Should I Bother Playing Scales?

G’day folks!

A number of you have asked me recently about good ol’ scales – are they worth the time and effort? Why should I do them? Should I bother doing them at all?!

Well, the short answer to that last question is an unequivocal yes!

I last posted on this subject (almost unbelievably) around about two years ago, so time to revist one from the vaults!

My viewpoint, thoughts and approach to scales and their importance hasn’t really changed at all in the last couple of years, so I’ll reiterate the key points here again for you, folks.

In my formative years I struggled to see the point of practicing ones scales. At best, I thought it probably a half decent way of warming up the hands and fingers ready to play. At worst, I thought them a bloody waste of time, a complete drag and just getting in the way of the fun stuff.

In the wisdom and perspective offered by a couple of decades of classical guitar playing under the belt I have, for the last few years now, been able to see the error of my previous thinking.

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Scales are boring and tedious and dull and unexciting?

Nope. Wrong! As with many things, it’s all about your attitude and your approach to them.

We’re musicians right? And we make music? Playing a scale is no different to playing any music. The bare bones of the notes are there for us to shape and phrase, following the contours, playing in different timbres or tone colours, crescendo, decrescendo, legato, staccato and so on. The choices are almost limitless as to how to make music from scales, as with any other musical passages. And then we have consideration of our tone quality to add into the the mix too.

And so what’s the point of all of this?

Well, aside from practicing making music from notes on the page or in our heads there are a number of significant benefits that can really only be derived from regular playing and practice (which means a little every day – better a little every day than a whole lot once or twice a week) of scales.

In a nutshell, these benefits are:

  • Finger dexterity
  • Left and right hand coordination
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the left hand – i.e. programming in that you don’t have to press harder to get a louder volume from the guitar
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the right hand – developing your free and rest strokes
  • Developing a good quality of sound and tone production
  • Securing your knowledge of the fretboard/ fretboard geography
  • Generally facilitating an ease of playing, with things falling much easier under the fingers when you come to play your pieces without you really having to think about it.

Before I leave you to mull on that (and get to your scales and practice of course!) I do have a couple of new thoughts to add into the mix…..

Think about this for a second – what are most melodies made up of? It’s really lots of bits of parts of scales isn’t it? Perhaps just two notes in the scale then a leap of a second, third or fourth, then another grouping of part of a scale. Perhaps an arpeggio or two (which are also important to practice by the way!) in there. And then another wee scale section. Or a whole octave run.

Scales are the very foundation of the music we play. Get rock solid with your scales and I promise you your playing will become so much more secure and sight-reading will become a relative doddle. Why? Your fingers, your muscle memory, will play some things for you via somewhat of an automatic process (well, that’s what it can feel like sometimes, but takes consistent practice) and your fretboard geography will be out of sight!

I’m not saying it’ll happen overnight, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and you’ve got to start somewhere! Just start incorporating scales into your practice, that’s the important thing.

I find them so important to my general maintenance of playing, and further to that really the continued development of my playing and sound cultivation that oftentimes, even if I have only a short time to spend with the guitar practicing I’ll devote time to some mindful scale-playing.

So should you bother? Yes!

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3 thoughts on “Should I Bother Playing Scales?

  1. I absolutely agree. In additional to all the benefits listed above, perhaps one additional one is working through the scales with various right hand finger combinations, e.g., i, m; i,m,a; a, m, i; etc…and all the other possible combinations with the thumb thrown in t’boot. Timber, speed, phrasing, are all goals as mentioned above. Great article! Thanks!

  2. One additional thought I should have included in my previous note: I always begin my practice by repeating a two-octave scale up and back down the fretboard without touching my left hand thumb to the back of the neck. It’s an exercise in “gravity” or arm weight and reminds me at the outset how little pressure the left hand hand thumb should ever need to apply.

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