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Solo Using Diatonic Scales (Guitar Lesson)

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Matt Brown

Solo Using Diatonic Scales

Matt Brown explains which scales can be used when playing a solo over a diatonic progression in a major key. As an example, he teaches the solo section to Candlebox's song "Far Behind."

Taught by Matt Brown in Rock Guitar with Matt Brown seriesLength: 33:02Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:43) Performance Welcome back to the Phase 2 Rock Guitar Series with Matt Brown! Matt begins this lesson with a performance of the solo section to Candlebox's "Far Behind."
Chapter 2: (00:52) Introduction In this lesson, the solo section to "Far Behind" is used as an example of how to play effective lead guitar lines over a diatonic chord progression in a major key. In the scenes that follow, Matt will explain the music theory behind diatonic progressions. He will also explain some effective scale options that can be used over these types of progressions.
Chapter 3: (04:48) Diatonic Scales Diatonic Chord Progressions

A progression is "diatonic" to a major key when all of the notes within it are contained in a specific major scale. No accidentals or notes outside of the scale are included in a diatonic progression. Another way to describe diatonic progressions is to say that they contain no chromatic notes outside of a specific major key.

How can you tell if a progression is diatonic? Begin by analyzing the notes that comprise each chord in the progression. The chord progression played underneath the "Far Behind" solo consists of the following chords, G5, E5, D5, C5, and B5. The notes within these chords are listed below.

G5: G, D
E5: E, B
D5: D, A
C5: C, G
B5: B, F#

Thus, the notes used in these chords are G, D, E, B, A, C, and F#. This group of notes should look familiar. When reordered, these notes form the G major scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. Consequently, the chord progression is diatonic to the key of G major, since it solely consists of notes from the G major scale.

Scale Options

When playing over diatonic progressions in major keys, the major scale should work from a theoretical standpoint. The major pentatonic scale is derived from the major scale. Consequently, this scale will also work from a theoretical perspective. Over a diatonic progression in a major key, the relative minor pentatonic scale can also be used. Relative minor and major pentatonic scales contain the exact same notes. E minor is the relative minor key to G major. Both of these keys feature one sharp (F#) in their respective key signatures. Compare the spelling of the scales listed below:

G Major Pentatonic: G, A, B, D, E, G
E Minor Pentatonic: E, G, A, B, D, E

As you can see, both scales contain the same set of pitches.
Chapter 4: (03:04) Far Behind's Chord Progression When playing any type of solo, you must know the rhythm accompaniment that is played underneath it. The rhythm section will dictate your scale choices, the rhythms played in the solo, and the overall feel of the solo section. In this scene, Matt breaks down the chord progression that is played underneath the first half of the "Far Behind" solo. (The progression played during the second half of the solo is discussed in a later scene.)

The progression consists of the following chords: G5, E5, D5, C5, and B5. Watch Matt in the lesson video to learn the appropriate voicings for these chords.

Note: Tablature and standard notation to the solo progression can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Choosing Scales

Just because a scale works from a theoretical perspective, it does not mean that it will work in a practical, musical context. You must try each of the theoretical options in the context of the progression to determine whether it will work with the overall vibe of the song.

Since the chord progression produces a biting, hard rock sound, Candlebox guitarist Peter Klett chooses to use the G major pentatonic scale / E minor pentatonic scale throughout the solo. The pentatonic scales convey a slightly edgier sound than the major scale. They produce more of a traditional bluesy / rock and roll sound that is highly appropriate in this context.

However, it should be noted that a few extra notes outside of the scale are also used. An F# note is used frequently throughout the solo. Also, a chromatic C# note from the E Dorian mode is added to measure 13.
Chapter 5: (06:32) Far Behind Solo Licks Beginning Lick

The "Far Behind" solo begins with some simple repeating licks. As you learned in the last lesson, repeating licks are a great way to begin a solo. Simple, catchy ideas grab the audience's attention and prepares them for what is about to come next. During the first five measures of the solo, a simple G major pentatonic motif is repeated as the chords in the progression change. Jazz musicians refer to this technique as "riffing." Riffing involves playing repeating a simple idea over a series of chord changes.

Practicing the Solo

Follow the guidelines listed below as you work on the original recorded solo.

1. Work through one phrase at a time.

2. Try to learn each lick just by watching Matt in the lesson video. If you have problems with a specific lick, refer to the "Supplemental Content" section. A transcription of the original recorded solo as well as a transcription of the way Matt teaches the solo in the lesson video are available.

