Have you ever learned a new scale on guitar, practiced it for 2-3 days and then got bored and wanted to learn a new scale to play? If you said “yes”, your situation is not at all uncommon. In fact, most guitarists don’t know what to do with new scales they learn on guitar and assume that they are “done” learning a new scale after memorizing its notes and briefly playing it on their instrument. Such an approach places severe (and unnecessary) restrictions on your musical creativity by limiting the ways in which you can actually use any new scale that you learn in your guitar solos.
Fortunately, there is a better way to practice guitar that will help you to get more out of the time you spend learning scales. The most important thing you must keep in mind is the need to explore ALL the creative possibilities any new scale has to offer before you abandon it in search of the next scale to practice. When you get yourself to do this, you will amaze yourself by how much more fun you will have when practicing and how many more creative ideas you will be able to derive from any scale you are working with.
In this article I will list for you 5 important things you must do after you go through the initial step of memorizing the notes of a new scale. These steps are critical for avoiding the frustrating situation described above and for getting a lot more from every minute you spend practicing guitar.
1. Don't Learn Scales At Random
There are so many scales that exist in music that it is critical for you to get organized about which of them are most important for you to learn and practice. To do that, make a list of all scales that are used most often in your style of music and do NOT move on to learn lots of other obscure and unusual scales until you have a very firm command of the essential scales used in your style of guitar playing. This involves not merely the ability “to play the notes” of the scales but also the skill to use them in any musical context freely and expressively.
That being said, of course it can also be helpful to learn and study other scales that may add an exotic or unusual sound to your guitar playing, BUT you will only really benefit from this when two things are in place:
1. You already have a very proven and effective system for learning scales on guitar that allows you to easily learn any scale.
2. You have already spent enough time on the fundamental scales used in your style of guitar playing to be ready to reap the benefits of expanding your musical horizons by learning other scales.
If you are not sure of how to find the list of scales used in your style of music, you can do so in one (or both) of the following ways: either by asking a guitar teacher or a more accomplished musician to tell you what these scales are, and/or by developing your ear training and music theory knowledge to be able to hear what scales are used in your favorite guitar solos.
2. Break Out Of "Box Patterns" And Master The Guitar Fretboard Fully
By far the most popular mistake the vast majority of guitarists make when learning to play scales is only playing them in a single area of the guitar. The most common example of this for blues/rock guitar players involves playing the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth position on the fretboard (only) and completely neglecting to learn it in other areas of the guitar. The result of this is similar to watching a movie on TV and switching channels at the first commercial break to start watching a different program, and without ever coming back to finish the original movie continuing to switch channels to watch something brand new as soon as another commercial comes.
In guitar playing world, doing this leads to never being able to truly use the scales you have “learned” to their full potential in your music. To overcome this VERY common problem, you must make time in your practicing to learn to play every scale you want to master all over the guitar. Fact is, you can write much more music (much more expressively) with only a single scale that you know on the guitar inside and out than you can with dozens of scales that you can only play in one area of the guitar.
3. Analyze Guitar Solos That Inspire You And Focus On The Scales Being Used
On top of the regular guitar practice sessions you do to learn to play scales, it is important to spend some time observing how the guitar players you admire actually use scales in the music you listen to. Depending on your level of skill with ear training, you can either do this by using tab of solos (that you are SURE is accurate) or (ideally) transcribing the solos yourself by ear and analyzing your own transcriptions.
In addition to being a great exercise for general ear training, doing this will enable you to see how the scales you are practicing can be (and are) used to create melodies and licks that combine together to make guitar solos.
Even if you have already made a list of scales that are used in your style of music, you will learn a great amount by doing this step anyway.
4. Practice Playing Scales On Each Single String Of The Guitar In Addition To "Scale Shapes"
Most musicians are comfortable with playing scales “vertically” (from the low E string to the high E string). Even though this is an important foundation of all playing of scales on guitar, it is equally important to learn how the scales are laid out on each of the 6 strings of the guitar from the first fret to the last fret (by playing “side to side” across the guitar neck). Training in this way will help to picture scale shapes in every position of the guitar more easily, even if you are starting to play a phrase from a string other than the 6th string.
5. Avoid The CAGED System
Even though this system of playing guitar scales is quite popular among some guitar teachers, it is NEVER used by world class virtuoso guitar players because it places a huge number of restrictions on your ability to freely use scales in music.
Without writing a 100 page dissertation about all the flaws of the CAGED system, its single biggest weakness is that it is not based on “how scales ACTUALLY work in music” for all instruments and is instead intended to create a shortcut only for “guitar players” by exploiting several isolated and completely illogical visual shapes on guitar (that, by the way, only work in ‘standard tuning’ and become totally useless in drop tunings or open tunings). The result of such a crippling system is that guitarists remain forever restricted in the way they can use scales musically and cannot play scales all over the guitar on the same level as other musicians who have a real and complete understanding of how scales are supposed to work in music.
Fortunately, the complete and most efficient ways of practicing scales on guitar are not any more difficult to learn and understand than the (much flawed) CAGED system.
What should you do now?
Although there are many ways to go about learning to play scales on guitar, some approaches are, without a doubt, more effective than others. If you have been less than satisfied with the results you have seen so far in your guitar playing from practicing scales, consider changing your approach by following the advice in this article as well as the video mentioned above about learning scales on guitar.
About The Author:
Mike Philippov is a guitar instructional author, professional guitar player and composer. He writes articles about the best ways to practice guitar that are studied by many musicians worldwide. To get more help with becoming a better guitar player, visit his website: http://PracticeGuitarNow.com.