The ‘Joy’ of learning scales on guitar
Sooner or later as a developing guitarist, you face the prospect of learning something about scales. For many players however, the very thought of learning scales on guitar conjures up an image of sitting in a practice room endlessly playing up and down some uninspiring note sequences that seems to bear little resemblance to real music. It doesn’t however need to be this way.
Scales, for me at least, are simply musical alphabets, which give you the ability to create interesting melodies (musical sentences) and whilst there a good number of them in existence, most popular music styles just use a select few. A working knowledge of Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor scales will take you a long way in most popular guitar styles, along with the Pentatonic and Blues scales.
Where to start with learning scales on guitar?
I’ve noticed that a lot of guitar players begin by learning two octave scale patterns and then play primarily from a visual shape on the fingerboard. I did this too for a long time. The problem for me with this kind of approach is it can potentially leave your ears out of the musical process, so that you have to always look at what you are playing, rather than listen to it. I prefer now to get students to begin with one octave scales, as this really helps them to hear the intervals contained within the scale.
A quick guitar scale test
If you have always practiced your scales in two octave patterns, try this quick little test to see if you can switch comfortably over to one octave scales.
Take a five fret span of the guitar fingerboard, (for example the first to fifth fret region) and then play the following scales in all 12 keys: Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor. It’s very important to be fluent in all the 12 keys.
Here’s a little help at first for the major scales:
The same idea is now changed over for the Harmonic Minor scale:
Finally, here is the same approach adapted for the Melodic Minor scale (btw – to avoid confusion with the Classical version of this scale, some musicians also refer to it as the ‘Jazz’ Melodic Minor Scale)
Once you’ve done all this with the above scales, then try the same approach for Minor and Major Pentatonic scales.
If the above exercises are something you can perform without hesitation, then you can be assured that you are in possession of a good developing scale knowledge. If however these exercises are proving a challenge, then make all the above a regular part of your practice regime and you’ll be amazed (within quite a short period of time) at just how fluent you start to become with scales.
Don’t worry at this stage either, about using a metronome or anything similar. At this point, everything is about note recognition and fingerboard placement. Timing accuracy can come later.
In a future post, I’ll start examining ways you can really explore what is contained within a scale and how it can drastically transform not only your soloing, but your overall appreciation of the value of scales.
There can be ‘joy’ in learning scales on guitar..trust me.