6 Reasons You Should Learn Your Scale Patterns

Nearly every guitar player has heard of the 3 note per string modes, but why should you invest the time into learning them?

Ultimate Guitar
Nearly every guitar player has heard of the 3 note per string modes, but why should you invest the time into learning them? Here are 6 reasons why:

1. Learning to create different sounds

Different scales create different sounds. By learning your scales you will learn how to create different sounds - i.e. you will start to be able to know what you are about to play will sound like before you play it.

2. Improvise up the entire neck

I tend to find that a lot of students who come to me with some knowledge and experience in scales only know one position of a particular scale, or one shape from CAGED scales. This instantly limits them to playing in a single place on the neck. By learning all the positions for a set of scales, you then have the entire neck available, which increases your options. You can have more control over the pitch range you play in, you can play over a wider pitch range and you can also move between different keys more easily.

3. Use the whole neck to compose

This is a bit of a variation on the previous point, but by learning all the positions of a set of scales, you have your whole neck available to you when composing.

4. Identify the sound of scales

This is a basic component of ear training (or aural skills) that a lot of guitar players tend to be weak on. By learning different scales and singing along to the notes you are playing, you can start to identify what scales are being used when you listen to music. This also allows you to start to recognize how to create specific emotions with your playing, which is a vital tool for any composer.

A great way to learn this is to record yourself playing some scales, or program a midi track, burn it to CD and sing along in the car on your commute. You can also do this with specific intervals and arpeggios. Steve Vai did this to practice ear training - it seemed to work pretty well for him.

5. Apply music theory concepts in your playing

This is a very useful one. By learning your scales properly over you whole fretboard, you can apply music theory concepts that you learn. For example, this week I was learning a compositional technique for resolving a suspension to a chord tone. Because I have learnt my scales very thoroughly, I could then take this piece of theoretical knowledge, put on some backing tracks, and then apply what I had learnt to my playing, in different keys, in different places all over my guitar neck.

6. Learn to visualize theory on your instrument

Did you know that your brain can't tell the difference between playing your instrument and visualizing yourself playing your instrument? An experiment was done a few years ago where a group of children were given a piano lesson. Half of them then practiced for an hour a day on the piano for a week, and half of them were sat down and had to visualize themselves practicing for an hour. After a week, both groups played to a similar standard (a gap between their skills did start to show from two weeks onwards). So the power of visualization is very powerful. I have students that visualize themselves playing when they don't have access to their guitar, and they progress very quickly at the skills they visualize.

Learning scale patterns is something that we can visualize on our instrument... and therefore, something that we can practice away from our instrument. This dramatically increases your practice time with the bonus that you don't wear out your wrists (I don't know about you, but I can't practice for more than a few hours each day before my wrists start to get sore).

About the Author:
Written by Sam Russell. If you want to quickly learn your scale patterns, you can check out Sam's free eBook, "The Ultimate Guide to the Modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scales" on his website.

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26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    While these are all valid points, I think it's the wrong approach. You should learn the scales in music theory and learn where every note is on the fretboard. This way you can play in any scale and key effortlessly instead of learning only one scale well. Today it bothers me a lot that I know most scales in theory but I learned the patterns for the blues scale before I got to know any theory, so when improvising I just automatically go to the blues scale because it's easy and familiar.
    If you work through the eBook you will learn how to apply some of the theory you know so that you can actually play some of those scales
    I can actually play them, I'm just not used to/comfortable playing them. Might still check it out though.
    It's free, and it will take you less than 1 minute to get
    As someone who actively avoided any sort of theory for years and finally began on it, I can attest to it being highly beneficial to learn the major/minor scales and their positions. However, methods like the one suggested here have been more hindering than helpful, in my experience. Not because the information is bad, but because the method for ingraining it is something that only teaches you the shape, not how to use it musically. There are critical elements to playing -either solos or rhythm - like phrasing, melodicism, counterpoint, and the truly crucial interaction with other musicians - which aren't taken into account or taught/exemplified here. The end result of this is a guitarist who can play the scales, in the correct key, use modes at will, and solo with all the musicality of a programmed midi loop. It's why you have guys who just sound like they're drilling really fast. Sure, they've got great technique and they're fast, but isn't the ultimate goal here to create music? To this end, I do agree that learning the scales and their positions is important, but I feel it's equally as important to learn musicality. A fun way to do this that actually helps is to find a solo you're dexterity allows you to play, break it into pieces that are a bar or so long, slow it down if needed, and play that as a drill. Not only are you learning how the notes go together and function alongside one another, and in doing so, augmenting your knowledge of scales, but you're also building your musicality and practical applications.
    Hi Interloper, I totally agree, using scales musically is very important. But that would require a course extending far beyond the reach of a 30 page eBook! This eBook is a guide to the scale patterns, not a 3 year course on fulfilling your musical destiny.
    how do you avoid that comfy plateau of just playing triplets for your fast bits though guys? Even the suggestion of extending the few non-pentatonic scales I know to more positions of the neck is insightful to me tbh, surely that's got to build one's instinct for where the notes are
    Are you talking about your scale knowledge, your phrasing, your use of rhythm, or something else? I'm trying to understand the question
    So I only play by ear and dont know a note on the neck, but I can play melodies and chords well. So why should I know the name of the notes on the neck when I dont need to know them to play my guitar?
    carrie_sledge · Jan 11, 2016 10:55 AM
    I've recently picked back up the guitar and started practicing pretty intensely, and though I can't adequetly comment on the importance of scales on the guitar I've been playing piano for 26 years (I'm 29). The importance of scalework there can't be overstated. It's pretty much the foundation of any improvisation I'm able to do on the keys. This article hits on so many points not just on guitar, but as a student of music in general. 
    I've been thinking lately how badly I just want to KNOW what sound is gonna come out of my guitar when I play it, so you had me sold after the first point. Hope this helps...
    The eBook will help you do this! There will also be a new article going up soon on learning scales that you will find really helpful 
    Check out Guitarnoise.com. David Hodge has some really good beginning solo ideas & backing tracks based on the C Major and C minor scales.
    I revert to 3rd string 14 2nd string 12 1st string 12 and 1st string 15 bend EVERY time because I learnt some blues stuff first. Definitely need to learn some other scales.