Afraid of Learning Guitar Scales? Three Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be

Everywhere you look, somebody has an opinion on why you should or shouldn't learn to play guitar scales. Watch this video to learn why you should, and how best to go about it.

Afraid of Learning Guitar Scales? Three Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be
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Have you been told that playing scales will make for nothing but bland solos accentuated with overused licks? Or have you heard the countless horror stories of people who can't do anything but follow that scale up and down the fretboard? Maybe you're stuck with that feeling, but don't even know the difference between a minor or major pentatonic? Why does this happen to players, and how can people be so crazy about learning scales, but then have such disdain over their use?

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 blanks

When 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 dexterity

Learning 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 fretboard

They 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.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    darrylpowis
    Another cool video Tommaso. Thanks to your recommendation I tested this with students and they learn scales and how to use them WAY faster than those who learn them up and down. Thank you.
    tommaso.zillio
    My pleasure Darryl. For the other people here wondering how Darryl was able to test this so fast, I was discussing these ideas with him for a while now
    DanMayhew
    Great video Tommaso. I too used to practice scales going straight up and down. Once I started doing the things you talk about in your video (along with other ways of practicing scales) it became instantly easier to play scales in a musical way instead of feeling like I was stuck going straight up and down.
    CostasNoir
    Very interesting and helpful video, thanks! Can you please post an article or a video regarding how should one approach learning extended arpeggios (7th and beyond) and which ones to learn?
    rhett4
    Tommaso, learning scales like this makes so much more sense musically. Always appreciate your innovative thinking about the fretboard.
    Dreadpool
    I was just thinking the other day "when oh when will an italian david cross pop out of left field and teach me scales?"
    jiri.dolezal.79
    Very useful information and cool approach to learning scales. The only flaw I could find is:*something to not overlook vs. something not to overlook. But I can be wrong (of course). Anyway, great article as usual!!