Why And How You Should Learn Guitar Scales

Tommaso Zillio

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Are you worried that learning scales on the Guitar will make you a cold, soulless player that can only play linear licks up and down the fretboard? Or worse, every time you play a solo it sounds like you are just following a scale up and down... and maybe you don't even know scales! What is happening here, and why everybody is so obsessed with scales if then we don't want to sound like we are playing scales?

When I learned to play guitar I made every single mistake in the book (and I invented a few new ones). Saying that my teachers weren't happy about that is an understatement... so I don't blame you if you feel that learning scales could restrict your creativity. After all, I thought exactly the same, and spent much of my practice time finding justifications for not learning them.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and I wish I could just make a phone call to me 25 years ago about the benefits of scales (and also what to do with girls... but that's for another article). Since I can do that, I thought I might as well help other people with what I learned.

What I found with experience is that scales are one of the best tools to be creative. Not the ONLY tool, of course, but one of the best nevertheless. The reasons why this is it are many, and I will just quote a few:

  1. Scales eliminate the guesswork: whenever you are wondering "what can sound good here", a good scale vocabulary will give you immediately at least 2-4 options that you can use immediately. They say that those who don't know scales are condemned to rediscover them by themselves after years of practice... but you would rather spend those years being creative, not rediscovering the wheel, I hope. Of course, you need to study scales in a way that allows you to learn how they sound, not as mindless exercises (see below).
  2. Scales are great for your physical technique. By learning scales and training them properly (again, see below), your hands will become more versatile and agile... and why not, also faster. Speed is not the main point here, but it's a good side effect to have!
  3. Scales are a starting point: they show you what notes are the best in a specific situation, but nobody is forcing you to follow them all the time. You can always "step out" of the scale to create a different sound.... but it's really hard to do unless you have a rock-solid understanding of the scale you are in at the moment.

So how do you study a scale? Well, NOT by playing it up and down for sure. I made a video where I show a few strategies that really work for learning scales. Watch it now:

As you see, this is just common sense... or better common sense after a couple of decades of making mistakes ;-) All this stuff can easily be applicable to your practice routine today. It is definitely more interesting that playing these shapes up and down until your fingers fall off and your mind gets into a trance... and it does a lot more for you and your playing. Happy practicing!

You can get to know MUCH MORE about guitar scales, how to learn them, how to use them in real-life situations, how to be creative with them, in my course Master Of The Modes: The Supreme Course To Understanding And Applying Scales And Modes On Guitar. Check it out right now, you don't want to miss it!

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