Learning scales sucks! – a lot of aspiring musicians say that. Way too many of them. Either because it’s too tedious and doesn’t sound musical. Or the biggest asshole known to Earth already learned them, inside out. Or their music teacher. Or that little, smug kid half their age. But yeah, mainly because it doesn’t seem to give them the desired freedom of being able to play everything at will on the instrument.
Patterns are everywhere
That’s it. And yes, scales are patterns, too. The problem with them is, they are too big patterns. Which means if you want to play a melody, the pattern you learn from practicing a scale might not give you all the steps needed to play that melody. Unless the melody is the scale, which rarely happens. So you’re going to have to learn the chosen melody itself. Which is fine, and it leads us to the 1st and obvious solution: learn melodies directly. It’s awesome, and if you learn a lot of different melodies, you’ll end up gaining a good amount of freedom on your instrument, because of all the different partial steps involved. Which leads us to the 2nd solution: learn all the possible steps. That’s where it gets challenging. Because there are a lot of possibilities, especially on stringed instruments. You can play the same step in different positions, with different fingers. Still, this method is capable of giving you an enormous amount of freedom. Because you will be prepared to play whatever melody occurs in your mind, if your mind and your muscles know how to get from any given note to the next one. So learning as many steps as you can in as many ways as you can is king, when it comes to melody playing. On a side note, learning arpeggios is pretty similar to this method, only not fully simplified; it comes from a chordal approach, after all.
What about chords?
Chords are patterns themselves. On a chordal instrument like a piano or a guitar, you need to know your grips. Because no matter what some people say, you simple won’t have time to think about building up your own chords note by note during playing a piece. That kind of thinking simply cannot emerge when you’re in the playing state of mind. As far as patterns go, learning chords can be made easier by learning them in (short) sequences. You can go with the well known progressions or the lesser known ones. Or create your own, absolutely whacked out ones. Which eventually means that you are learning chordal steps, not unlike the single line method. It’s an excellent way to learn (block) chord melody playing. Of course you can then go back and play those pesky scales. Like a fukken champ. If your can still move those 90 yrs old hands. N00b.