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How To Make More Progress From Practicing Scales On Guitar

Mike PhilippovIf you are similar to the majority of musicians, when faced with a lack of inspiring ideas in your music, one of the solutions you use is to begin searching for exotic and unusual scales to learn. However, unless you know the best ways to practice this element of your guitar playing, you will soon realize that all of the new scales you have learned do not give you the ability to play guitar any more creatively than before. When faced with this frustrating reality, some guitar players simply give up trying to improve their creativity with playing scales and others continue to assume that if only they learn “1 more” new scale, all of their problems with practicing and being creative with scales on guitar will go away.


Fortunately, there is a better way to practice guitar that will help you to get more out of the time you spend learning scales. The most important thing you must keep in mind is the need to explore ALL the creative possibilities any new scale has to offer before you abandon it in search of the next scale to practice. When you get yourself to do this, you will amaze yourself by how much more fun you will have when practicing and how many more creative ideas you will be able to derive from any scale you are working with.


In this article I will list for you 5 important things you must do after you go through the initial step of memorizing the notes of a new scale. These steps are critical for avoiding the frustrating situation described above and for getting a lot more from every minute you spend practicing guitar.


In addition to getting the advice from the points in this article, you can see how to actually apply these ideas when you begin learning any new scale. To do this, study this free guitar scales video lesson.


1. 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.


2. Learn Each Scale All Across The Guitar Neck

If there is one mistake that most guitar players make over and over when learning new scales on guitar, that would have to be learning each scale in only one position on the fretboard. A fairly typical illustration of this occurs with classic rock guitar players who, after learning the foundational A minor pentatonic scale on the 5th fret become “forever stuck” there, neglecting to learn the other shapes of the same scale all over the guitar.


The above is analogous to starting to read a book, stopping after reading only one chapter, picking up another brand new book, reading only the first chapter and then moving on. It’s obvious that by continuing to “read” books in this fashion you will learn nothing. Translated into the world of music, guitar players who practice scales in this way never learn to fully express themselves in music. Ironically, a guitar player who truly masters one scale inside and out on the guitar will have more to say musically (and will be much more creative doing it) than a guitar player who knows 30 different scales “as pieces” (individual shapes) scattered around the guitar.


To learn how to practice scales all around the neck of the guitar, study this free guitar scales video lesson.


3. Analyze Guitar Solos That Inspire You And Focus On The Scales Being Used

On top of the regular guitar practice sessions you do to learn to play scales, it is important to spend some time observing how the guitar players you admire actually use scales in the music you listen to. Depending on your level of skill with ear training, you can either do this by using tab of solos (that you are SURE is accurate) or (ideally) transcribing the solos yourself by ear and analyzing your own transcriptions.


In addition to being a great exercise for general ear training, doing this will enable you to see how the scales you are practicing can be (and are) used to create melodies and licks that combine together to make guitar solos.


Even if you have already made a list of scales that are used in your style of music, you will learn a great amount by doing this step anyway.


4. Practice Scales From Side To Side On The Guitar

A lot of guitar players spend all of their time practicing scales starting on the 6th string and going to the 1st string in box shapes. This is a fine method of practicing, BUT it is only one part of what true mastery of scales on guitar should consist of. It is just as important to also play scales from side to side, starting on the first fret going to the highest fret on your guitar. Doing this is essential to having a more complete visualization of the guitar neck as you play. This method of practicing will also help you to start playing a solo on any string of the guitar and know exactly where you are in a particular scale.


5. Ignore The CAGED System

Although this system of practicing scales is advocated by some guitar teachers, no TRULY great guitar player uses it to master playing scales in music.


Since I do not have time to write a detailed essay discussing in detail every weakness of the CAGED system, I will mention here that the fundamental flaw of this method is that it ignores the principles by which scales are actually supposed to work in real music (and the way they DO work for all other musicians on the planet). Instead, the system boxes guitar players into 5 arbitrary box shapes, created out of nothing more than random visual chord shapes that happen to coincide with several scale positions (which incidentally fail to work if you change your guitar to any tuning other than standard). Although the system was designed to be a “shortcut” to guitar players, it was never created to help guitarists truly master the topic of playing scales on guitar in detail.


The good news is that the truly effective methods of learning scales on guitar are actually much easier to understand, remember and master than the inferior CAGED system.


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 and you will see your rate of improvement skyrocket. In addition, get additional help that is shown in this free guitar scales video lesson.


About the author:

Mike Philippov is a recording musician, professional guitarist and music teacher. His columns and lessons on guitar playing appear on guitar websites all around the world. On Mike’s instructional guitar website you can find many more free guitar practice resources about improving your guitar playing.

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