The musical scales are the foundation and building blocks of every song and composition. It is essential for all musicians in order for them to get progress and enhance their playing capabilities and skills, whether you are a singer, instrument player, song writer, or about anything else. There are entire academic books and studies out there regarding the musical scales, including history, social relevance (for example the Arabic scales is a whole different category, with different names and notations), genre-specific scales, and when it comes to guitar, especially among beginners, they often ask and wonder how to play the scales on the guitar, or sometimes they would be more specific and ask, how to play the major Pentatonic scale on the guitar, for example.
The musical scales and their effect on your long term progress
All these are good questions, scales are really important for everyone who is thinking on getting into music even occasionally. Granted, I know some guitar players who just learned to play tabs and move their fingers on the fret board, that is okay, after all music in its core is done by heart.
However, these same guitar players often have a limited skill cap, not as creative with their playing, music composition is very difficult (and I'm not talking about creating some random chord progression), and they get no-where near a conventionally schooled guitarist who started off on a good foundation and some music theory education, followed by correct finger positioning and techniques. Almost anywhere you look in this website, I seem to always emphasize on getting a good foundation on guitar, just like anything else in life, and in the Reviews – Courses and Lessons section above, you can find good reliable online programs that cover every aspect of learning the guitar, including the scales, that I have personally examined and researched, and wrote reviews about. Go there now or after finishing reading this post and choose whatever suits you.
Keep in mind that I will add new guitar teaching programs to that page if needed or if I stumble across an extremely good program that I don't want you to miss. So check back later on the Courses and Lessons page if you're interested in being updated on that matter.
Just to give you a slight look into the scales or what it takes to play them
I broke them down to several points below:
- DEFINITION: According to the free dictionary, the musical scale is as follows:
I will add: a musical scale CANNOT have duplicate or same notes.
- You don't have to be a professor in music theory to know the musical scales, and you certainly don't need to know all of them if you are going to play an instrument.
- However, having basic knowledge on the subject is really essential, maybe not for a beginner, but just a level above.
- A professional guitar teacher is always the best option for getting you started on building that strong foundation when deciding to play an instrument. That strong foundation includes, among other basic things, the musical scales and how to play them the correct way. Click here for recommended programs reviews.
- Check the wiki here about the list of musical scales, it is not a full list but kind of covers a good amount of them, pay special attention to the Chromatic scale (used commonly in Jazz, and it includes every possible note in a scale), and the Pentatonic scale (the major Pentatonic scale).
- The Pentatonic Scale (with all its variations) is by far the most popular scale on guitar, it is primarily used in Rock and Blues music genres. Most guitarists and novice players, pick the pentatonic scale as their first training target and solo play, because it is relatively easy to play, very entertaining, and you probably have a favorite song that you want to play some day, if it is not jazz, then very likely it's on the Pentatonic scale.
- Each scale consists of a set number of notes per octave, and can be played on all the octaves to produce a higher or a lower pitch sound. The Pentatonic for example, contains 5 notes per octave. the Hexatonic contains 6, and so on
- All the rock n roll music (past and present) is based upon the Pentatonic scale and its variations. You name it … Jimmy Hendrex, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Guns ‘n Roses, Chuck Berry, etc etc …
- Continue below …
How to efficiently practice the musical scales on guitar
Practicing the scale (start with the Pentatonic scale) would be both in ascending and descending manners, start SLOWLY and increase speed gradually as you improve. After you master it (shouldn't take much long really), you start making patterned variations. For example, instead of playing the whole notes one by one in ascending and descending manners, keep the same practice but now play the first note in the scale, followed by the third, then back to the second note, then the forth, and so on in ascending and descending manners. A good demonstration shown in the video below:
After that, use your imagination to create your own variant drills and master them, add your own fills in between, you can also incorporate techniques like slides and hammer-ons/hammer-offs etc, all this will help implant the whole image and nature of the scale in your mind.
When done practicing the scale and you think you know the scale well enough, it is time to pick a song based on the Pentatonic scale (any rock song you could think of), preferably a song that you like, and start practicing the song. At first, play without tempo at your own pace, get to know the song, play it really slow, and start going faster as you start playing it better and better, and when you reach the right speed, it is time to play the song with real tempo with you following along. Preferably with a metronome! (for a list of recommended metronomes and why a metronome is important, check out the interview here). Also, you might want to check this Bluetooth wearable metronome by Soundbrenner Pulse, if you're looking for a more convenient, less annoying, click-free metronome, but costs more money.
NOTE: DO NOT sacrifice speed for accuracy. Accuracy always come first! play the song accurately with a specific tempo, then increase the tempo a little bit and continue practicing until you achieve accuracy again, and so on. Playing the song fast with less than 90% accuracy might be “okay” for you in your own bedroom, but if you are to play it in front of anybody, 90% accuracy is very noticeable for the normal ear. I would say a couple of notes off is considered to be O.K in a live performance.
What's the big deal with the scales? just give me the tabs and I will play the song.
While this is a true statement, you can play a song counting only on the tabs, this way of thinking is limited and won't get you far and make you achieve progress.
Say you are asked to perform a solo play, or play along a certain melody, and basically all you did so far is reading tabs for specific songs and practicing them (which is totally fine in the early stages of your training, and by all means do that). Guess what, you won't be able to. Because you don't know the notes of the scale. Playing solo and improvising is all about focusing and letting out your imagination, if you don't know the notes of that specific scale that the background music is playing, your brain simply “don't have enough data” in order to give you ideas what to play. Learning a certain musical scale is similar to creating a picture. When you are about to perform a solo play on that scale, your brain will keep focus on that picture (scale), and start adding or changing few stuff here, few there, without losing the original identity of the picture (scale), and when you progress you will learn additional licks and drills that you can incorporate into that picture and all of a sudden, you find yourself playing along any melody comfortably with ease.
Aside from the ability to improvise and jam along any melody, knowing the scales well enough will make you less pron to mistakes and performance errors, and allows you to develop a better musical ear, because when you are playing any song or any kind of melody, it is not just some random notes put together, they all are based on some scale or another, and if you already know the scale of the song you are playing, you are less likely to make mistakes and deviate from the initial scale of the song. Cool right?
So, in conclusion …
as a beginner, it is okay to focus first on handling the guitar and hand positioning, learn the chords and play some tabs, and have fun. But you should know by now the importance of learning the musical scales for your progress and enhancing your playing techniques and becoming a better musician overall. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to type them below and I will reply to you whenever I can. Good luck!