The "10 Commandments" of Learning Scales (THOU SHALT!!)

If you want to build better scales there are definitely some things that you need to do, and other mistakes you will have to avoid in your scale training. In this lesson I’m going to give you the 10 “commandments” of scale training to help you not only build more skill from your scale study and use, but to also avoid many of the common pitfalls that often happen along the way...

Today we’re going to run through the ten commandments of learning scales. These are ten things that you should (or shouldn’t), be doing when studying scales on guitar if you’re wanting to develop your best playing ability and have the most musical success with scales.

So let’s get right into the first one, “Thou Shalt Always Map the Fingerboard.”
As we all know, scales operate within keys, and keys all have a Tonic (or Root Note), of the key. That’s the key’s naming note.

If you don’t know where the Root naming notes are “all over the neck,” you will not understand where all of the positions can be for playing any of the scales. So, you can’t forget (or neglect), to map the scale root notes all across the fingerboard.

If you don’t know how to do this, watch my lesson titled, “Do This Every Single Day (Master Your Neck).” It’s one of the most well organized and easy to follow videos posted on YouTube for teaching the basic principles of mapping out notes on your guitar.

Alright number two is; “Thou Shalt Include All 12 Key Signatures in Scale Practice.” The great thing about mapping the neck is when it comes down to practicing any scale based melody, if you move the idea through all the 12 keys it can be an excellent way to hit every scales root note!

Doing this also helps guitar players re-adjust the intervals found in scales, riffs, or licks, (for when the idea gets moved to any other musical key!). This means that key signature practice can be a very powerful way to get good at learning new melody lines and to become extremely proficient at improvisation.

If you don’t understand your keys, what they do, and how they get used in music, then watch my video on YouTube titled, “Over 40 and Still Don't Know Music Theory.” That video (and its lesson plan), thoroughly review the ideas and the application of all 12 musical keys.

The third commandment is, “Thou Shalt Never Play Scales Sloppy.” Guys if you ignore flubbed notes and you aren’t taking steps to correct messy guitar technique - please stop and establish a plan to fix this!

Good playing technique is especially important because badly played notes will also cause your rhythm and your feel to degrade. And, when it comes to fixing bad technique, you have a number of choices, because I’ve produced several YouTube video lessons that provide a lot of options for correcting bad playing habits.

I’ve made dozens of videos on this channel that are directed at playing; smoother, and cleaner notes with one of the most popular being my lesson titled the “Spider Walk” exercise.

The “Spider Walk” will go a long way to fixing your bad coordination habits. And, if you’d like to take things a step further, you can also study my “Guitar Technique” course in the member’s area.

The fourth commandment is, “Thou Shalt Learn Thy Scales in Every Area of the Neck.” In all of my years teaching people how to play guitar, if there’s one thing that guitar players tend to do over and over again its neglect learning how to play a; scale, a lick, or a riff, all over the entire guitar fingerboard.

In fact, one of the most common things that players will do is they’ll learn a riff or a lick from a scale, and then leave it in the one single place that they learned the idea. So, when you learn a guitar part, take that idea to at least two other locations on the guitar fret-board. That way, you’ll know it in 3 places.

I explained this system in detail on my YouTube video titled the, “System for Fingerboard Association.” Watch that video if you need more direction with taking ideas to other fret locations.


I wanted to take a minute to let you know, that if you want to learn even more about scales and theory I have a great offer for you.

With any donation over $5, or any merchandise purchase from my Tee-Spring store, I’ll send you free copies of THREE of my most popular digital handouts.

One is called, “Harmonized Arpeggio Drills” (it’ll train you on developing your diatonic arpeggios).

Another one is my “Barre Chord” Handout which includes a page showing all the key signatures along with a chord progression that applies barre chords.

Plus, you’ll get my Notation Pack! It has 8 pages of important guitar worksheets for notating anything related to; music charts, guitar chord diagrams, and TAB.

As a BONUS, (from my "Over 40 and Still Can't Play a Scale" video), I'll also throw in a breakdown of all of the chords that are diatonic to the "F Major" scale.

As an EXTRA BONUS for my Phrygian Dominant video, I'll also throw in a breakdown featuring all of the chords that are diatonic to the Phrygian Dominant scale.

Just send me an email off of the contact page of to let me know about either your donation or your Merchandise purchase and I’ll email you those digital handouts within 24 hrs.    


