beginning and ending
on the root note. Music doesn't always begin on the root note of each chord. Rather than starting in a
typical fashion with the root note at the third fret of the A-string and proceeding to ascend in a linear
fashion to the C one octave higher at the fifth fret of the G-string, the final exercise starts with the
lowest note available on the 4-string bass within the C major scale and continues through the highest
note accessible on a standard bass. If your fingerboard spans 24 frets, you would begin playing the C
major scale with the open E-string, the major third of the C major scale, and then ascend until you
reach the note G, the perfect fifth of the C major scale, at the 24th fret of the G-string. On a 5 or
6-string bass, begin with the open low B-string, which would be the major seventh scale degree of the
C major scale, and follow the same process of playing to the highest note available in the C major
scale. Depending on where you decide to shift from one note to the next, you can easily generate a
dozen or more variations to play any scale. Due to its broad scope, this is an outstanding exercise to
expand your fretboard familiarity and your overall awareness of the notes you can play over a
particular chord type from the lowest to the highest registers of the fingerboard.

2011 Cliff Engel

When practicing these scalar exercises, don't just read through them. Internalize the exercises, and
practice everything in every key. While there may not be many compositions written in keys such as
Db or Gb, basic chord progressions including the ii-V-I and its common variations can be found in all
keys. To begin, I would recommend breaking down scales into daily practice sessions in order to make
this amount of material seem more manageable from a time perspective. Because the concept of
mastering scales can feel somewhat overwhelming just due to the fact that there are hundreds of
scales which you could devote time to practicing, you should work on scales in small, bite-sized pieces.
Since there are seven modes within the major scale, it is very easy to setup a weekly cycle where you
practice one mode per day. Choose just one or two of these exercises per practice session, and
transpose to as many keys as time permits. You can track your progress by slightly increasing the
tempo of the exercises and expand to additional keys in subsequent weeks. Apply the same practicing
procedure to the modes of the melodic minor scale and any other set of scales you need to learn.
These scalar exercises will help you view the fingerboard as an available pool of notes and get beyond
relying on just patterns or shapes to play the bass. Ideally, you should be able to play basic building
blocks such as scales and arpeggios in every key across the entire range of the fingerboard so that you
possess the facility to use that material as required in any musical environment.

The C Major Scale - 1-Octave/3-Strings

? 44

T
A
B

The C Major Scale - 1-Octave/1-String

?
T
A
B

10

12

14

15

15

14

12

10

10

10

The C Major Scale - 1-Octave/4-Strings

The C Major Scale - 1-Octave/Extended Fingerings

T
A
B

T
A
B

T
A
B

The C Major Scale - 1-Octave/2-Strings

?
3
3


3


3
3

The C Major Scale - Single Position


3

T
A
B

10

10

10

10

The C Major Scale - 2-Octaves


?
8 10

8 10

9 10

12

10

T
A
B

10

9 10 12 14 16 17

10

10

17 16 14 12 10 9

12 10

10 8

10 8

The Modes Of The C Major Scale - Ascending/Descending

T
A
B

8 10

9 10

10 9

10 9

10 8

?
T
A
B

10 12

9 10 12

9 10 12

14 12

15 14 12

15 14 12

14 15 17

14 15 17

14 16

17 16 14

17 15 14

17 15


?

