Posted by: worshipguitarguy | February 9, 2007

Ambient Lead Scale

Ok, I’m going to start off by saying I’m not a traditional lead player.  I’m really terrible at playing cranked lead pentatonic riffs like most guitarists.  In fact, I really hate playing traditional lead guitar… not because it’s not cool… rather because I’m woefully not cool enough at it. 

But I’m constantly playing in situations where I have to create what I call “ambient” leads that are part pad part lead riff.  Often these riffs are based on very simple note changes that are really melodic. 

After a ton of trial and error, (and many years of experimenting with bad results), I stumbled across something that was so simple, but so easy to use at the same time.  I haven’t seen this taught anywhere else, so I just call it my ambient scale.  Here’s the diagram. 


Understanding the Diagram: 
Take a close look and you’ll notice this is the combination of two chord shapes.  The EAD strings contain the notes from a barre E chord, and the GBE strings are from a D chord form.  Tying these two forms together let you play some simple arpeggio style leads, especially when combined with the following:

The grey dots show the positions of additional notes on the major scale.  Look particularly at the places where there are notes a half step apart (like on the E, B, and D strings.)  Those are unique places where you can throw in simple melodic steps, much like what you’d hear in the following, which is a simple ambient style arpeggio, based totally on this pattern. 

Ambient Sounds MP3


(Patrick asked below how this clip was recorded.  Well, I love to experiment with a bunch of funky and weird sounds…  This clip was recorded with a Les Paul through GuitarPort.  What you hear in the background is an ebow effect.  I turned the tone down all the way on my LP, added an analog delay, and recorded three unique tracks with an ebow.  The first track was the root note, the second was the fifth, and the third was the octave.  For example, in the key of G, I would have recorded a constant G, a D, and the G that’s an octave above the original one.  When using the ebow, I’d gently shake it up and down on the strings to create a strange vibration style effect.  Then the guitar part was recorded on the LP, with a modulated analog delay setting.  I think the delay was set for a fairly strong first repeat, then trailed off.  I also set the modulation quite high so the notes would border on the verge of modulating off pitch, creating the sense of tension in the clip.



  1. Hey thanks alot for this! I use alot of 3-note chords on the EBG strings already, so this will be great to apply

  2. Hmm….Very interesting. Terribly simple yet very effective

  3. i’m new to the blog (i love it though) so i may have missed this, but the effect that you’re using on this clip…have you written about how you produce that effect?

  4. See above Patrick. 😉

  5. Ah, whale sounds… very nice. Gilmour-esque.

  6. I love the ebow, I won’t play a worship set without mine. Great tips as usual. I too use these simple but effective chord shapes for nice ambient parts.

  7. Killer lesson! that D form chord shape can get you so many miles as it relates to textures in contemporary worship music. Thanks for the insight on the ebow, too. When’s that delay lesson coming?

  8. Thanks so much–I want to let you know that I keep checking your site for useful tips like this that I can use in my worship playing for my church. Your efforts are really appreciated! Please keep up the good work!

  9. Dear worship guitar guy, what set up do you use? I’m searching for an amp right now with a nice warm tone. nothing too expensive though, i’m actually leaning towards the combo Vox AD50VT /w a ToneLab LE, how does that sound to you?

  10. with that in mind, are there any other kinds of amps i should check out? my range for it is about 400-500 bucks.

  11. Chu, here’s the link to my live setup… it’s changed very little since then.

    Take this for what it’s worth, since it’s only my opinion, but I think your best bet is to go with a tube amp of some type. It may be slightly out of your price range, but you could look at one of the low end Vox AC15CC’s, (about $600)… or if that’s a bit too much, definitely check out the Fender Blues Jr. amps. Also, Peavey Classic 30’s, or a used Fender Twin Reissue are right in your price range.

    For me, multi-effects units are very cool, but I’ve never found overdrive sounds that quite compare with that of a real tube amp. Now for things like modulation and delay effects, an MFX unit can be quite convincing. Now I do know of players who tell me they can get quite good tone out of MFX units, or modeling amps, but they have to play with them constantly to find it. I love just being able to plug into my setup and knowing it will sound good without spending hours twisting dials all over the place.

  12. chu,

    If you go the MFX route with the ToneLab or POD, etc you owe it to yourself to check out these amps:

    They are tube and take the already great sounding modeling units and make them sound better, warmer, etc. I play an XT Live through one and I just love it. I have 18 Watter and it’s plenty loud. I believe that one is in your price range.

  13. I’ve been looking for exactly this explanation for over a year. The lead guitarist i play with uses this all the time, but every time I ask him how he chooses the “grey” notes on the chart, the only explanation I get is “it’s just scales.”
    I know you can fit this over some scale patterns, but somehow I’ve never found the time or inclination to memorize scale boxes. Your explanation makes it simple enough for a pseudo-rhythm guitarist to rip off, which is what I’m all about…

  14. Hi. This is my first visit to this site, and I’m going to look around some more. Thanks.

    I’m wondering why your fretboard diagram is around this way (low E at the top)… The first time I played the notes here it sounded whacked, until I realised it was inverted.
    Most/all of the diagrams I’ve seen before are the other way around so it’s as if you can just lay it on your guitar neck (same orientation, just rotated, as chord diagrams are). The way this one is oriented, you could only visualise it looking through the neck from behind.
    Examples of others: (interactive)


  15. Your exactly right Lindsay. I’ve sinced changed all my fretboard diagrams but I’d made this one a few months back, and didn’t realize I hadn’t changed it also….

  16. I’ve gotta voice up on the Atomic Amp. This is a high quality constructed lovingly engineered piece of equipment. It has brought my XT headphone sounds to the live setting (and then some)I’ve got a 2 x 12/50 and it hums sweet tones at any level volume. Definitely worth a serious look if you have an amp modeler.

  17. Hey!
    I am unable to access any of your mp3 files posted in your blogs…is this something with my machine, or is anyone else experiencing the same problem?
    The site is amazing by the way, thanks so much!

  18. Hey Luke,

    I posted the answer to this in my latest post. Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Hey WGG! Awesome website here. I have either used or witnessed many of the techniques illustrated here.

    For me it is all about color – I almost always use flanger & delay, sometimes a good old fashioned phase shifter or an envelope filter, and often I just finger pick the arpeggios when play rhythm guitar.

    My son bought me an EBow a couple of years ago but I am not proficient at it….almost a little scared of it. It seems that it goes from nothing to screaming-feedback-loud in 0.5 seconds LOL! I guess I need to learn some finese and develop my skill with it. It just seems easier to default to the volume pedal and use a lot of sustain (by tweaking the amp & guitar pots).

    I was curious – have you ever fed a split signal to two different delay lines & amps, with the 2nd one twice the speed of the first? I think this how The Edge gets some of his sounds and I am considering investing in the gear to do that.

    Do you experiment with any specialty pedals like the sitar simulator, acoustic simulator, good old fashioned talk box or that fance Brian May pedal?

    Thanks for your time. Peace to you!

    Jim Cox
    Bethelehem Pa.

  20. Hello webmaster
    I would like to share with you a link to your site
    write me here

  21. the link to the ambient-sounds.mp3 is broken. can somebody upload it, i want to hear it. thanks

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