Mental grasp of scales?

I’m wondering how other people perceive scales in their mind?

As in, when you listen to a melody, whats going on in your mind? Thoughts/feelings etc
How do you personally work out the melody?

Assuming it’s a simple melody, I just try to ear it out. No perfect pitch or anything, just pick a random fret / string and adjust as needed lol. If it’s hard, I’ll look for a tab or just take the time to learn it by ear.

I’ve recently started getting into Barry Harris videos and looking at scales in terms of what lands on a down beat vs up beat (strong beat vs. weak beat).

If you’re unfamiliar - he is a jazz guy…I’m not…but I hear it everywhere now…like vocal melodies in pop music.

This is a great topic.

As a teaching tool I’m pretty hardcore about movable do solfege.

I’d say when I hear something and I’m making some effort to figure out the pitches, I process the notes in part as scale degrees (that was 5th, flat 5th, 4th, flat 7th, up to root, that kind of thing) and also reflexively by familiar positions on the fretboard. For example, even as I was just typing out those intervals I was, without thinking about it, also visualizing the basic scale box fingering with the root on the low E string and octave of that root on the D string.

That’s not a strategy, it’s just what happens at this point, through years of thinking of scale degrees and playing things in different positions.

What I advocate for students who want to get better at figuring things out by ear is to sing movable do solfege along with everything and play the same phrases in multiple fingerings so they are associating the sounds with syllables and/or scale degrees, and not just one set of frets/string on the guitar.

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@kgk interesting - how do you adapt the “7&1 and 3&4” approach to things beyond the major scale?

I believe most 6+ string bassists tune in fourths.

I only have 6-string axes, but I understand that the 7 and 8 string guitars are all fourths except for that B string; I don’t mind a uniform tuning, but it means that I have to correct for TAB (I read TAB when I can’t find sheet music).

I view all of the “modes” as the same pattern, above , except they might start on a number other than 1, e.g., a minor scale starts on a 6. I’m not sure if this is too excessive, or not. Then again, “nothing satisfies like excess.” :rofl:

I think a solid grasp on this was the single most important thing for all the ear training I’ve ever done. It’s helped me so much with the blanket term of “playing by ear” for both melodies and chords. I could always play by ear for as long as I can remember, through trial and error, but once I went to college for music and learned proper ear training the success rate improved dramatically. Once I identified what key a piece is in, that moveable solfege do kicked in and I could tell exactly what chord was being played. I think high level, I heard the bass note and chord quality (i.e. major/minor/diminished/dominant) to identify the chords – that bass note being firmly connected to the solfege note. The melody notes are were apparent immediately via their solfege terms.

I don’t remember when this happened for me, but yes, this is totally how I think of everything now. I don’t think solfege terms but scale degrees. I think the solfege was just paramount in solidifying the connection, so I fully agree that anyone learning ear training (or improving their ears) should spend some time with solfege.

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