4 Mistakes Most Guitarists Make When Practicing Scales and How to Fix Them

Learning scales is a must but is often overlooked or botched. Here are the most common mistakes many players do and some tips to avoid them and make the best out of your practicing time.

4 Mistakes Most Guitarists Make When Practicing Scales and How to Fix Them
For any serious musician practicing scales is a must. It helps improve both improvisation skills, songwriting and guitar playing in general. But all the time spent on practicing can be quite daunting. That's why you want to make the most out of it by avoiding typical mistakes guitar players do when learning scales.

Here are some of the most common mistakes and how to fix them:

Never Practicing With a Metronome

This one might seem obvious but many musicians skip this step. Let's be honest! It requires a lot of discipline. Furthermore the sound of a metronome is not the most pleasing one to the ear.

However, the advantages of practicing with a metronome are undeniable. Some of these are:
  • It will help you develop a greater sense of timing when playing with others.
  • It will accelerate your learning.
  • It will help you track your progress.
Metronomes are pretty cheap and many smart phone apps will do just fine. You can even get a metronome directly on Google (just search for metronome). There really is no reason not to use one.

Practicing Scales Only in a Linear Way

Playing scales starting from the root going up and going back down might feel like the natural thing to do (many learned this way). While it's a great way to learn and feel the sequence of a scale, it might get boring and is not very musical.

A great way to get around this is to use a more rhythmic approach. Instead of simply going up and down you can "improvise" over the metronome playing different rhythms while staying in the area of the neck you're trying to focus on.

Another solution is to play scale sequences. There are many sequences or patterns you can play. A basic one to start with is to play three ascending notes and go back one note every time. This would give you something like this: (1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6 etc).

Always Starting on the Same Note

Starting on the bottom root note of the scale seems natural but you should avoid to using only this approach. The problem is you tend to stick to a limited number of patterns and might have "blind spots." Since you always go from root to root you will skip some parts of the guitar neck.

A great way to break out of this is to start from another degree of the scale. Meaning you could start from any choosing note other than the root. This will also familiarize you with modes.

Not Giving Scales Any Context

A scale on its own is just a series of notes. It's not very musical and can get boring.

Not applying it in a music context has a limited value. Playing it over real music is highly recommended and will give you a greater sense of timing and melody. To do so, you can jam with friends or use backing tracks.


Practicing scales takes a lot of time. Smart practice can make a huge difference in your learning but most importantly you've got to enjoy the process. I find that starting with a metronome and applying new scales as quickly as possible is the best way to have fun and retain new patterns.

About the Author:
Sebastien is the founder of guitarendeavor.com - a site where he seeks to help others make the best out of their music learning journey.

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    For whatever reason this article inspired me finally to make an effort to improve my scales and not be "stuck in the box" Thanks!
    How does "never practice with a metronome" end with "there really is no reason not to use one"? Are you trolling me?
    ~Maxi King~
    It's 'never usING' and not 'never use' a metronome. That means the exact opposite. Might be a bit confusing for a non-native speaker.
    The title of the article is "4 Mistakes Most Guitarists Make When Practicing Scales and How to Fix Them". "Never Practicing With a Metronome" is one of the 4 mistakes. So in conclusion you should avoid the mistake and use a metronome, hence the quote "there really is no reason not to use one".