Scale practice can often feel like it continues with no end in sight, leaving you feeling more frustrated than ever before when you realize that you're no closer to being able to use them creatively in your music than you were before.
After spending a few days noodling around in a single position of a new scale, do you start to lose your interest and decide to seek out other new scales to learn.
If this describes your process of practicing guitar scales, don’t worry, you are not alone. I did the same thing for years and so have many other guitar players, particularly those who have been self-taught.
The good news is that there is a superior way to learn scales on guitar that will enable you to make more progress in less time. The single most critical point you need to remember is that it is necessary to fully explore every creative option offered by a new scale before you move on to start learning more scales.
By doing this, you improve your guitar playing with scales more quickly and enjoy the process of practicing guitar a lot more.
Below, is an outline covering several essential tips that will help you get much more out of every scale that you practice on guitar. Following this advice will enable you to move forward more quickly to reach your guitar playing goals.
To see a more information on how to use topics described in this article, watch my video lesson on Mastering Your Guitar Scales and Modes.
Which Scales Do You Actually NEED?
Depending largely upon the style of music you play, there will be some scales that are more common to your guitar playing than others (for example: the Harmonic minor scale is more common in Neo-classical metal and Jazz guitar compared to Blues music, and Classic Rock).
With this in mind, you need to prioritize your guitar practice time by focusing your attention on getting the maximum creative potential out of the most important scales for your own style. Only “after” doing that, does it make sense to spend significant time to begin practicing exotic and unusual scales.
There is nothing wrong with knowing how to play lots of scales, but in order to get results from doing that, several things need to happen first:
- You need to have already done the work of mastering the most essential scales for all musical styles (the Major, Minor - along with their Pentatonic forms, as well as, Blues)
- You must have a reliable method for practicing that you can apply to quickly learn any scale on guitar.
You can use one of 2 ways (or preferably both) to achieve the goal above:
- ask a guitar teacher to review what music styles you enjoy playing. Have the teacher tell you what the most important scales are for your current favorite musical styles
- improve your aural skills (ear training) and knowledge of how music works to hear what scales are used in your favorite styles of music yourself
Learn Each Scale All Across The Guitar Neck
If there is one mistake that most guitar players make over and over when learning new scales on guitar, it would have to be learning each scale in only one position on the fretboard.
A typical example of this occurs with classic rock guitar players who, after learning the foundational "A minor pentatonic scale" on the 5th fret, become “stuck” there, neglecting to learn the other pentatonic patterns (of the same scale) all over the guitar.
Can you imagine if you started to read a book, stopping after reading only one chapter, picking up another brand new book, reading only the first chapter and then moving on. It’s obvious that by continuing to “read” books in this fashion you will learn nothing about any of those stories.
Translated into the world of music, guitar players who practice scales in this way never learn to fully express themselves in music. Ironically, a guitar player who truly masters one scale inside and out on the guitar will have more to say musically (and will be much more creative doing it) than a guitar player who knows 30 different scales “as small pieces” (individual shapes) scattered around the guitar.
To see exactly how you should practice scales, watch my popular YouTube video, "How to Practice scales."
Find Out What Scales Your Favorite Guitar Players Use
A great training exercise you should do in addition to your regular practice sessions of learning scales on guitar involves listening carefully to your favorite music (and guitar solos in particular) and studying what scales your favorite guitar players use.
If you are less advanced in terms of your ear training, you can use someone else’s transcriptions (if you trust the transcriber) or figure the solos out by ear on your own.
On top of being a tremendous training drill for developing awesome ears, this kind of practicing will show you ideas of how you can and should use scales in "your" style of music to write songs, guitar solos and improvisations.
Practice Scales "Along the Neck" of The Guitar
A lot of guitar players spend all of their time practicing scales starting on the 6th string and going to the 1st string in box shapes. This is a fine method of practicing, BUT it is only one part of what true mastery of scales on guitar should consist of.
It is just as important to also play scales from side to side, (horizontal) starting on the first fret going to past the 15th fret on your guitar. Doing this is essential to having a more complete vision of the guitar neck as you play. This method of practicing will also help you to start playing a solo on any string of the guitar and know exactly where you are in a particular scale.
The Next Step?
Obviously, there are multiple ways to proceed regarding learning scales on guitar and certainly some are more effective than others. In order for you to determine which one is the more appropriate for your needs, observe the rate of progress you are experiencing as you go through the process of practicing.
If you have struggled to get great results from the way you used to learn scales on guitar, apply the tips given in this article and study the video lessons included above. As you do this, you will see your rate of improvement skyrocket.
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