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8/5/08

What Guitar Scales Should You Study?

by Mike Hayes

What are scales? What guitar scales should you study? If you are new to the guitar, and new to music, you are probably not even quite sure exactly what a scale actually is, which certainly adds to the aura of mystery that begins to surround the subject.

Learning and practicing scales can become an obsession for many guitarists. Scales can "free your fingers and freeze your brain", if you're not careful. Always keep in mind that scales are part of the preparation work we do so we will be free to express ourselves musically.

Scales are to the musician what skipping a rope is to a boxer, it's part of the preparation work. Scales are simply a means to an end. What guitar scales should you study depends on the type of music you want to play. It's far better to master a small number of scales and be able to apply these scales to many musical settings.

The first thing to understand is that there are hundreds of scales, to give you an idea of what you're up against, here's a short sample of some of the names of scales starting with the letter "L".

Leading Whole Tone Locrian Locrian #2 Locrian b4 Locrian Flat 4 Locrian Minor Locrian natural 2 Locrian Natural 2nd Locrian Sharp 2nd Lydian Lydian 7b Lydian Augmented Lydian b7 Lydian contracted Lydian diminished Lydian Diminished 1 Lydian Diminished 2 Lydian Dominant Lydian dominant scale4 Lydian Minor Lydian Sharp 2nd

Keep in mind, this is only a sample from a very long list of scales. Each one of these scales can be played in 12 different keys as guitarists we have the added issue of multiple fingering options on the guitar fretboard. What guitar scales should we study is a very important question, to be honest five minutes thought deciding what to practice is much better that five hours of haphazard practice.

Scales are the building blocks from which all music is created. we use scales to create melodies (horizontal structures), chords (vertical structures), arpeggios (oblique structures).

Scales in themselves are not music they are simply our musical alphabet. In the hands of a skilled musician they can create music.

Three things to consider when learning scales:

(a) there's the intellectual aspect, data memory information i.e., the names of the notes and their scale step numbers.

(b) applying this knowledge to the guitar, in order to do this successfully we need to be able to identify all the notes on the fingerboard by name, not simply by a fingering pattern.

(c) motor skill training i.e., speed is a byproduct of accuracy, with the right amount of accurate repetitions, scales will be stored in the brain as a reflex function, training very slowly to avoid mistakes.

Where to start:

The first scale guitar players should study would be the minor pentatonic scale. the minor pentatonic scale is a five note scale, (penta = five) found throughout the world.

Example of the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A would be:

A - C - D - E - G

The second scale guitar players should study would be the blues scale. the blues scale is one of the most frequently used scales. It is also important because it is the first real scale of American origin.

The blues scale is a six note scale, one way of thinking of this scale would be to treat the blues scale as a minor pentatonic scale with a flattened 5th.

Example of the Blues scale in the key of A would be:

A - C - D - Eb - E - G

The third scale guitar players should study would be the major pentatonic scale. The major pentatonic scale is another five note scale.

Example of the major pentatonic scale in the key of A would be:

A - B - C# - E - F#

It is thought that the pentatonic scales represent early stages of musical development, because it is found, in different forms, in most of the world's music. These two pentatonic scales together with the blues scale are used to create riffs, licks and solos on many popular recordings.

What guitar scales should you study is an important question, you can save a lot of time by learning these three scales first. Good luck finding which scales that are right for your music.

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