3. Pay careful attention to the fingering that Matt uses to play each lick. Typically, the first finger plays all notes at the 12th fret. The second finger plays 14th fret notes. The third finger plays almost all notes at the 15th fret. Matt almost never bends a string with the pinky finger. This is especially true when vibrato is applied to a bend. The pinky is only used during the final two beats of measure 8. These fingerings will allow you to play the solo with the greatest ease.

4. Practice each lick with a metronome. Begin at a slow tempo such as 60 beats per minute. Gradually increase the tempo as you become more comfortable with each lick.

5. Once you can play all of the licks taught in this scene, begin to string them together.

6. Pause the video and practice the entire section as a whole along with a metronome.

7. When you can successfully play this section at 96 beats per minute, return to the lesson video and play along with Matt at 05:50.
Chapter 6: (07:48) Chord Progression As mentioned earlier, the chord progression changes halfway through the solo. In many rock and metal songs, the chord progression or riff played under the solo changes. Metal solos are often played over as many as four or five different riffs! Consequently, you must be able to adjust and weave your lead lines around a changing rhythm part.

The new progression consists of G5 and E5 power chords played for two measures each. Watch as Matt demonstrates the progression at the beginning of the scene. Tablature and notation to the entire solo progression can also be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

As the chord progression becomes more simple and aggressive, Peter Klett plays more aggressive licks. He also turns on a wah pedal to achieve a more biting, treble sound. Techniques such as palm muting are also used to add aggression. Fast, intense licks are used to bring the solo section to an effective climax. During this section, the rhythms become much more active. There are fewer sustained notes. Faster rhythms such as sixteenth notes, sextuplets, and thirty second notes are used more frequently.

Practicing the Solo

Follow the same procedure outlined under the previous scene as you learn the second half of the solo. Once you have mastered the second half, begin to practice the entire solo as a whole.
Chapter 7: (05:04) Solo Ending Matt frequently compares the structure of a solo to the structure of a story. A solo must have a logical beginning, middle, and end. The "Far Behind" solo perfectly demonstrates this concept. The solo begins with a simple two note motif that grabs the listener's attention. Tension builds during the middle section of the solo as a new tone and aggressive techniques are introduced. Finally, the solo draws to strong climax as rapid sextuplets and thirty second note rhythms give way to screaming bends.

Adding Slurs

Matt adds some hammer-ons to Peter Klett's original licks at the end of the solo. Hammer-ons help keep these lines sounding smooth and connected. They also enable you to play comfortably at higher speeds. Compare and contrast the transcription of the original solo and the way in which Matt plays it.

Practicing the Solo

Pause the lesson video and practice the entire solo with a metronome. Memorize any licks that give you problems. If you really enjoy this solo, you may want to memorize all of it.
Chapter 8: (04:05) Far Behind Solo When you can play the entire solo comfortably at 96 beats per minute, return to the lesson video and play along with Matt in this scene. Make sure that your rhythms line up perfectly with his.

Matt's Approach to the Solo

When playing a cover song, Matt will often improvise his own version of the solo. With this song however, he always plays the original recorded solo. Since this solo is so well constructed and widely recognized, Matt does not find it appropriate to interject some of his own licks.

His approach to playing a solo in a cover song is usually influenced by the way in which the original guitarist performs the song live. Check out various live performances of "Far Behind." Peter Klett plays the solo almost the exact same way night after night.

Preview of the Next Lesson

Coming up next, Matt explains the theory behind diatonic progressions in the natural minor (Aeolian) tonality. He covers the scale choices available when playing over these types of progressions. Similar to the current lesson, he uses solo sections from Phase 3 songs to supplement this information.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

vamos3001vamos3001 replied

Excellent course this one by the way.Explained many things i had scratched the surface and just soloed over backing tracks without much knowledge behind it.Thanks!,,

kingpinned89kingpinned89 replied

hey matt im having some trouble playing the last 3 measures.. are you supposed to play it fast or what? and how exactly do u make them sound one with the solo.. ??

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Did you check out the supplemental content? If you're having problems understanding the rhythm, then that's what you need to fix.

gbnarmoregbnarmore replied


SodaPopSodaPop replied

ummm not sure?

gbnarmoregbnarmore replied

Whats the strum pattern on the chord progression?

lexzbuddylexzbuddy replied

Great lesson. Helped me figure out keys, relative keys & such from the progression. Sweet for stuff your writing too. Cheers

flyrerflyrer replied

Sniffing? Geez I never noticed, the lessons must be that good.

J.artmanJ.artman replied

Why are you always sniffing when you play solos? Its really...weird.

