Do you know your guitar scales? If you’re learning to play guitar, scales are an important exercise for you to learn. Scales are often neglected on the guitar, for some reason. But you would be hard-pressed to find a good pianist who didn’t have at least some level of proficiency at scales. The same should be true for guitarists.
The argument that a guitarist will use to not learn any type of theory is that they will be in danger of losing their originality. They won’t be able to be or sound like themselves, they will be caught up and constrained within the confines of rules and regulations. The only problem with that kind of thinking is that you are in danger of not growing and progressing as a musician.
All basic lead guitar instruction courses at the root level will tell you to learn chords, scales, and arpeggios because they know that you will gain a greater understanding of how the music process integrates and works together. You will expand your playing with new possibilities and concepts, rather than the reverse.
And here is the most important factor: A lot of self-taught musicians tend to suffer from episodes of self-doubt because of not knowing what to play, which in turn can breed insecurities and lack of self-confidence in your playing.
Learning to play scales on your guitar can have many benefits. One of the benefits is that you learn the notes of each particular scale and become comfortable playing those notes. When you play a song in that key, you will already be used to playing each of the notes and will know where they are.
Playing guitar scales also has great technical benefits. Playing scales can help you increase your dexterity, precision, and speed of your playing. If you play scales each time you practice, over time you’ll notice your playing skills increasing from this simple exercise.
There are dozens of different scales, but you’ll want to start out with a few common ones. The most common scales for guitar are probably C, G, D, & A. I’d suggest that you start with major scales, as they are generally easiest and more commonly used. Later you can go on to minor scales, and others.
When you first start learning a scale, play it slow enough that you can play each note correctly and cleanly. As you get better, you can speed it up. However, never play them fast enough that you lose control. When you play a scale, each note should be perfect – clean, and in a steady rhythm, tone, and volume. As a teacher of mine once said, “Make your scales like a pear-shaped necklace – each note-perfect, round, and beautiful!” Follow this advice and watch your playing improve!
Knowledge is power as they say, so if you want to advance your guitar playing to expert status as a lead guitar improviser or if you want to be taken seriously as a professional musician, there are no two ways about it. You are going to have to set some time aside to practice modes, scales, and learn notes on your guitar fretboard.
Here are some pointers you might want to keep in mind when getting started:
1. 5 or 10 minutes a day of disciplined practice will yield more results than 10 years of picking up your guitar and noodling about, sitting on the end of your bed.
2. Set aside ten minutes for a practice session and decide beforehand what it is you are going to do and learn. Too many guitarists tell me they practice for 8 hours a day and when I ask them what did you learn – I’m not usually given a clear answer.
3. Always use a drum machine or metronome when practicing as you will learn in time that timing is everything.
4. You don’t have to practice at the speed of sound when you start. You will find most guitarists who play fast, find out that speed is not what music or guitaring is about, and end up going back to their roots and playing melodic phrases that satisfy themselves.
5. Don’t beat yourself up because you are not Steve Vai or Dave Gilmour after 2 weeks.
Also, something that isn’t discussed very often about practicing guitar scales or modes or arpeggios is that it doesn’t have to be drudgery and boredom. Spending 10 or 20 minutes a day working on the theory aspect of your playing will yield benefits far beyond what you can come up with on your own. I don’t think that there is a single musician on the planet who has spent time learning theory and said: “I wish I hadn’t have spent all that time learning all that.”
If you want to advance your playing or write songs that are original and express who you really are, you should consider opening yourself to some solid theory because the road to originality is through other people’s stuff. If you have a good working knowledge of guitar scales, you will identify what your favorite players are up to and be able to duplicate those phrases in all keys for yourself.
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