guitar scales

What You Should Know About Guitar Scales

You have likely been hunting on the inter-webs for ways to help improve your Guitar Scales. Or maybe you’ve even tried to memorize a whole bunch of ’em, but it didn’t turn out as well as you hoped. Indeed, if you’re like a lot of beginner lead guitar players, then you probably ended up with nothing more than clunky fingers playing stammered scales that never sound smooth or musical.

All is not lost. You can also learn and play scales, and all you have to do is tweak your practise strategy a bit. This will mean you need to stop making the following five common guitar scale mistakes. Read on

Mistake #1: Spending All Your Practice Time On Nothing But Scales

In my private teaching practice I have noticed most beginning lead guitarists make this mistake. What is even more frustrating is that there are many teachers, books, YouTube lessons, blog posts etc that perpetuate the idea that students should spend most of their time practising guitar scales which is a mistake!

If you hear or read of anyone promoting this idea then click the back button! That’s because JUST practising scales is counterintuitive, unproductive, and will not ultimately make you a better musician.

Instead of investing all your time into learning scales, what you need to do is have a structured regime of the actual scales that you need to learn within the style that you play. Setting a structured timeframe for learning the relevant guitar scales for each practice session will give you the best results.

Mistake #2: Learning Scales That Are Of No Relevance To What You Play

This is another common mistake that I see people do. Folks assume that having a large scale vocabulary is the be all and end all of playing guitar. However, if you want to sound great using guitar scales within your style, then you need to make sure that you don’t spend countless hours learning the harmonic minor scale when you play country music. Instead, if country music is your thing for example, investing your time into learning the Major scale, the Major pentatonic scale, the Mixolydian Mode and the Blues Scale will bring you greater results. Learn what is relevant to the style of music that you play.

Mistake #3: Not Learning Scales At All

Okay this one actually does happen, simply because things are currently working well for you and you are doing things that appear right. All of a sudden you go to compose a piece of music you hear in your head or you’re listening to a piece of music on the radio and you think wow this is amazing but I have no idea of how to get that sound out and onto my guitar, then realise, if only I had been still practising my scales. If you’ve stopped your guitar scales practice or not started at all, it is an easy fix!

Immediately make up a practice plan to integrate scales as part of your routine, it’s that simple. Whether it’s five minutes or 15 minutes, whatever the case may be, integrate them immediately and you will see results.

Mistake #4: Not Learning New Scale Types

Don’t feel too bad about this as every player has made this mistake at some point including some of your favourite famous guitar players. Even Slash admits to not having a structured practising schedule or knowing what he is doing but prefers to just jam (but he still is awesome right?). So instead of playing the same scale sounds over and over again, why not learn new scales and develop your ear for new sounds, create fresh melodies by doing so and everybody will think you’re awesome. If you would like to learn one of my favourite scales to use, the Gypsy scale is one of my favourites!

Mistake #5: Not practising Scales Musically

In my many years of teaching the guitar from beginners through to advanced players there are few don’t make this guitar scales mistake.  However those who do find this very frustrating because practising scales up and down the neck forwards and backwards no matter how fast will help slow can be detrimental to growth and just won’t make you sound that musical all the time. Many people quit the guitar out of sheer frustration in trying to get scales and modes to sound musical often because it’s been so much time practising on speed exercises rather than rhythms and intervals, which actually help create the musicality.

d iFortunately, you can avoit fairly easily, simply by learning where the intervals are within the scale structure, what they sound like in relationship to one another and practising them with various kinds of rhythms; 8th notes, 16th notes, shuffled, straight etc… and practising them at various tempos over many different styles of music.

So to sum up today’s blog post

It is absolutely obtainable for you to play fantastic music using scales relevant to your style of music, especially if you avoid the common guitar scales mistakes. Don’t believe me? Start implementing it today and watch the changes happen!

Comments 8

    1. Post

      Hi jre, indeed it sounds like being underwater or maybe even bubbles rising to the surface? idk. Great tune though. Tune your guitar down a half step with capo at 2nd fret and away ya go! Sort of 8)
      Thanks for sharing 8)

  1. Great article thanks Burt. I agree with it. I mainly use pentatonics based from the caged chord forms at this stage. I’ve found my improvisation and interval recognition has improved from this approach. wondering what your thoughts on the caged system is, do you think it can be limiting in any way?

    1. Thank you Gareth.
      The CAGED system is a brilliant way to understand how the guitar neck are systematically laid out. And once you learn corresponding scales around those shapes they can be nothing but beneficial for you. I personally believe in the power of the system as far as being able to navigate and traverse the whole entire fretboard and see it as one complete unit

      However I have found through both my personal experience and through teaching. That most people think that they need to learn 500 things before they are able to create music.

      I myself for the longest of times only knew two positions for the natural minor scale and the pentatonic scale.
      But what I did was learn to modify and adapt those shapes into user-friendly musical tools that I could use in various styles of music. This was also helped significantly by my understanding of intervals.

      Is it wrong to learn the CAGED system followed by the corresponding major scales modes, harmonic minor, melodic minor, whole tone, diminished etc
      Not at all.
      However what I am saying is learn what is relevant to the style of music that you play firstly. Learn the basic tools to get started so you’re investing in playing more and learning about musicality firstly.

      Even if that does mean learning the pentatonic scale in two positions of the neck to give you more range of pitch and learning where are the nine ,the flat nine, the major six, minor 6 etc etc etc are in relationship to their particular shape is.

      I hope you find something useful in that after lesson blurb.

      Wishing you a wonderful musical journey…


      1. Thanks! I used to get overwhelmed by scales but since picking up the guitar again recently, I have taught myself to only focus on a few shapes that I find the most beneficial, and slowly adding other tones outside of the pentatonic when needed.
        Thanks again man.

  2. I am a student of burt’s and a polytech student..I regard what I learn from burt to be at university level. I mean there is ENDLESS amounts of music theory out there on thew web. SO take his advise he knows what he has graciously informed us. I stuggled with a bend 4 an entire week 5 min with burt and now I feel confident.

    1. Thank you Norman for your input I am flattered. Having a mentor to coach you through the difficult times of your learning is integral to setting up healthy foundations.
      If you had to do it on your own you would still get it but it may take you a little while longer to do it and although you may not use the same technique to get that result a coach or teacher helps us find a more desirable path to achieving to achieve that result and usually one that is more beneficial for the student.

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