How Learning Guitar Scales Will Help You Become A Better Guitar Player

Author: Ed Cupler

Have you been worried that playing scales will sap your talent, leaving you nothing but a soulless husk of a guitar player? Or did you stumble across this article because you already feel like you keep playing the same licks again and again; maybe you’re trapped, but haven’t yet learned any scales? What is going on here, and why are there so many people talking about scales that never want to sound like they use them?

As a starting musician, I fought my teachers tooth and nail on learning scales – so I understand how readers can be concerned about scales holding them back. I was the same way as many students I see now that I am a teacher: I looked for every alternative to learning scales, and made many excuses to avoid them altogether.

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Looking back, I wish I could have just sent an email 25 years into the future to ask for advice about scales (and how to meet girls… but that’s for another time). But now that I’ve learned what works best, it just seems right to help others, too.

So, after making years of mistakes, I learned how scales actually foster creativity. Yes, that is not what you normally hear :) There are plenty of reasons why that is, but here are the main points:

  1. Scales develop dexterity. Learning scales properly will help develop a number of skills (if done right: again, see below), from versatility to flexibility, and even speed, for that matter. Speed may not be the most important skill you want to have right now (or it may be…), but it is still something to not overlook.
  2. Scales are a roadmap: they give you a good idea of how to get where you want to go. Yes, sometimes the detours are far more scenic… and anytime you want to take a detour, the map will help you know when to take a different turn – however, this can be difficult without a strong knowledge of which scale you’re playing at that time.
  3. Scales fill in the blanks: when figuring out which note sounds good where, knowing a few scales will give a player many sonic options on the fretboard. As many have said before me, those that don’t learn scales initially, are destined to find them by trial and error years later; so who would prefer to spend years discovering what they could have learned in months? That said, to get these benefits it’s extremely important to learn them the right way, not just as repetitive up & down exercises (examples below).

So how should you go about learning guitar scales? Certainly not just playing them up and down until your hands get tired and your brain stops paying attention. Below is a video I made with a few of the strategies that I have developed for learning scales. See below:

Now that you’ve watched the video, doesn’t this just seem like common sense? (Ok maybe it’s common sense to me after spending that many years making mistakes…) All of this can easily be applied to your daily practice routine. And the biggest benefit is that it is way more fun and challenging than just moving up and down the fretboard until you don’t even think about it anymore, and you’ll quickly notice a major difference in your playing! Have fun, and leave a comment below with your experience learning scales!

About the Author

Tommaso Zillio is a professional teacher, guitarist, and composer, and is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.

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