Jason.MounceJason.Mounce replied

Quite a number of our instructors do this actually. Mark Lincoln does it, and also grits his teeth at the same time. It's a concentration deal. The same reason i stick my tongue out when I draw.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

yeah...I always take a sharp breath in between fast passages. Everybody does it.

dennis.hodgesdennis.hodges replied

he's not really "sniffing," he's just inhaling sharply. The mics we wear are very sensitive and sit on or below our collars. I've been told by Chris Dawson I do the same thing.

cdawsoncdawson replied

You do... and I always tack it back to what you discussed in your lead series lesson about phrasing, in that, you base your expressions and playing on your breathing.. much like speaking. That always struck home with me and made a lot of sense, and at times, I think you guys do it unknowingly.

flyrerflyrer replied

Another great lesson thanks Matt Russ

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Thanks a lot for your support, Russ!

ronin808ronin808 replied

very very cool man

Rock Guitar with Matt Brown

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chuck Berry among others pioneered the style of rock and roll in the 1950's. Today, rock and roll remains the most popular genre of music. Over the years the genre has progressed & spawned many sub-genres: soft rock, classic rock, punk rock, and more. Dive into this Phase 2 set of lessons to become a master of rock.

Proper PracticingLesson 1

Proper Practicing

Learn how to get the most out of your time when practicing.

Length: 29:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Introduction to LeadLesson 2

Introduction to Lead

Matt Brown discusses some of the fundamentals to playing lead.

Length: 15:41 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Figuring Out NotesLesson 3

Figuring Out Notes

Matt shows you the basics of figuring out any note on the guitar.

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
ScalesLesson 4


Learn the basic minor, natural, and major scales. Quite a few techniques & ideas start with scales - they're an essential building block.

Length: 34:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Major ScalesLesson 5

Major Scales

In this lesson, Matt takes you through the major scales & helps you to understand how they can be used.

Length: 20:25 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Natural Minor ScalesLesson 6

Natural Minor Scales

Matt teaches the most common natural minor scale patterns.

Length: 13:24 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
BendingLesson 7


Learn & master the most popular types of bends.

Length: 27:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Sweep Picking & RakesLesson 8

Sweep Picking & Rakes

Learn sweep picking and string rakes.

Length: 18:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Solo TechniquesLesson 9

Solo Techniques

Learn various techniques to use when improvising / soloing.

Length: 12:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Tuning DownLesson 10

Tuning Down

Matt explains the most effective way to tune your guitar down.

Length: 7:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Barre ChordsLesson 11

Barre Chords

Learn how to establish finger independence and a few tips and tricks with barre chords.

Length: 37:18 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Rock LicksLesson 12

Rock Licks

In this lesson, Matt Brown introduces a rock lick and shows how several famous players have modified it.

Length: 19:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Rock SequencesLesson 13

Rock Sequences

In this lesson Matt teaches some crucial rock sequences. He also explains how these sequences can be integrated in to your playing.

Length: 34:52 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
String SkippingLesson 14

String Skipping

Matt Brown focuses on string skipping technique. He provides several exercises designed to improve this aspect of your playing.

Length: 33:09 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
IntervalsLesson 15


Lesson 15 in Matt's rock series is all about intervals.

Length: 34:47 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Rock Lead GuitarLesson 16

Rock Lead Guitar

Matt Brown demonstrates lead guitar techniques using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as an example.

Length: 29:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Solo Using Diatonic ScalesLesson 17

Solo Using Diatonic Scales

Matt Brown explains which scales can be used when playing a solo over a diatonic progression in a major key. As an example, he teaches the solo section to Candlebox's song "Far Behind."

Length: 33:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Diatonic Natural Minor Lesson 18

Diatonic Natural Minor

This lesson covers the natural minor scale and diatonic natural minor progressions. Matt uses the solo section to "Stairway to Heaven" as an example.

Length: 24:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Right Hand TechniqueLesson 19

Right Hand Technique

In lesson 19 Matt provides instruction on developing right hand skills including string skipping.

Length: 26:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Non-Diatonic ProgressionsLesson 20

Non-Diatonic Progressions

In lesson 20, Matt discusses chord progressions that don't follow a diatonic tonality.

Length: 29:07 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Harmonic MinorLesson 21

Harmonic Minor

Matt begins to discuss and demonstrate the harmonic minor scale.

Length: 29:46 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Improvising Over Harmonic MinorLesson 22

Improvising Over Harmonic Minor

In lesson 22, Matt continues his discussion of the harmonic minor tonality.

Length: 14:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Sweet Child O' MineLesson 23

Sweet Child O' Mine

In lesson 23, Matt takes a look at the solo section for the song "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Length: 19:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
TodayLesson 24


Matt will be taking a look at the solo section from the live version of the Smashing Pumpkins song "Today".