The Modes Of The C Major Scale - Descending/Ascending

T
A
B

10 9

10 8

8 10

9 10

9 10



?
T
A
B

12 10 9

12 10 9

12 10

12 14 15

12 14 15

12 14

16 14

17 15 14

17 15 14

15 17

14 15 17

14 16 17

The Modes Of The C Major


Scale - Ascending/Descending

?
T
A
B

8 10 12

8 10 12

9 10

9 10 12 14 12 10

12

14

12 10

14 12 10

13 12 10

12 13 15

12 14 15

12 14

12 14 16 17 16 14

T
A
B

15

T
A
B

19 17

17

15 14

17 15 14

17 15 13

15 17 19

15 17 19

15 17

16 17 19 21 19 17

19

21


?
20 19 17

20 19 17

19 20 22

19 20 22

19 21

?
3-Note Sequence - 1-2-3

3
3

3
3

T
A
B

8 10

10

7 8 7 8 10 8 10
3

10

7 9 7 9 10 9 10
3

10

22

19 21 22 24 22 21

24

22 21

24 22 20

24 22 20

3


3

10 9 7 9 7
3

10

10 8 10 8 7
3

3
3

8 7

3
3

10

10 8 10 8 7 8



?
4-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-4

T
A
B

8 10

10

8 10

8 10

8 10

10

9 10 7

9 10

10

10

T
A
B

10 9

10

10 8

10 8

7 10 8

10

10 8

10 8

10

5-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-4-5

5
5

T
A
B

8 10

7 8 10

10

7 8 10

7 8 10

7 9

8 10

7 9 10

10

7 9 10

7 9 10

7 9

9 10

7 9 10

10

5
5

5
5

T
A
B

10 9 7

10 8

9 7

10 8 7

5
5

10 8 7

10

10 8 7

5
5

10 8

8 7

10 8 7

10 8 7 5 10 8 7 5 3 8

5
5

?

4-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-2

T
A
B

8 10

10

8 10 8

10

9 10

10

10 9

10 8 10

10

10 8

6-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-4-3-2

?
T
A
B

8 10

7 8 7

10

3
3

3
3

7 8 10

10 8

10

7 9 10 9 7 9 10
3

10

10 9 7

10

7 9 7
3

3
3

10 8 7 8 10 8 7
3

3
3

10 8 10

10 8 7 8


?
8-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2

T
A
B

8 10

8 10 8

10

8 10

10 8

10

9 10

10 9

9 10

9 10 9

10

T
A
B

10 9

10 8 10

10 8

10

8 10

10 8

8 10

10 8

4-Note Sequence - 1-2-3-1

?
T
A
B

8 10

8 10

10

8 10 7

8 10

10

10

9 10 7

10

10

T
A
B

10 9

7 10 9

10

10 8

10 8

7 10

10

10 8

10

10

4-Note Sequence - 1-3-2-1

?
T
A
B

10 8 10

10

7 10 8

10 8

10

10

7 10 9

10

10

?
T
A
B

10 7

9 10 9

10

8 10

10 7

8 10

10

8 10

10

10


?
4-Note Sequence - 3-1-2-3

T
A
B

8 10

10

10 7

8 10

8 10

10

9 10 7

9 10

10

10


?
T
A
B

10

10 9

10 9

7 10 9

10

10

10 8

7 10 8

10

10

4-Note Sequence - 3-2-1-2

T
A
B

10 8 10

10

10 8

10 8 10

10

7 10 9

10

10

T
A
B

10

9 10

10

9 10 9

10

8 10

10 7

8 10 8

10

10


?
4-Note Sequence - 3-2-1-3

T
A
B

10 8

10

10 8

7 10

10 8

10

9 10 9

7 10

10

10


T
A
B

10

10 9 10

9 10 7

10

10

8 10

8 10 7

10

10

4-Note Sequence - 1-2-4-3

T
A
B

8 10

10

7 10 8

10 8 10

10

7 10 9

10

10

10

T
A
B

10 9

10

8 10

10 7

8 10 8

10

8 10

10 7

10

4-Note Sequence - 1-7-1-3

?
T
A
B

10 8 10

10

7 10 8

10 8 10

10

7 10

10

?
T
A
B

10

10 7

9 10 9

10

8 10

10 7

8 10 8

10

10

10


?
4-Note Sequence - 1-2-1-3

T
A
B

8 10 8

10

10

7 10 8 10 8

10

10

7 10

10

10

?
T
A
B

10 9 10 7

10

10

8 10 8 10 7

10

10

10

10

T
A
B

10

2-Note Sequence - 2nds

10 8

10

7 10 8

10

7 10 9 10

9 10 7

10

8 10 7

10

2-Note Sequence - 3rds


?
T
A
B

10

7 10 8

10

7 10 9

10

?
2-Note Sequence - 3rds

T
A
B

10

7 10

10

9 10 7

10



10 7

10

8 10 7

10

8 10 7



10 7

10

7 10

10 8

10 7

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional 3rds

T
A
B

10

7 10

10

9 10 7

10

10 7

10

7 10

10 8

10 7

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional 3rds

?
T
A
B

8 10

8 10 7

10

7 10

9 10

?
2-Note Sequence - 4ths

T
A
B

10

10 7

10

10 7

10

10

7 10 9

10

10 7

10

10

10

7 10

10

7 10 5


?
2-Note Sequence - 4ths

T
A
B

10

7
10

10

7
10

9 10



10

10

7
10

10

7
10

10

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional 4ths

T
A
B

8 10

10

10

10

10

10

10 8

10

10

10 5

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional 4ths

T
A
B

8 10

10

10

10

9 10

?
2-Note Sequence - 5ths

T
A
B

10

7
10

10

7
10

10

10

2-Note Sequence - 5ths

T
A
B

10

10

10

7
8

9
10

10

9 10

10

10 9

10

10

10

10

10

7
10

10

5 10 3



10

12

10

7
10

10

7
10

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional 5ths

T
A
B

10

7
10

9 10

10

10

10

10

7
10 8

10

10 3

2-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional5ths

?

