Getting a grip on scales

There are so many scales it's hard to know which to focus on. Whatever your objectives are however there is a core set that you should aim to be familiar with. Which is, simply put, each of the 12 major, harmonic and melodic minor scales, making 36 in all (or 48 if you want to think of the descending form of the melodic minor as a discrete scale). Of course the fact that the guitar allows so many different fingerings for each scale might seem to raise a further complication. My advice is to not worry too much about the relative merits of this or that fingering. Stick to these basic parameters:

  • closed position 2 octave fingerings only (i.e. no open strings)
  • F through to Bb commencing on the 6th string playing across the neck and back.
  • B through to E commencing on the 5th. These require a position change to get through the 2nd octave but it really doesn't matter how you do that, just be consistent.
  • majors commence with 2nd finger, minors commence with first.

For each scale play through the 2 octaves a few times then apply each of the following four patterns to it, again through 2 octaves.

Image of patterns 1 and 2

Image of patterns 3 and 4

So that's 5 exercises for each scale: running the scale itself followed by the 4 patterns. Draw up a 36 x 5 matrix so you can keep track of where you get up to in each practice session. I'd also suggest that you work through the sharp keys first (C,G,D,A,E,B,F#) then return to C and work through the flat keys (C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb). Although F# and Gb are sonically the same it is worth your while to think through both keys.

You will very likely find that running the patterns, particularly where position changes are required, forces you to re-think whatever fingering you adopted to begin with. That's a good thing - find something that works for you and stick with it until you can get through the exercise fluently.

I've no doubt that some experienced and talented players reading this blog will want to raise qualifications to what I present here, particularly with respect to the bullet point items. Certainly there's a lot more that can be said - there are differences as between classical and jazz technique for example that I'm putting aside for another blog. My point here is to suggest some direction to those who are perhaps discouraged by the admitted complexity of the topic.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer