As a starting musician, I fought my teachers tooth and nail on learning scales - so I understand how readers can be concerned about scales holding them back. I was the same way as many students I see now that I am a teacher: I looked for every alternative to learning scales, and made many excuses to avoid them altogether.
Looking back, I wish I could have just sent an email 25 years into the future to ask for advice about scales (and how to meet girls... But that's for another time). But now that I've learned what works best, it just seems right to help others, too.
With a bit of work, I actually found the opposite of what many say - I discovered how scales can actually HELP creativity. Of course, they aren't the only thing that helps, but they are one of the most productive ways to stimulate your creative juices when you are starting to play guitar. There are many reasons for that, but here are just a few:
1. Scales fill in the blanksWhen figuring out which note sounds good where, knowing a few scales will give a player many sonic options on the fretboard. As many have said before me, those that don't learn scales initially, are destined to find them by trial and error years later; so who would prefer to spend years discovering what they could have learned in months? That said, to get these benefits it's extremely important to learn them the right way, not just as repetitive up & down exercises (examples below).
2. Scales develop dexterityLearning scales properly will help develop a number of skills (if done right: again, see below), from versatility to flexibility, and even speed, for that matter. Speed may not be the most important skill you want to have right now (or it may be...), but it is still something to not overlook.
3. Scales are a guide to the fretboardThey point you in the right direction, but they are by no means the only way around. There is always room to "get off the beaten path" and go for a new sound - but knowing how and where to move away makes all the difference between sounding good or making what a listener will consider a mistake.
So how should you go about learning guitar scales? Certainly not just playing them up and down until your hands get tired and your brain stops paying attention. Below is a video I made with a few of the strategies that I have developed for learning scales. See below:
Now that you've watched the video, doesn't this just seem like common sense? (Ok maybe it's common sense to me after spending that many years making mistakes...) All of this can easily be applied to your daily practice routine. And the biggest benefit is that it is way more fun and challenging than just moving up and down the fretboard until you don't even think about it anymore, and you'll quickly notice a major difference in your playing! Have fun, and leave a comment below with your experience learning scales!
About the Author:
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.