What is the first thing you do when you feel low on inspirational ideas in
your guitar playing? Most guitar players attempt to solve this problem
by seeking out new guitar scales to practice and play. Unfortunately,
no sooner than they find the next new sale to practice, they realize
that they are again feeling bored and out of creative options in their
guitar playing. Ironically, rather than seeking a more effective and
better way of practicing scales in general, these guitar players
instead attempt to solve the problem by learning “even more” new
scales. This creates a never-ending vicious cycle of frustration and
The good news is that there is a superior way to learn scales on
guitar that will enable you to make more progress in less time. The
single most critical point you need to remember is that it is necessary
to fully explore every creative option offered by a new scale before
you move on to start learning more scales. By doing this, you will
improve your guitar playing with scales much more quickly and will
enjoy the process of practicing guitar a lot more.
Below I will outline for you several essential tips that will help
you to get much more out of every scale you practice on guitar.
Following this advice will enable you to not end up in the very common
dilemma described above, and instead move forward much more quickly
towards your guitar playing goals.
To see in more details how to use the advice from this article in your own guitar practicing, watch this free video on playing guitar scales.
1. Break Out Of “Box Patterns” And Master The Guitar Fretboard Fully
By far the most popular mistake the vast majority of guitarists make
when learning to play scales is only playing them in a single area of
the guitar. The most common example of this for blues/rock guitar
players involves playing the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth
position on the fretboard (only) and completely neglecting to learn it
in other areas of the guitar. The result of this is similar to watching
a movie on TV and switching channels at the first commercial break to
start watching a different program, and without ever coming back to
finish the original movie continuing to switch channels to watch
something brand new as soon as another commercial comes.
In guitar playing world, doing this leads to never being able to
truly use the scales you have “learned” to their full potential in your
music. To overcome this VERY common problem, you must make time in your
practicing to learn to play every scale you want to master all over
the guitar. Fact is, you can write much more music (much more
expressively) with only a single scale that you know on the guitar
inside and out than you can with dozens of scales that you can only
play in one area of the guitar.
To watch me demonstrate several examples of how to practice scales around the guitar neck, watch this free video about playing guitar scales.
2. Avoid The CAGED System
Even though this system of playing guitar scales is quite popular
among some guitar teachers, it is NEVER used by world class virtuoso
guitar players because it places a huge number of restrictions on your
ability to freely use scales in music.
Without writing a 100 page dissertation about all the flaws of the
CAGED system, its single biggest weakness is that it is not based on
“how scales ACTUALLY work in music” for all instruments and is instead
intended to create a shortcut only for “guitar players” by exploiting
several isolated and completely illogical visual shapes on guitar
(that, by the way, only work in ‘standard tuning’ and become totally
useless in drop tunings or open tunings). The result of such a
crippling system is that guitarists remain forever restricted in the
way they can use scales musically and cannot play scales all over the
guitar on the same level as other musicians who have a real and
complete understanding of how scales are supposed to work in music.
Fortunately, the complete and most efficient ways of practicing
scales on guitar are not any more difficult to learn and understand
than the (much flawed) CAGED system.
3. Find Out What Scales Your Favorite Guitar Players Use (And HOW They Use Them)
A great training exercise you should do in addition to your regular
practice sessions of learning scales on guitar involves listening
carefully to your favorite music (and guitar solos in particular) and
studying what scales your favorite guitar players use. If you are less
advanced in terms of your ear training, you can use someone else’s
transcriptions (if you trust the transcriber) or figure the solos out
by ear on your own.
On top of being a tremendous training drill for developing awesome
ear training, this kind of practicing will show you ideas of how you
can and should use scales in your style of music to write songs, guitar
solos and improvisations.
4. Get Specific About Your Scale Needs
Depending on the style of music you play, there will be some scales
that are much more common to your guitar playing style than others (for
example: the Harmonic minor scale is much more common in Neo-classical
metal guitar compared to the Blues scale, and vice versa for
Blues/Classic Rock guitar players). With this in mind, you need to
prioritize your guitar practice time by focusing your attention FIRST
on getting the maximum creative potential out of the most important
scales for your style. Only “after” doing that does it make sense to
spend significant time to begin practicing exotic and unusual scales.
There is nothing wrong with knowing how to play lots of scales, but
in order to truly get results from doing that, several things need to
happen first: You need to have already done the work of mastering the
most essential scales for your musical style (as described above), and
you must have a reliable method for practicing that you can apply to
quickly learn any scale on guitar.
You can use one of 2 ways (or preferably both) to achieve the goal
above: you can either ask a guitar teacher to simply tell you what the
most important scales for your musical style are, or you can improve
your aural skills (ear training) and knowledge of how music works to
hear what scales are used in your favorite music yourself.
5. Practice Playing Scales On Each Single String Of The Guitar In Addition To “Scale Shapes”
Most musicians are comfortable with playing scales “vertically” (from
the low E string to the high E string). Even though this is an
important foundation of all playing of scales on guitar, it is equally
important to learn how the scales are laid out on each of the 6 strings
of the guitar from the first fret to the last fret (by playing “side to
side” across the guitar neck). Training in this way will help to
picture scale shapes in every position of the guitar more easily, even
if you are starting to play a phrase from a string other than the 6th
What Is The Next Step?
Obviously, there are multiple ways to proceed regarding learning
scales on guitar and certainly some are more effective than others. In
order for you to determine which one is the more appropriate for your
needs, observe the rate of progress you are experiencing as you go
through the process of practicing. If you have struggled to get great
results from the way you used to learn scales on guitar up to this
point, apply the tips given in this article. In addition, use the
advice presented in the free video on playing guitar scales that was discussed earlier. As you do this, you will see your rate of improvement skyrocket.
About the author:
Mike Philippov is a recording artist, guitar teacher and author. His articles on practicing guitar are read worldwide. Visit http://PracticeGuitarNow.com to find more free resources and lessons on improving your guitar playing.