Improve Your Technique by Practicing ‘Broken Thirds’ Scales

Scales are great for warming up and improving technical proficiency. Challenge yourself with new scales and patterns.

Most guitarists are accustomed to playing scales to warm up or improve their overall technical proficiency, but many restrict their practice to one particular scale or pattern, ascending and descending from root to root. While this has benefits, players who only practice scales in this way are missing out on some big rewards that can improve many facets of their playing. One effective approach that is popular among violinists and cellists is to practice scales in intervals of thirds, with a variety of patterns and variations. Playing intervals of thirds (C–E, D–F, E–G, etc.) in a scale is sometimes referred to as playing “broken thirds.”

This workout starts with a simple C-major scale played in broken thirds. The pattern consists of two notes—thirds—and moves right up through the scale, starting in second position and gradually working up to the 12th fret and back down. This might seem a bit tricky at first, but take it slowly, and it will soon become part of your muscle memory in the same way a scale or G run is.


Broken Thirds guitar lesson music notation

This lesson is excerpted from Scale and Mode Mastery.

Guided by the master teachers who create Acoustic Guitar magazine’s acclaimed Weekly Workouts, follow a series of step-by-step lessons to use the power of scale work in your practice and unlock richer, more creative guitar playing.

Explore more excerpts from Acoustic Guitar’s popular Weekly Workout series here.

Sean McGowan
Sean McGowan

Sean McGowan's work focuses on jazz, fingerstyle, composition, and injury prevention for musicians. He is a professor of music at the University of Colorado Denver and has authored several instructional books.

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