Episode 27 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how you can get better at guitar scales whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced guitarist.
You’ll learn the different ways you can get better at scales and how working on scales in different ways helps you grow as a guitarist. Some of what is covered in this episode will be obvious, while other things may surprise you.
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The episode covers the principles behind learning and practicing scales. For some step-by-step details on how to practice scales, check out the below resources.
- How to Practice Guitar Scales – thorough explanation on how to practice scales and some exercises to work on
- Guitar Scales Explained Simple – explains the basics behind scales without needing to know theory
- How to Memorize the Fretboard – gives you a method of feeling more confident over the fretboard
- How to Break Out of the Pentatonic Box – covers a different way of thinking about scales
- Episode 14 – talks about how the way you practice shapes your playing style
- Scales Resources – lots of resources on specific scales with scale diagrams, chords, and more
The above resources will give you plenty to work on if you want to get better at scales.
Podcast Episode 27 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 27 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In the last episode, we looked at a few different ways you can get better at guitar chords. I talked about the different ways you can improve and why each one mattered. In this episode, let’s go through the same thing with guitar scales.
Scales are a massive part of music and the more you understand and feel comfortable with scales, the more you can do with them.
Some guitarists are really put off by the word scales. Part of this is thanks to some guitar teachers who insist on forcing beginners to start the very first lesson by working on scales exercises.
A lot of guitarists think scales are boring because a lot of teachers teach scales in boring ways. If you had one of these teachers, please give scales another chance.
Scales don’t need to be boring to learn or to practice. The music you listen to isn’t boring, and all music is built using scales, so clearly there’s some way to learn and use scales that isn’t boring.
In this episode, let’s go through a few ways to work on and think about scales, then you can check out the guides on the website to dig into some exercises and practice routines.
What You Practice Is What You Learn
In episode 14, I talked about how the way you practice something influences the type of guitarist you become. If you haven’t listened to that episode, go back and listen to it because it’s an important principle to understand.
When it comes to scales, the way you practice them influences what you do with those scales.
So if you only practice scales by memorizing scale runs and running up and down the same shapes and positions, then it should be no surprise if you start to think that scales are boring.
Practicing linear scale runs along with a metronome is boring. It’ll help you with your technical abilities, but it’s still boring.
When practicing scales, keep your end goal in mind. How would you like to be able to use scales in your playing?
Do you want to be able to use scales to freely jam all over the fretboard along with backing tracks? Or do you want to be able to use scales to help you write interesting riffs and licks for your songs?
Or do you want to use scales as a way to better understand the music you already know?
That’s three different examples of how scales can be used and none of them need to you to memorize boring scale runs. Using scales to jam is very different from using scales to write songs or using scales to understand the music you play. What’s important to understand is that there’s a different way to learn and practice scales depending on how you want to use them.
If you want to learn scales so you can improvise over backing tracks, then you should practice scales in a way that fits that goal. If you want to learn scales to help you write better songs, you need to practice scales in a way that helps you write music.
I know this sounds obvious when I say it, but if you look closely at how most people practice scales, it’s not what we tend to do.
I’ve given this example before, but imagine someone who only practices scales by running up and down the same pattern over and over in a straight line. If you ask them to improvise over a backing track using that scale, have a guest what they’ll play. You can pretty much guarantee that they’ll run up and down the scale over and over using that pattern.
So the first key point to remember from this episode is that you need to think about what you want to be able to do with scales, then figure out which way of practicing best matches your goal. If you’ve been put off practicing scales in the past, it was likely because the way you practiced them didn’t line up with your goal for using the scales.
If you can line up the way you practice scales with how you want to use them, scales suddenly become far more interesting and fun to practice.
Practicing Scales for Control
There are two main ways you can get better at scales. The first way is to work on your control over scales.
Working on your control over scales means practicing exercises to help you feel comfortable with the note positions and train your fingers to freely move around the scale.
There are a lot of different ways you can work on your control over scales and each way can suit different goals.
In the guide on the website I go through a few different methods and if you read it, it’ll be clear why different exercises help you work towards different goals.
