by Adam Nitti

Hello again, folks! This latest installment from my "Deep Thoughts" column will offer some insight on how to become a more melodic player simply by modifying some of our approaches to practicing scale patterns.

At one time or another, each of us has probably been introduced to a scale pattern. For many of us, the major scale was the first scale we learned on the bass. Here are a couple of fingerings for it:

Here is what a one octave C major scale looks like on a staff in an ascending and descending fashion:

Now play the C major scale, as it appears on the staff. Notice how the notes connect together in a rigid, orderly, and step-wise fashion. Sounds like you're playing an exercise, right? It should. That's because any scale simply played up and down its range is purely technical in nature. In other words, a scale is like an alphabet. It's made up of several key components that get combined together in different ways to give us unique words and phrases. Each note in a scale is like a letter from the alphabet. Without the scales, we can't communicate musically. However, just as with the English language, the larger our vocabulary, the better we are able to speak! The players with the largest vocabularies posses the most distinct and memorable musical voices. These are the players who have created their own STYLE. All that having been said, the obvious question becomes, "How do I keep my scale patterns from just sounding like exercises when I use them in a tune???"

For most of us, how we practice determines how we play on the gig. If we are continually working on our scales at home by just doing ascending and descending forms like the example demonstrated, above, we are doing nothing but reinforcing that "exercise-like" sound in our playing. Our hands will naturally go for that stale succession of notes that screams out the words "SCALE PATTERNS" to our audience! To break out of that, you need to force your mind and hands to do things they are not used to. By adopting much more unique and creative approaches to practicing your scales, you enlarge your vocabulary and become more spontaneous a player... In order to develop this, however, we need to learn some (you guessed it) NEW patterns!

Each of the following exercises can be used with just about any scale or arpeggio pattern. They are categorized into 2 main groups: SEQUENCING exercises, and INTERVALLIC exercises. For each of these exercises, we'll use a 3 note per string major scale pattern which utilizes the following fingering:


We'll start this pattern on the lowest C note on the lowest string on your bass for each exercise to give us the largest range of notes per pattern. For example:

For 4 string bass: start on the 8th fret of the 'E' string.

5 string bass: start on the 1st fret of the 'B' string.

6 string bass: start on the 1st fret of the 'B' string.


A sequence is simply a predetermined number of notes taken from a scale played in order. For example, in a one octave major scale where the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 represent the 7 degrees of the scale, an ascending pattern for sequenced 4's would look like this:


1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, 3-4-5-6, 4-5-6-7, etc.

(Notice that the commas separate each sequence of 4 notes played in succession.)

On a staff using a C major scale as the example, the same pattern would look like this:

Sequenced musical approaches are very melodic and cyclical in nature, and their focused sound is a result of the smaller distances between notes. Jaco Pastorius consistently utilized sequenced approaches through pentatonic and modal scales in his soloing style.

Here's another example using sequenced 3's:


1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6, 5-6-7, etc.

Here is the same example as it would appear on a staff using a C major scale, again:

The sequencing approach gives us the following exercises:


Intervallic exercises, as the name suggests, are based on intervals. An interval is the distance between any 2 notes. These exercises take a predetermined interval and apply it to each note of the scale, in order of the scale degrees.

For example, an ascending pattern for intervallic 3rds would look like this:


1-3, 2-4, 3-5, 4-6, 5-7, etc.

(Notice that the commas separate each interval of a 3rd played in succession.)

Here is the same example as it would appear on a staff using a C major scale:

Here's an example using intervallic 5ths:


1-5, 2-6, 3-7, etc.

Here it is on the staff:

Intervallic exercises exhibit a much more 'open' sound than the sequences, due to the fact that they utilize larger distances between the notes. This less-focused sound is very melodic in nature, and makes for some of the most interesting musical ideas.

The intervallic approach gives us the following exercises:

Try working these into your practice routine and you will see some really neat ideas begin to take shape in your improvisation. After you have developed and mastered some of these exercises, you will want to start blending different approaches. Some of your best musical ideas will come from hybrid pattern approaches, which mix your scales, sequences, and intervallic patterns together. We'll talk more about that in part 2 of this series. Until next time...have fun, and keep practicing!!!

Adam Nitti

Adam Nitti is currently the head bass instructor at the Atlanta Institute of Music, and is finishing work on his 2nd solo CD. Read the rest of his extensive bio at

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