The fifth commandment is, “Thou Shalt Include Time for Fun with Scales.” You have to always keep in mind that scales are the device that we use to create music with. We stack the scale tones to create chords, and we align the scale tones in interesting ways to form melodies.

So, there needs to be a period that we spend with the scales that we are practicing which includes having fun. Some musicians call this type of practice; wood-shedding, or noodling, or “wandering” notes musically.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. The important thing is you just absolutely have to do it! Because fooling around with the scale and having musical fun will get you the feel together for actually applying the notes that make up using the scale musically.

The sixth commandment is, “Always Honor the Feel of the Beat in Time.” This one can be especially bad with Beginner and Intermediate guitar students. And, it’s important to understand that the feel of the beat has to do with the long term development of what musicians will often call the body’s “inner sense for timing.”

Although some musicians get timing down quite easily (sometimes early on in their practice days), other musicians can either be quite bad with their sense for time, or they can be the opposite. They will end up as perfectionists with the development of time.

The perfectionist will tend to work for hundreds - if not thousands of hours - trying to master their sense for time… having it perfect within every area of their performance.

And, my suggestion is to; do your best to become a musician like that. Strive for constant perfection when it comes to your sense of timing – and do it for everything that you play.

The seventh commandment is, “You Shall Not Neglect the Significance of Duration.” If I were to pick one thing that a student who is new to the world of either composing or improvising with scales will seem to do over and over again – is they will play their phrases with the same duration, and not even realize that they’re doing it.

If you don’t know what Duration does, it’s the core of your musical ebb and flow. Musical duration is the length of time that notes are held. When they get sustained, they create phrases which are called the musical meter within the piece.

Duration is a concept of feel and time that produces the perception and the reflex of the music being composed or improvised. Duration is responsiveness to the notes of the scale that you’re working within.

So, it is vital to learn how to pay attention to your use of; 8th-notes, 16th-notes, triplets, syncopation and odd-meter so that the feel and the flow of what you play - will be interesting and unique, because without good control over duration, your music’s feel will suffer.

The Eighth commandment is, “Do Not Favor any One Area of the Neck Over Another.” Now, this is not just a problem for scales, it’s a problem for chords as well. Too often, students of the guitar will play songs, (or play a solo), in only one (or two) areas of the neck.

And, I can fully understand this, it’s all down familiarity and there’s nothing wrong with that as you are learning your way around the instrument.

Your goal should be to improve and stretch your knowledge for keys and scales everyplace on the guitar neck - so that one day you’ll be able to play your musical ideas all over the neck, with your knowledge (plus your understanding for scales and the fret-board), and you’ll become more versatile.

Like for instance - if you were playing a solo in the key of “D Minor,” your long term goal (in “D Minor,” or any other key), should be to view the whole guitar neck as one big friendly place. And, to be able to perform your songs, and to solo anywhere on the neck, no matter what key that you’re performing music in.

The ninth commandment is, “Honor Thy Skill and Thy Application for Phrasing.” When we explore the scale phrasing skills of any famous player, there’s always one thing that they’ll have in common with each other, and that’s their ability to phrase lines in a way - that presents the idea that they’re performing - so that it comes across as highly musical.

Now, this skill allows the melodies (or the harmonies that we create), to really connect with the audience… Ya know, phrasing… (good phrasing), is the ability that a musician has worked on for many years.

Over time we develop within ourselves the ability to take any scale into a musical statement and connect that statement into another one in a very individual way. And, every player does this differently with phrasing devices like; slides, bends, vibrato, trills, sweeps and legato all used in a way that are highly memorable for the listener.

So work on your skills for both these devices and for your musical ability, to help you phrase in a more memorable way. And, remember, we do this work for all of those who will be listening to our music. So, it’s important!

Our last of the, “10 Commandments of Learning Scales,” is this one… “Remember to Faithfully Honor Your Jam Sessions.” And, it’s important to note here that a “jam session” can be really anything!

From practicing a scale against a backing track that you either pulled up or created in Garage Band… or it could be a worked out composition that you’ve organized using several scales around different keys and different tonalities.

Maybe it’s just jamming with your friends on a Saturday afternoon on the front porch. Or, perhaps a weekend blues jam at your local town hall. Whatever it is, you’ve just got to go and jam these scales and put them into action. It’s critical to do this!

The only way that these scales will eventually become second nature, is when you use them to create music. If you don’t use them, you’ll forget them. And, we don’t want that to happen.

So, get out there, use these scales, apply them in musical ways and before you know it, all your scales will become second nature and you’ll be able to apply them very easily in any musical situation!



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