We all understand how working on technical exercises helps us develop control over something, so it should be no surprise that this is an important part of getting better at scales.
If you never work on any technical scales exercises, your fingers may not be able to keep up with what you want to play.
So while technical exercises are important to help you gain better control over scales, a lot of guitarists tend to overdo it. Search for scales lessons on YouTube and you’ll see a endless list of videos focusing on technical exercises.
No wonder some guitarists hate the idea of working on scales when all everybody talks about is scales exercises.
Practicing Scales for Understanding
I mentioned that there are two ways you can get better at scales. The first way is to work on your control over scales. That’s what everybody tends to focus on and there are countless lessons online that cover this. The second way is to work on your understanding of scales.
When I say your understanding of scales, I’m not necessarily talking about music theory. I’m talking about your general understanding of how to use the scales you practice.
How well you understand scales and how well you’re able to use scales is just as important as how much control you have over your scales. In some ways it’s more important – what’s the point of being able to play scales exercises at blistering speeds if you don’t know what else to do with them?
So the second way you can work on getting better at scales is to work on improving your understanding of the scales you want to use.
For some guitarists, this means putting on a backing track and jamming with a scale to work on developing a feeling for which notes work well and which don’t. Guitarists who practice scales in this way are trying to use their ears to develop their scales understanding.
Other guitarists might spend some time learning about the music theory behind scales, so when they go to use a scale, they know ahead of time what to expect from each note. They learn how the different intervals can be used and practice putting that theory to use.
It doesn’t matter whether you work on your understanding of scales using music theory or using your ear, either way will help you make better use of scales.
For example, if somebody on a piano played an E Major chord, could you play something over the top of it with a bluesy feel? Could you play something that has a mystical feel? What about something that sounds middle-eastern?
This is something technical exercises can’t teach you, but ear training or music theory can.
If you have a looper pedal, give this a go to test out your understanding of scales. Record yourself strumming a random chord, then try to put your scales knowledge to use to come up with different sounds and ideas that fit with that chord.
See how many different ideas and sounds you can come up with before you get stuck.
If you feel stuck for ideas, spend some time working on those areas. Read up on modes and try to put them to use over the looped chord. Or learn a new scale and see how that fits over the chord. Study some music in the style you’re trying to play and try to figure out what gives that style it’s unique sound.
In many ways, working on your understanding of chords is far harder than any scale exercise. Technical exercises are easy because you’re told exactly what to do. Anybody can follow along with a scale exercise.
Working on your understanding of scales is harder because you need to figure out what works and what doesn’t. If you can work on both areas, you’ll make serious progress with your scales and you’ll make serious progress in your musical abilities.
In this episode, I’ve given you a few things to keep in mind when learning and practicing scales. If you want to get better at scales, have a think about whether you want to focus on getting better at your control over scales, your understanding of scales, or both.
If you want to develop better control over your scales, think about how you want to use scales. The way you should practice scales should change depending on the type of music you want to play and how you want to use the scales.
If you want to develop a better understanding of the scales you use, first find out what aspects of scales you don’t fully understand. Test yourself out using a looper pedal and find the limits of your scales understanding. Then you can work on filling in the gaps using ear exercises or music theory.
A lot of guitarists are intimidated by the thought of working on scales, but those who push past this discomfort are able to achieve a lot. If you’ve been putting off working on scales, don’t stress. Start out with some simple exercises and build up from there. You can do it if you put the effort in – and I can tell you, it is worth the effort.
While there are guitarists out there who claim they don’t learn scales, they’re mistaken. Some guitarists gradually learn scales by experience, but even if they don’t know what notes they’re playing or they’ve never played a scale exercise before, they’re still using scales. Unless the only thing you play on guitar is strumming chords, you’ll be using scales. It’s up to you how you go about learning about the notes you play. Some people take the long and slow path by just playing, while others take the faster path by working on the areas I’ve talked about in this episode.
Check out useful guides and resources for scales on the website at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-27
Alternatively, just jump on the Guitar Gear Finder website and search for scales. You’ll see that there’s a lot of resources on scales you can use.
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See how you go working on your scales this week and I’ll talk to you next time.