Learning pathway - scales, triads, arpeggios

This has been brewing in my mind for a few months now. Basically 2 related trains of thought. Thought I’d seek some advice from some more experienced folk here who have trodden the path. Not sure how it’ll all come out, and hopefully I won’t ramble on too much, but here goes.

1.I find myself more and more gravitating towards improvisation, and doing my own thing, either over backing tracks, or utilising chords, scales, triads, arpeggios etc to try to create some interesting music. I continue to learn songs/ solos etc, both for enjoyment, and the obvious skill development it provides. I particularly like those with lots of cool triads in them. Given the choice though, I’d nearly always go to the improv etc, doing my own thing.

I still follow a very structured practice routine, and have pretty much stuck to it over the last 2 ½ years. This is important to me as it provides accountability and focus, covers the foundational bases, and allows me to see more clearly those areas that need more work than others. I have noticed however, that my practice structure has become increasingly slanted towards scales, triads, arpeggios, improv.

I’m still relatively early on in my journey, and I suppose I’m starting to get a bit ‘fuzzy’ on my path forward. I’m 53, not looking to become a rock star, or join a band etc; just enjoy the guitar and become better at doing it.

My gut tells me " Just keep doin what you’re doin. You’re having fun, and you 're learning alot as well". The rational mind pipes up though " That’s all well and good Shane, but if you spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort on one general area, then your development will naturally be retarded in other areas". I suppose I really know the answer, as my gut has rarely been wrong in my life, whereas my mind has often lead me astray.:crazy_face: Still the angst persists.

Anyone have any experience or thoughts on this?

2. My other, closely related question is about scales, triads, arpeggios themselves.

I’m at the point where I’m becoming reasonably familiar, at a foundational level, with all the CAGED shaped major, major/ minor pentatonic scales, many of the basic major/ minor/7th arpeggio shapes, and all the major/ minor triads across the fretboard. I’ve also been working on linking these together, moving between them, and practicing different scale highways across the fretboard. I can generally put on a backing track and use them in relative isolation to create some OK music across different keys. I try to mix up the rhythm and phrasing to create some variation etc. Of course, I realise there’s a lifetime of learning and development right there, but feel I’m going along OK.

My question here is how do I best move towards the next level where I can ‘see’ the scale, the triad, and the arpeggio all light up on the fretboard simultaneously, in real time; so I can more readily utilise any of these in a particular moment? I’m getting OK at,say for example, moving around between different triads shapes on different stringsets and following a chord progression. I then might move to a scale run across the neck for a few notes. It’s from here where I seem to often go astray, ie. dropping back to a position where I can perhaps play some appropriate notes from a triad/ arpeggio, then move again to a few surrounding scale notes. I seem to lose my orientation at times.

As part of my practice routine, I practice interval/ ear training across the neck, finding various intervals from a starting note etc, so I’m not so readily locked into just this shape based mentality. I also run little drills like ‘ascend up the scale, descend down the arpeggio’, or ’ ascend the major pentatonic, descend the minor pentatonic’, and lots of variations on these drill types, using bits and pieces of these.I figure these will help me to gradually start to see it more and more as one big framework, without thinking too much about it. It’s hard work though, and very frustrating at times. Am I getting ahead of myself here? What sorts of drills, exercises etc have some of you used? Other methods? Or should I just take a chill pill, enjoy, and keep doing what I’m doing; knowing, from listening to some others’ experience, that it’ll just gradually develop over the coming years if I keep at it?

If you’ve got this far, you are a champion. Thanks very much for listening.

Cheers, Shane


Hi Shane,
Definitely take the chill pill… :sunglasses: :joy:
You go very fast ,…frustration is not a good thing at the “begin” level when we are so far so fast,… and as for “seeing” scales and chords and arpegios etc,... I have spoken with some very good musicians, both piano and guitar,....and one sees chords, the other sees the major scales (like me) and with some only pentatonic shapes appear on the fretboard-mind,...but in the beginning it is already very special what you are all doing , and I haven't spoken to anyone yet who oversees everything (arpegios scales chords etc) at once, but I don’t think that’s necessary either, different brains look for different solutions ,…
I don’t know if this is of any use to you, but I did read your whole story so you didn’t tap it completely for nothing :joy:

Thanks Roger. Appreciate your input mate :+1:.

Cheers, Shane

I empathise totally with you Shane and have many of the same thoughts as you.
Bottom line I think is that unless you can devote umpteen hours a day to guitar you have to accept the fact that you can’t do everything. It has to be enjoyable and fun. Take that chill pill!

Your impro pathway sounds good to me and mixing it up with learning songs is the way to go.
It’s been said many times on this forum. This is a marathon not a race. :smiley:

Hi Shane. You did the Need Your Love so Bad challenge. What did you learn from that? Did you analyze what scale was being used? Did you notice what notes were being play over the chord changes? Doing scale exercises and learning Triads and arpeggios is fine but useless if you don’t know where or when to use them. Go back and listen I mean really listen to I Need Your Love So Bad. I’ll give you your first hint. The whole solo is played out of the BB Box. To be good at improvising you need to know what sound good and why it sounds good. Other wise your just throwing notes out there and seeing what sticks.

This is true but do a lot with the little you know. SRV, Hendrix, Clapton, Page and thousand of others have made beautiful music with the Major and minor pentatonic scales. The problem with the internet is that knowledge has become one big heap of Garbage that guitar players seen to want to consume every morsel of and end up learning nothing.

