Sequencing Scales: Practice Patterns

When we learn scales on the ukulele we tend to play them one way: up and down, in order. That’s great. But when it comes to soloing and exploring melodies, it can be very helpful to have a bigger repertoire of interval jumps and note patterns to pull from. I feel that this is one of the most valuable things I have practiced in regards to building my familiarity with any key for soloing.

Sequencing a scale breaks it into smaller melodic patterns and groupings that are played from every note in the scale.

The idea is simple. Take a basic scale – F major in this example – and play each note with a grouping added to it. The grouping in this case is 1 2 3. After that you’d start from the next note in the scale (2) and count up three: 2 3 4. So the pattern would look like: 1 2 3 2 3 4 3 4 5 etc… It’s shown below with the scale numbers displayed above the tab:

sequence in f

As you can see, when you get to the top it can be nice to step into the next octave for a few notes to complete the pattern back on the root – or 1 – note.

This simple pattern, while not complex, can really add a lot of interest and musicality to the plain scale. It creates phrases that are much more like real-life music than any scale played up and down.

You can take that concept further by changing the number of notes in the grouping. Here it is in 4 and 5 note groupings:

4 and 5 in f

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An idea that requires more interval jumping, and consequently more melodic sounds, is skipping directly up to the highest note in the group. Going back to the first example, you’d remove the middle note from the grouping. That leaves you with the 1 and the 3. So the pattern would now look like: 1 3 2 4 3 5 4 6 etc… Here it is in tab:


You can (and should) do this with any interval.

I’ve always found that sequencing pentatonic scales creates a fantastic sound. Because these scales have only five notes as opposed to the normal seven, you are often forced into playing jumping intervals – even when you are playing the next note in the scale.

Lets try an E major pentatonic descending in 4 note groupings starting on the E note, 7th fret, bottom string:

e pentatonic sequence groups of 4

Again, you can do this with any grouping or interval jump.

Finally, I’d like to point out that any melodic pattern can be sequenced. Say this:

melodic pattern

If you look at what scale degrees are played there (I’m assuming this is in the key of A), you can increase each number by one and find the next sequence. Here it is worked up a couple times:

melodic sequence

There are endless possibilities, so take this idea and run with it.

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brad bordessa avatar About the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me