Three Reasons Why All Guitar Pros Learn Scales Eventually

Are you afraid that the standard scales will turn you into an over-tapped player who consistently responds with the same sounds during guitar solos? Or even worse, do you feel like all of your rocking guitar solos feel like just moving up and down the scales - even if you don't know any to begin with? How does this happen, and why is everybody so worried about sounding like they're playing scales?

When I began learning the guitar, I made every mistake imaginable - such as trying to sidestep learning scales. Many of my teachers warned me about that, but I was stubborn and didn't change my ways for quite a long time - so you can see I know all about why people believe learning scales limits a player's ability. I believed that as well and spent countless hours looking to excuse myself from learning them.

In hindsight, I wish I could have known then what I found later about guitar scales (and also about girls, but that's a whole other story). And now that I've been able to do it for myself, it's time to help others.

So, after making years of mistakes, I learned how scales actually foster creativity. Yes, that is not what you normally hear. There are plenty of reasons why that is, but here are the main points:

  1. Scales fill in the blanks: when figuring out which note sounds good where, knowing a few scales will give a player many sonic options on the fretboard. As many have said before me, those that don't learn scales initially, are destined to find them by trial and error years later; so who would prefer to spend years discovering what they could have learned in months? That said, to get these benefits it's extremely important to learn them the right way, not just as repetitive up and down exercises (examples below).
  2. Scales are a guide to the fretboard: they point you in the right direction, but they are by no means the only way around. There is always room to "get off the beaten path" and go for a new sound - but knowing how and where to move away makes all the difference between sounding good ormaking what a listener will consider a mistake.
  3. Scales develop physical skills. Your fingers will become quicker as well as more dexterous and accurate when you learn scales the proper way (below). And sure, while speed may not be the most important thing, it is still something that you should not disdain, especially when it comes with versatility and musicality.

But how should you learn the scales on guitar? Certainly not just by playing them up and down until they become muscle memory. Here's a video with a couple strategies for learning the scales. Take a look below:

You'll agree with me that it is fairly simple and straightforward - however, it may be that it seems this way to me after making thousands of mistakes :-) Try adding this to your daily routine, and you'll notice a major difference. It's certainly more challenging (and fun) than just playing the same shapes all day. Enjoy, and let me know what your experience with this ideas are.

Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.

Tommaso Zillio

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