Why Scales Arent As Easy As You Might Think

Scales are more difficult to play on guitar than you think they should be, and here's why.

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I already touched on this in my Why Do My Scales Sound Boring lesson, but I'm going to go over it again because I want to boost my ranking. Only joking. I think it's important, and I think I can shed a bit of light on something that passes most of us by when we first pick up a guitar and start trying to play scales. It's just a scale. It's nothing difficult, so why isn't it sounding that good, and why isn't it as easy as we think it should be? Well, because scales only appear easy if viewed from the fret board perspective. Look at them from the picking hand point of view, and it's a whole other ball game. Scales can be quite demanding, and require a fair bit of skill to play well. Here's a C Major scale through 2 octaves that most of us will encounter pretty early on.
|------------------------5-7-8-7-5-------------------------|
|------------------5-6-8-----------8-6-5-------------------|
|----------2-4-5-7-----------------------7-5-4-2-----------|
|----2-3-5---------------------------------------5-3-2-----|
|3-5---------------------------------------------------5-3-|
|----------------------------------------------------------|
Pretty straight forward huh? Well not so if we turn the guitar into a six piece drum kit and look at what the picking hand (drummer) has to contend with.
|------------------------x-x-x-x-x-------------------------|
|------------------x-x-x-----------x-x-x-------------------|
|----------x-x-x-x-----------------------x-x-x-x-----------|
|----x-x-x---------------------------------------x-x-x-----|
|x-x---------------------------------------------------x-x-|
|----------------------------------------------------------|
You have 2 hits on one piece of your drum kit, then 3 on the next, then 4,3, 5, 3, 4, 3, and back to where you started with 2. That's a tricky old pattern. IN fact if you wanted to design a pattern especially to screw up a beginner's dynamic consistency, it's a pretty good one. So what tends to happen rhythmically/dynamically speaking is that the beginner plays the first2 hits with a heavy accent on the 1st, then there's a slight disruption to the timing while crossing to the next string, then a heavy accent is put on the 1st of the new group of 3 hits, and so on. If we tapped this out it would sound something like: TAP tap (pause) TAP tap tap (pause) TAP tap tap tap (pause) etc. What a horribly crappy rhythm that would be. So it turns out that scales aren't as easy to play as we thought. No wonder beginner's get a bit dejected over them. So we need to ask ourselves this: If we mute off the strings and just play in a percussive way, can we play that difficult pattern and make it sound groovy? If not then we need to simplify. Can we make a groovy pattern on just one string instead of five or six? How about crossing back and forth between 2 strings? And 3: Is our funky little rhythm starting to struggle a bit? As someone terrific once said, here's the crux of the biscuit: until you can maintain a dynamically interesting pattern across ALL strings without breaking stride, your scales won't sound great. So work on your drumming.

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    AeolianWolf
    Venpresath wrote: You should probably try to speak optimism about playing guitar instead of trying to have people see some kind of harsh reality about things. Although, This article speaks truth about a lot of things. It's probably better to be encouraging about things and give people a reason to see things in an easier way instead of telling them that everything's harder than it looks...
    great idea! let's tell everyone that this shit is easy as hell, so that when they actually try it and can't do jack shit, they get discouraged because they think they can't do the easiest shit. but hey, that's no problem. we can lie our way out of that one, too. because clearly it's better to lie than to let people know what they're in for. if you don't have the drive to keep something going, guitar (and music in general) just isn't for you in the first place.
    Venpresath
    You should probably try to speak optimism about playing guitar instead of trying to have people see some kind of harsh reality about things. Although, This article speaks truth about a lot of things. It's probably better to be encouraging about things and give people a reason to see things in an easier way instead of telling them that everything's harder than it looks... I've been playing guitar for a little over half a year, and I can rip through a Malmsteen lick at a pretty moderate pace for being a beginner, I just don't have the hand strength developed to make my fingers move fast enough. (then again I practice 8-14 hours a day because I'm unemployed... ) But still, if you learn how to play guitar through practicing your technique and learning your theory, learning such scales will be pretty simple! Just takes dedication! Good article despite the negativity though!
    daniel.kPL
    Good article, and so true.
    14 hours is very unhealthy obsession territory, so get hold of that. No messing.
    That's right. I've been practicing for 6-7 hrs and got an injury, and it's still "active", despite it happened 2 months ago.
    bytor1958
    I know I get that way when playing scales. I would rather have my teeth pulled...lol. Well not that bad but it can be frustrating.
    Rheaahh
    Before starting to learn difficult scales, try to focus on the easiest. Then jump to others. Giving this kind of example simply doesn't fit.