Using The Memphis Scale Page 2


‘The Memphis Scale’ Explanation (~4 minutes)
 The name ‘Memphis Scale’ is actually just a nickname – it isn’t a scale at all. When people
talk about the Memphis Scale, what they are referring to is the style of playing when the notes
on two strings are used with intervals of sixths.
 So the ‘Memphis Scale’ can actually be used with any scale. On the material sheet you can see
that the C Major Scale has been used but any other scale can be used. The notes on the second
and fourth strings are being used but the student can also use notes on the first and third
strings. The basic idea is to use two strings like this because it makes it easier to form shapes
that make an interval of a sixth.
 The ‘Positions in the Key of C’ demonstrate how the student should think about improvising.
All that has been done is the notes from the fretboard diagram have been arranged to form
shapes that fit either a minor or major sixth interval.
 Point out to the student that there are only two basic shapes to learn.
 When using the Memphis Scale to improvise, it can create a very country sound or a more
subtle sound depending on how the student uses the notes. Van Morrison uses this idea in the
song ‘Brown Eyed Girl’.
 This style of improvising was very popular in the 60s and fits the southern country and rock
styles very well.
In the Gallery Demonstration (~2 minutes)
 The easiest way for the student to understand all of the above is to demonstrate how the
Memphis Scale is used. Play the entire lick shown using your thumb and fingers to pluck each
 Strats and Teles sound great with this style and if you don’t have one of them, try to play
using a single coil pickup. Explain to the student that the type of guitar and the pickup used will
have a big impact on the feel of the lick. Acoustics can be used but won’t have the same feel.
 Point out that when you play the lick, instead of lightly picking each note, when you play the
fourth string you pull the string straight up in the air so it snaps back down and hits the frets.
This achieves a great sound that fits the style very well. A similar technique can be used with the
second string notes but even if this is done just on the lower notes it creates a great feel.
 Point out the single note on the first string and explain that while the idea behind the
Memphis Scale is to play using two strings, other notes can be used and the student can move
away from using just two notes if they feel like it.
 Mention that all the shapes used in this lick can be found in the diagrams on the material
sheet. This lick is in the key of C so the student will find it easy to improvise in C after practising
this lick.
In the Gallery – Student Practice (~7 minutes)
 Take the lick one position at a time and ask the student to use their thumb and first finger
from their picking hand to play the notes. Hybrid picking can be used but the fingers create a
more authentic feel that fits the style.
 Ask the student to think about which fingers they should use when they move from position to
position. The very first slide from the third to the fifth fret shouldn’t be played using the first
finger as a bar. This is because the student will have more control over the notes if they use two
separate fingers.
 Let the student focus on the positions at first then they can focus on the rhythm. By focusing
on one aspect of the lick at a time they will learn it faster and it will sound better.
 Once the student can play the lick without stopping, strum a C Major chord while the student
plays the lick so they can hear how each part relates to the root.
 Ask the student to experiment with the feel of the lick by adding in staccato wherever they
feel appropriate. They can also experiment with how hard they pluck the strings.
 Explain that changing how hard the notes are plucked is a very easy way to change the feel of
a piece.


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