Length: 7:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Back In Black SoloLesson 25

Back In Black Solo

Matt Brown reviews and discusses the solo section to AC/DC's hit "Back In Black".

Length: 9:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
BrotherLesson 26


In lesson 26, Matt covers the solo section from the Alice in Chains song "Brother".

Length: 9:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Matt's Rock ManifestoLesson 27

Matt's Rock Manifesto

Matt Brown discusses lead guitarists, what makes a good solo, and tips for your own lead playing.

Length: 41:06 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Legato Playing ExercisesLesson 28

Legato Playing Exercises

Matt Brown teaches a number of exercises aimed at improving your legato playing technique.

Length: 37:16 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Right Hand ExercisesLesson 29

Right Hand Exercises

Matt Brown demonstrates a few exercises to build skill and speed in your right hand.

Length: 15:06 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
String Skipping EtudeLesson 30

String Skipping Etude

Matt Brown teaches Heitor Villa-Lobos' 1st Etude as a lesson in string skipping.

Length: 38:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Three Octave ScalesLesson 31

Three Octave Scales

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play three octave versions of the minor pentatonic and the major scales in all 12 keys.

Length: 16:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Diatonic IntervalsLesson 32

Diatonic Intervals

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play all seven of the diatonic intervals within the framework of a horizontal major scale.

Length: 23:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Diatonic 7th ArpeggiosLesson 33

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

Matt Brown discuss diatonic arpeggios as a theory lesson as well as demonstrating the technique.

Length: 9:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Diatonic 7ths Across the NeckLesson 34

Diatonic 7ths Across the Neck

Matt Brown explains how to play the diatonic seventh chords of the major scale. Similar to lesson 32, this lesson takes a horizontal approach to the fretboard.

Length: 10:46 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Solo Ideas #1Lesson 35

Solo Ideas #1

Matt Brown teaches a progression and accompanying solo to demonstrate ideas for creating your own.

Length: 21:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Solo Ideas #2Lesson 36

Solo Ideas #2

Matt Brown takes a look at another chord progression and solo.

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Legato Playing IdeasLesson 37

Legato Playing Ideas

In lesson 37 of the Rock Series, Matt Brown demonstrates and talks about legato playing ideas.

Length: 21:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Rhythm ConceptsLesson 38

Rhythm Concepts

Matt Brown switches gears in lesson 38 to start talking about rhythm concepts for rock playing.

Length: 27:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Compositional TechniquesLesson 39

Compositional Techniques

Matt Brown discusses some often used techniques to build effective rock compositions.

Length: 17:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Creative Chord VoicingsLesson 40

Creative Chord Voicings

Matt Brown shows off some ways to add some creativity and originality to your rock chord voicings.

Length: 11:59 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Lead ApproachLesson 41

Lead Approach

Matt Brown takes another look at his approach to soloing. He demonstrates ideas you can use in your own playing.

Length: 12:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lead Approach #2Lesson 42

Lead Approach #2

Matt Brown adds practice to his lead approach by giving you another chord progression to solo over.

Length: 7:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lead Approach #3Lesson 43

Lead Approach #3

Matt Brown has another chord progression and solo exercise to go over in this lesson on lead approach.

Length: 10:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
String Skipping RevisitedLesson 44

String Skipping Revisited

Matt Brown takes another look at string skipping. He breaks down some key areas of Matteo Carcassi's Allegro as an exercise.

Length: 16:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Matt Brown

About Matt Brown View Full Biography Matt Brown began playing the guitar at the age of 11. "It was a rule in my family to learn and play an instrument for at least two years. I had been introduced to a lot of great music at the time by friends and their older siblings. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, so the decision to pick up the guitar came pretty easily."

Matt's musical training has always followed a very structured path. He began studying the guitar with Dayton, Ohio guitar great Danny Voris. I began learning scales, chords, and basic songs like any other guitarist. After breaking his left wrist after playing for only a year, Matt began to study music theory in great detail. I wanted to keep going with my lessons, but I obviously couldn't play at all. Danny basically gave me the equivalent of a freshman year music theory course in the span of two months. These months proved to have a huge impact on Brown's approach to the instrument.

Brown continued his music education at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed a degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2002. While at Capital, he also studied jazz guitar and recording techniques in great detail. "I've never had any desire to perform jazz music. Its lack of relevance to modern culture has always turned me off. However, nothing will improve your chops more than studying this music."

Matt Brown currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. He teaches lessons locally as well as at Capital University's Community Music School. Matt's recent projects include writing and recording with his new, as of yet nameless band as well as the formation of a cover band called The Dirty Cunnies.

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