Some guitar players spend a lot of time working on their scales. Some guitar players don’t spend any time learning their scales. So is it something that is worth doing, and if so, why should we invest the time into learning scales? Here are a few great reasons, as to why learning your scale patterns will help make you a better and more creative guitar player.
Reason #1 – Finger dexterity When you learn scales using the correct finger positions, you end up doing a lot of work on your dexterity. This is a fundamental skill that is required for playing the guitar (or any instrument), so working on your dexterity while simultaneously learning a scale is a great return on the investment of your time.
Reason #2 – You learn a bit of every song, ever This is a great reason. Most Western music is based on a scale of some sort, even if the composer was not consciously thinking to use a certain scale. What is the implication of this? When we learn scales, and we learn them effectively, we do two things:
We train our fingers to execute a specific set of movements i.e. we train them to play the correct notes on our guitar to play the scale
We train our ears and mind to associate a particular set of sounds with those movements
What this means is, when we are learning a song and we spot that the composer used a certain scale, because we have already invested time into learning that scale, we have done 90% of learning the song. All that is left to do is learn the order in which the notes in the scale were played and the rhythm that they were played with.
By learning scales, we reduce the time required to learn new songs. If learning new songs was like using an axe to chop down a tree, learning scales would be the equivalent of sharpening your axe, so that you can chop down trees faster.
Reason #3 – It helps you understand the instrument A lot of self-taught guitar players come to me with the problem “I can play songs but I don’t understand the guitar”. This is quite a common problem with self-taught players that play guitar by just learning songs from tutorials and guitar tabs. So what causes this problem?
If your learning is restricted to playing songs from tabs and tutorials, then all you are doing is mimicking movements, you are not understanding. Understanding requires knowing the full context and how the different concepts relate to each other within that context. By playing songs from tutorials and tabs, you can create the sounds that you hear in the songs you learn, but you don’t understand why those sounds work, how those sounds interact with each other, how to reproduce them in a different context, what sounds work with those sounds e.t.c.
When you learn scales, you start to understand the context behind the songs you play. It lays the foundations for understanding how and why chords work, how keys work, why some chords work together and others don’t, how you can improvise and how to aurally recognise what is happening in a piece of music. They are a very powerful tool to have in your musical arsenal!