T
A
B

10

8 10

10

7
10

9 10

9 10

10

12 10

7
10

10 9

7
10


?

3
3
3
3
3-Note Sequence - Triads

T
A
B

7 10

10

7 10

7 10

10

3
3

7 10

7 10

10

9 12 12 9
3

10

10 7

10 7

10

10 7

10 7

3
3

10

10 7

3
3
3
3
3

3-Note Sequence - Triads

T
A
B

10 7

7
8

9
10

10 7

10 7

7
8

3
3

9
10

10 7

10 7

12 9

10 10

9 12
3

7 10

7 10

9
10

7
8

3-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional


Triads

7 10

7 10

9
10

3
3

7
8

7 10

?

3
3
3
3
3

3
3

T
A
B

7 10

8
3

10

7 10
3

9 10 7
3

8 10

9
3

7 9

10 7 9
3

7 10 12 9
3

10 10

9 12 10 7
3

9 7 10
3

9 7

9
3

10 8

7 10 9
3

10 7
3

10

8
3

3
3

10 7

3-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional


Triads

?
3

3
3

T
A
B

10 7

8 10

7 9

10 7 8

7 10

10

7 10

9 10 7

9 10

9 12 12 9
3

10 9

7 10 9
3

10 7

10

10 7

8 7 10

9 7

3
3

10 8

7 10

?
4-Note Sequence - Triads

T
A
B

7 10 7

10

7 10

10 8

7 10 7

10

7 10

10

10

10

T
A
B

10 7

10 7 10

10

8 10 7

10 7 10

10


?
4-Note Sequence - Seventh Chords

T
A
B

7 10

9
10

7 10

7 10

7
8

7 10

9
10

7 10

7 10

9 12

9 12

10 14

10

9 12 16

T
A
B

16 12 9

10

14 10

12 9

12 9

10 7

10 7

9
10

10 7

7
8

10 7

10 7

9
10

10 7

10

?
4-Note Sequence - Seventh Chords

T
A
B

10 7

10 7
8

7
8

10

9
10 7

10 7

10 7
8

12 9
10

10 7

14 10

12 9

16 12 9

10

T
A
B

10

9 12 16

9 12

10 14

7 10

9 12
10

7 10
8

7 10

9
7 10

7
10

7 10
8

7 10

4-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional Seventh


Chords

T
A
B

7 10

9 10 7

10

7 10

10 7

10

7 10 12 9

10 7

9 12

10 14 16 12 9

10

T
A
B

10

9 12 16 14 10

12 9

7 10

9 12 10 7

10

7 10

10 7

10

7 10 9

10 7

4-Note Sequence - Bi-Directional Seventh Chords


?
T
A
B

10 7

8 10

7 10

10 7

7 10

10 7

10

7 10

9 12

14 10

12 9 10

9 12 16


T
A
B

16 12 9

10 9 12

10 14

12 9

10 7

10

7 10

10 7

7 10

10 7

10 8

7 10



?

8-Note Sequence - Seventh Chords

T
A
B

7 10

9 10 9

10 7

10

7 10

10 7

7 10

10

7 10

9 10 9

10 7




?
T
A
B

10

9 12

10 12 10

12 9

7 10

9 12 14 12 9

10

9 12

10 14 16 14 10

12

10

9 12 16 17 16 17

?
T
A
B

17 16 12 9

10

9 12 17

16 14 10

12 9 12

10 16

14 12 9

10 7 10

9 14

12 10

12 9

10

9 12


T
A
B

10 9

10 7

7 10

10

10 7 10

10 7

10

10 9

10 7

12


The C Major Scale

T
A
B

?
T
A
B



24

22

21

19

17

16

14

17

10

12

10


12

14

16

17

19

21

22

24





15

14

12

10

10