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January 04, 2009

How to learn guitar scales

I hang out on several guitar forums and I also get a lot messages through my website. One thing that I've noticed in messages lately are ideas of "better" ways to learn scales. I want talk a bit about this.

Take the A minor pentatonic scale for example. The notes are A - C - D - E - G, that's it. Five notes. I've seen many different approaches in trying to teach people how to play these 5 notes. We have the 5 "pentatonic boxes" of course, and they are a good way to start. The point I'm always mentioning to my students is to practice the different boxes together, in a myriad of ways.

You don't necessarily need to learn this scale by using these boxes only though. You can practice the scale on one string to start with, then focus on the next string, etc. You can analyze it further and focus on how you can stay in one position on the neck as you are playing different keys, just to minimize hand movement. I'm sure there are several other ways to practice this scale too.

Anyway, the point of my little rant here is the same as I tend to repeat quite often - there is no silver bullet. No "tricks" or "secrets" will ever replace practice. It's that simple. If you want to know a scale inside and out, you HAVE to spend time with it. Get to know it all over the neck, figure out what fingerings work best for you - there is wrong way to do it.

I just see so many hoping there is a way to replace hours and hours of practice with some "magic formula" or silver bullet as I call it, and I'm happy to say - no sir, no can do. Only by practicing something over and over can we master a skill, whether that is knowing a scale really well or learn the multiplication table.

Don't be afraid of practice. Embrace it, and realize the more you devote time to practice and learning something, the better you will be able to play.

Finally, practice can be done in different ways, and my advice is to take on only a certain amount of difficulty in one setting. Perhaps it's learning A minor Pentatonic in 2nd position. Next time you play, practice combining 1st and 2nd position, perhaps. Maybe you then try do the same thing, but now in the key of G minor, to force you to really learn this well.

Play the scale in different ways, not just all the notes back and forth. Make little melodies. Play just one note in each position, then 2 notes, then 3, etc. Skip every 2nd note, or perhaps you can play 3 notes in a row, then play 3 more, starting for the 2nd note in the first sequence. See, there are many ways of practicing a scale. Take advantage of this! Soon, you will internalize the scale, meaning you won't have to think when you play it. You'll start playing little motifs, phrases and melodies out of scales, and it's happening unconsciously. It will come naturally if you stick to practice habits and don't look for the silver bullet that doesn't exist.

Ok, rant over - hope this makes sense and that I didn't completely bore you!

If you need help learning scale patterns and shapes, there is a website called Guitar Scale Patterns, that provides a cheat sheet, among other this. Go and check it out. They have useful products for helping you learn guitar faster.

By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com

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Posted by Robert Renman on January 04, 2009

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