Should You Learn Scales On Guitar?
Some guitar teachers believe you should learn scales on day 1. Others think you don't need them at all and that you should just learn songs.
The truth is, it's somewhere in between.
Scales are very valuable, but in proportion to the other things you're practicing when you first start playing guitar. So instead of learning every mode of the Major scale, I stick with beginner scales that set a solid foundation. It's also important to know why you're learning something and spending time on it.
So why should you learn scales? There are a lot of really practical reasons.
- Scales provide you with a basic understanding of music theory.
- Scales help you with playing melodies and bass runs.
- Scales improve your finger accuracy and dexterity.
- Scales will help you play chords better.
- Scales will develop your ear training.
What Is A Scale?
I'm going to start off with a Major scale. It's the foundation of all Western music. The best one to start off with is the C Major scale because it's really easy to understand. There are no sharps or flats.
So what is a scale, exactly?
A scale is just a combination of notes with specific spacing between each note. The Major scale for example has a very specific distance between each note in order. Here's the spacing of a Major scale (this works with any Major scale, no matter what note you start on):
Whole Step-Whole Step-Half Step-Whole Step-Whole Step-Whole Step-Half Step (W-W-H-W-W-W-H)
On guitar you can think of this as:
2 Frets-2 Frets-1 Fret-2 Frets-2 Frets-2 Frets-1 Fret
It's a mouthful, I know. Here's the easy way to think about it. Start on C, then travel 2 frets and you get D. Travel two more frets and you'll get E. One fret is F. Two more frets is G, two more is A, two more is B, and one more takes you back to C. The C Major scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.
Jump to 2:31 in the video to see and hear this scale in two different ways, and 6:30 to learn an extended version of this scale
Tips For Practicing Scales
When you practice scales, practice them slowly. You want to make sure all of the notes sound clear when you play them. Keep checking your fingers to make sure they're playing the right notes. You're training your fingers to automatically go to the right place. You're building muscle memory and instincts.
One bad habit a lot of new players develop is pressing harder than they need to. You'll just end up getting sore hands. You'll build the muscles in your hands over time and pressing will be easier. But only press as hard as needed to play the note.
Also pay attention to how much you're tensing your body. If you feel your arms, neck, and shoulders tensing, try to relax and come back at it. This is really hard at first, since your naturally tendency is to tense up. But being loose will help you play longer sessions and actually play better.
Lastly, try to memorize the scale to the point that you can visualize it in your mind without your guitar. This takes a little more effort but will help develop that muscle memory faster. The less you have to think about it, the easier it will be to play.
Do you have any other techniques for learning or playing scales that I didn't cover? Let me know in the comments below!