Do one thing very well and you will find the rest becomes easier. Bounce around between scales and modes and you will learn nothing. Learn from the masters by using your ears like Justin did and you will learn a lot. Watching videos of someone saying put this finger here with out knowing why and you learn very little.


Hi Shane,
My advice to you would be to take a deep breath and slow down. You mention that you’re 53 and have been at it for 2 1/2 yrs. God willing, you’ve got many more years of playing ahead of you. I’m approximately at the same stage in yrs as you are in learning, but I am 74. I have a narrow perspective of what I want to accomplish and how I intend to get there. My expectations have to be realistic. I believe in starting with the basics and building upon them one step at a time. It’s better to become really good at one thing than not so good at a whole lot of things!
Best of luck!

Hey Stich,

Thanks for the response mate. Perhaps parts of my post were a bit unclear. I am perhaps more guilty of over analysing chord progressions, rather than just throwing notes out there and see what sticks.
I’ll take a chord progression, play it and get a feel for the sound of it, write out all the notes of the chords, see what notes are shared between chords, work out what basic key/scale structure it is using etc. Then I’ll play around with it starting with probably a related scale, trying to hit different chord tones on the changes. Then I might reset, and just play triads over it, again, hitting different chord tones on the changes, trying to create different simple melodies. I then might try some arpeggios and do the same. Then I might look at these shared chord notes and see how I can use them to lead from one chord to another.
I might decide that playing some triads over it sounds good, and then use the surrounding scale notes to move between them, and create some flavour.
It is when using these in combination where I sometimes lose my bearings. In isolation, they light up on the fretboard. When using them together, thats where the mistakes are made.
I suppose what I’m asking, particularly of much more seasoned players like yourself, is what has been your experience in moving from this level, to where it all becomes progressively more seamless? Did you incorporate any elements, exercises etc in your practice, or was it just a matter of time, experience, familiarity etc, that started to gradually bring it all together?

Many thanks.
Cheers, Shane

Hi Shane, I am sort of closely following the thread as I am leaning towards getting more fluent with the art of improving and technique. Few good quotes from stitch there, two I most like are:

This right there I think is the essence. There is SO MUCH we can learn and only so much time to learn… I am guilty of it myself, when I first started I jumped onto lots of theory and really never got to learn enough licks or riffs or ideas that would form a great vocabulary to be used while improving. Hence I took step back and started learning songs because that is where I can try to figure out cool techniques and theory at the same time, see what sticks :wink:

I guess all goes down to what is your goal here. Being able to play more across the fretboard, mix all ideas together, write a song? In order to be able to play few things together I guess you need to really practice only limited amount of them at once (for instance 2-3 patterns of minor pentatonic to learn how to move across the fretboard horizontally) for it to engrave in your brain. Some other day you can do arpeggios or triads in the same key and after long while I guess eventually those things will become automatic.

The more you try to learn the more info there is to grasp, more things to apply to your impros and more experience is required. I would suggest step back, learn two things very well independently and once you feel really confident mix n match :wink:

I am guilty myself of not being sure what to do next, but as long as I am playing that is what counts! And if I get fed up of repeating same phrases all over again - learn new songs is an option for some inspiration!


Shane, your experience is much more than mine so I’m just reading with interest.

I did recently listen to Justin’s talk on his guitar journey and was surprised how many years he’d been playing before learning many scales, and also how many hours a day he practiced while studying guitar at uni (at least 8!). Might be worth a listen to help plan your own journey.


This is a good thing. Listening to how music works is a key element to learning music flow.

This is what to many people do and it’s not a good way to learn. Learning how your guitar heroes play will teach you faster than any other way.

Why not take an easy favorite songs from one of your favorite guitar players and analyze what they are doing. You’d be surprised how fast you can pick up exactly what your talking about here.
Instead of writing every thing out use your ears to tell your finger what to do.

I think people learn music backwards with the internet. They look up lesson learn scale then try and improvise. You need to learn how to use scale in real music before you can improvise and the best way to learn this is to copy your heroes. This is how all your heroes learnt so way not give it a try. Justin even teaches licks as a language and using lick to make phases. He mentions listening to your favorite artists and steeling there licks.
In your whole post you never mentioned listening once. Yet listening is how you learn music.
Just my 2c.


Considering you have been doing this about the same time as me you are light years, literally light years ahead of me. I don’t understand half the terms you use never mind how to play them.

Like this one. What does this actually mean?

Now that of course depends on whether your ears can differentiate notes, chords, etc. Mine are basically shot so no real chance of doing this.

That’s where internet comes in handy with all the tabs available for literally almost any song. If something is difficult to hear use a tab and look it up. Start with easy songs and this will become easier while you move up the ladder and pick more difficult ones. With guitar on your lap before you check anything slow the song down and try to figure out note or notes yourself and only when you fail use extra support. A lot of stuff is repetitive so you will use your experience in the future to pick up intervals etc.

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Thanks again Stitch. Some sage reminders there for me. Our conversation has cleared the air for me a bit - thank you.
Been studying ACDC lately. Has opened my eyes alot to how the relatively simple structure of many of their songs produces such iconic music. Of course, that might have something to do with the Young brothers playing as well😜. Has been a great introduction for me in how the major/minor pentatonic sounds can work together.
I’ll leave you alone now, and get on with it. Many thanks again.

Cheers, Shane

:+1: :+1:

You mean ears :wink: Angus is a great place to start. Spent hours listening to Back in Black when it can out.

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