Sure, you can rattle off scales and string riffs together and throw in the odd mode or two, but unless you’re thinking melody, you have not made music; you are not improvising. You may have confirmed that you know which building blocks fit, but you’ve created nothing new. Improvisation to me implies invention, and you don’t invent scales any more than an artist invents Cobalt Blue or Vermilion Red. Scales and modes are like the squirts of paint on a palette. You have to choose carefully which to use, which to blend. Start mixing too many colors and you wind up with mud.
I have hated the idea of scales all my playing life. I never use them (consciously), and never think them. I think melody. I don’t know, or care to know, the names of the various scales and modes. I know the major scale and see all others as being distortions of it. I am also aware that there is the chromatic scale (all twelve notes) to use at all times. You can link any interval with semitones if you so choose, any scale note to any other scale note, from any scale you care to name. It becomes a question of timing, to get to the note you want in the time left to do so, if you follow. All twelve notes are there for the asking.
One of the most difficult aspects of playing an instrument, but the most rewarding when you’ve figured out how, is the art of playing solos. The ability to manipulate four octaves or so of notes into a coherent melody, on the fly, following (sometimes bending) the musical rules and pulling it off, is one of the best feelings going.
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