renaissance scale patters

Scales Made Musical 1 – Renaissance Patterns

Want to make your scale practice both effective and fun. This post will highlight different ways of utilizing patterns to practice facility and creativity at the same time.

Scale Patterns

“Why do we practice 3 octave scales? “

This was the question I asked my teacher, Neil Smith, many (many) years ago when I first started learning classical guitar. I just never understood the reasoning behind playing up and down the fretboard in 3 octaves. If I am honest, I still don’t! The occurrence of a bare 3 octave scale fragment up and down in guitar music is so rare, you might as well be looking for the Neverbeast with Tinkerbell. (Spoiler alert: they do find him – eventually! As I am sure some of you will also find 3 octave scales in music, somewhere.)

What we do need to do is practice scale patterns, they do occur, a lot! So you are better off filling your time playing patterns, than say the Segovia scale book! Controversial I know, but musical.

Food For Thought

And let me just add, you do need to practice scales (part of your routine at least) in the beginning, as it is the shortest route to improving your overall technique. You do not need to keep practicing them once your technique is established, with one caveat: unless you are still studying for exams, then you still need to. In fact it is counterproductive if you do. You are what you practice, and if all you practice is scales, that is all you really are going to be able to play well. And who the hell wants to listen to a guitarists play up and down scales?

Some Renaissance Patterns

Right lets kick off the patterns chronologically. Starting with some ye-olde-famouse patterns that abound in these early styles. There are four patterns for each period, and they come straight out of the music. The patterns are pervasive and probably best termed public domain as they crop so often, either in that period or in music in general. (and by no means are these all the patterns)

So let’s dive into them with the 1600s version of James Bond – John Dowland.

Renaissance Figures

Figure 1 & 2

Renaissance Patterns 1 & 2

Above we have two different figures from Dowland’s Galliards; the second one is more pervasive and can be found also be found in Weiss’s lute works.

Figure 3 & 4

Renaissance Patterns £ & 4

Here we have a figure 3 which is utilizes a chromatic to spice up its move through the scale. This idea will come back, as we shall see in a later post, again nearly 350 years later. There really is nothing new in music, just new ways of presenting the material. The last pattern above is one that appears at the end of Dowland’s Lachrimae, if you don’t know this piece check out the video below, it is a cadence figure and really highlights the end of this section well.

Keep in mind some terminology from this period, breaking music up into scalar patterns was known as divisions. It occurs pretty frequently in Renaissance music and is more akin to Jazz today, as they played the chord changes in scales and modes.

Scale Pattern Dictionary

A top tip: (and one I got from Leo Brouwer during a course on composition) is to start keeping a dictionary of examples from music that you like. So, excerpts from pieces, but kept together as say: scale patterns, or accompaniment ideas, or melody. This is very similar to what jazz musicians do with their lick books. That way you will have a handy set of ideas at your fingertips whenever you might need to compose or improvise. I have already started one for you with the free download below. It has all the patterns above in it, along with a few pages of blank staves for you to write your own down.

Fluidity – Speed Bursts

Right if you have a burning need for speed, and let’s face it who doesn’t, then please check out these micro studies on getting up to speed with speed bursts. It is the one proven method that will improve your overall tempo and performance.

Micro study 14

Micro study 15

Micro study 16

Micro study 20

Interlocking Modes & Fretboard Geography

Ok, so you have your patterns, now what? Well they need to be practiced across the fretboard in various keys and positions. This is will help solidify your fretboard geography and the actual notes on it. Especially if you practice with a backing track whilst tracking changes.


Because that means you are being forced to think about the chords: where you are and where you are going! Not just idling in a half coma whilst you mechanically run through your scale shapes. (And yes I am guilty of that, for many years in fact.) How else do you run through two hours of scales a day! It is not done mindfully that is for sure.

Top Tip

So only practice for 20 minutes at time and do it with your full concentration on. You know you are doing it well and with the brain engaged as you should feel drowsy and want to sleep afterwards.

If you are new to understanding the fretboard, then please check out these handy tips for learning your notes.

Fretboard geography post

Practice Patterns

How to practice these patterns, well there are two methods to begin with, see below. Two general patterns have been used to show how to practice patterns, once you get a handle on these use the Renaissance patterns above in the same manner.

  • Understand the pattern and then take it through a scale, or mode. See below

  • Pick a note and then play the fragment, pick another note and then play the fragment from it perfectly transposed. Try doing this in a cycle of fourths.

Scale Patterns 4 targets


The patterns below are very general and are found every where in any style of music, they are a great starting point for getting to grips with scale patterning.

In sets of 3

Scale Patterns 3s

Above is a general pattern that can be found in just about any style of music, a scale broken into sets of 3 notes, the brackets. It has a very distinctive sound, and is used today in jazz and metal guitar a lot, like a lot!

Here is the 3s in a scale fragment

In sets of 4s

Scale Patterns 4s


Above is another very frequent pattern, sets of 4 notes. Again this can be found every where from the Baroque to modern times.

Scale Patterns Combined

Above is all the information from this section in one scale fragment: target notes, 3s, and 4s. This is what it looks like when you utilize this information to make your own scale practice routines. It is a fantastic way to get to know your fretboard at the same time as your music.


And that is it, hopefully this post has help you gain a better understanding of how to creatively jazz up your scale routine and make it more musical. If you found this worthwhile, consider getting these sorts of lessons in your inbox. It also means you get to ask me questions on any of the content.

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Scales Made Music 1

Classical guitarist who strives to share a little #6stringinspiration.

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