• Unlock the secrets of the
Nohkan flute scale.
• Learn how to use octave
• Create angular phrases by
combining open strings with
Click here to download the audio files from this lesson.
Last year I picked up a copy of Yusef
Lateef ’s wonderful book, Repository
of Scales and Melodic Patterns. I was overwhelmed
by the seemingly endless supply
of interesting material: pages upon pages
of unusual scales, patterns, and exercises.
My first instinct was to get out my guitar
and read through the book cover to cover,
however I quickly realized I wasn’t going
to absorb much of the material skimming
through it. Instead I decided to take the
opposite approach—depth. By zoning in on
one simple scale or pattern in the book and
creating my own exercises based on that
scale, I was able to extract a huge amount
of information from one simple source,
while simultaneously absorbing it into my
vocabulary in a personal way.
This exercise has many purposes. You
cover ear training, technique, getting your
fingers to move in new ways on the guitar,
and putting your own personal spin
on the material. Although you could try
this exercise with any scale, the example
I will use is one I particularly like—the
Nohkan flute scale, which I took from the
Japanese scale section of Lateef’s book.
In the key of D, this scale looks like this:
If we are going to describe this scale in
jazz terms, we have the root, major 2nd or
9th, 4th, 5th, #5th, 6th and 7th. This scale
can be easily adapted to jazz and offers a
lot of rich harmonic possibilities. It could
be played over major 7#5 or major 6 or 9
chords, for example. The first step in learning
the scale will be to play it up and down
on the guitar. I have arbitrarily chosen the
5th position to demonstrate this in Fig. 1.
The next step in absorbing this scale is to
play it in all 12 keys in the same position on
the guitar, starting in the key of C and going
through the cycle of fourths. This is a great
ear-training exercise. By avoiding sliding the
same shape up and down the neck and falling
into patterns, you are forced to really hear the
scale and think about each interval on the
guitar. You can start slow and work your way
up in tempo. In Fig. 2, I’ll play the first six
keys (C–F–B#–E#–A#–D#) up and down the
scale in the 5th position. With each shifting
key I will either move up a fourth or down a
fifth, in order to stay in position.
Now let’s play the scale a different way:
descending only, in all 12 keys in the 5th
position (Fig. 3).
The next step is rhythmic displacement.
By not playing the higher octave, we have a
seven-note scale. Playing the seven notes as a
steady stream of 16th-notes against a quarternote
pulse creates a rhythmic displacement
of seven-against-four. Let’s try this in Fig. 4
with the same descending scale pattern.
The last step is adding a personal variation.
I love to use open strings as accents.
This time let’s try playing the ascending
scale only, while inserting open strings
before the first and second notes of each
scale. This creates a nine-note pattern—the
seven-note scale plus two open strings—
played in a steady stream of 16th-notes to
create a nine-against-four rhythmic displacement,
as shown in Fig. 5.
The variations are endless. You could
try arpeggiating the scale, starting the scale
on a note other than the root, displacing
the octave every other note, or alternating
ascending and descending scales. You could
even try adding accents to the scale. For
example, sliding into every third note of
each scale, bending the pitch on the first
and seventh note, or inserting hammerons
At the end of this exercise, you will
have hopefully learned a new scale and
integrated it into your vocabulary, while
working on your fluidity on the guitar
neck and keeping in mind a personal
style of playing.
has been called “NYC’s
least-predictable improviser.” In addition to
her own trio and quintet, Halvorson also coleads
a chamber-jazz duo with violist Jessica
Pavone and the avant-rock band People. She
is an active member of bands led by Anthony
Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomas Fujiwara,
Curtis Hasselbring, Ingrid Laubrock, Marc Ribot,
and Tom Rainey among others. For more information,