How To Practice Scales On Guitar To Improve Your Musical Creativity

by Mike Philippov


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If you are anything like most guitar players, whenever you feel like you are out of creative ideas with practicing scales on guitar, one of the things you might do to overcome this problem is look for “new” guitar scales to learn. However, as soon as you find some new scales to practice on guitar, you quickly start to feel like you are out of ideas again and you need "more" new scales in order to explore more musical options. The result is a feeling of running on an endless treadmill that comes from not knowing how exactly to practice scales on guitar in the most effective ways.

The good news is that, like all guitar practice problems, this one too has a solution. The solution lies in having a systematic process for taking a brand new scale and learning how to mine all the creative possibilities out of it. When you have such a process in place, then learning any new scale on guitar becomes a fun and fulfilling process (and you can surprise yourself by the VAST number of creative musical ideas you can achieve with only a single scale). However if you don't know the most effective way to practice scales on guitar, then you will often end up in a situation described above and frustration and disappointment will inevitably follow.

In this article I will give you a general outline of the most important things you must do when learning new scales on guitar so that you can get the most out of your guitar practice time. In addition, you can watch a free video lesson about how to practice guitar scales that will show you how to apply the points in this article to get more out of the time you spend practicing guitar scales.

Here are the 5 most important things that you need to know about practicing scales on guitar that will improve your musical creativity.

1. Master The Fundamentals Of Guitar Scales

The first step of learning how to practice scales on guitar is to make a list of what scales are the most common in your style of guitar playing. This will tell you exactly what scales you should focus your guitar practice time on and will prevent you from becoming distracted with guitar scales that are not relevant to the music you want to play. It can take several months (or more) to truly feel comfortable with using a particular scale in your guitar playing . If you feel bored with using a new scale on guitar after only 3-4 weeks (or less) of practicing it, it is a sign that you haven't yet explored all the creative possibilities that exist within that scale. Before jumping into the most exotic and rarely used scales on guitar, you should spend enough time practicing the most important guitar scales that are used in all types of music. In particular, you should focus on the Major scale and the minor Pentatonic scale. These are the fundamental guitar scales that every guitarist must not only "be able to play", but also to apply in any soloing situation fluently. Of course learning how to play new scales on guitar is a good way to increase your musical creativity, but this should only be done after you have exhausted ALL creative possibilities from the scales you already know, rather than as a knee jerk reaction that comes from not knowing how to practice guitar scales. There are 2 main ways to find the list of scales that you really MUST learn for your style of music. The first (and the fastest) way is to ask a guitar teacher or a more experienced guitar player to simply tell you what they are. Another way is to do a lot of transcribing of your favorite music to find the answer for yourself (more on that below).

2. Practice Scales All Over The Guitar Fretboard

One of the most common mistakes that guitarists make when learning to play new scales on guitar is only practicing the scale in a single area of the fretboard. A classic example of this is learning the A minor pentatonic scale shape starting at the 5th position (fret) of the guitar but not learning any of the other positions of that scale on the guitar neck. The truth is that ANY scale can be played in every area of the guitar, regardless of what the key is. More importantly, you can get A LOT more creative ideas for soloing when you know how to play a single scale in every position on guitar fluently, than you can from knowing 50 scales all in a single area of the guitar fretboard. To learn more about how to become fluent with playing scales all over the fretboard, watch this free video on how to practice guitar scales.

3. Transcribe Your Favorite Guitar Solos And Analyze What Scales Make Them Up

In addition to your regular practicing of scales on guitar, you should allocate some time to learning how the scales you practice are applied in music. One of the ways to do this is to learn to play your favorite guitar solos (by ear) and analyze them to observe what scales are used to create the melodies and phrases that you like.

Doing this will help you to see how the scales you are practicing can be used to improve your musical creativity and will also help you to identify any new scales you may need to practice for playing in your favorite musical style(s).

Even if you already have a guitar teacher who can quickly tell you what scales you need to practice on guitar, there is a lot to be gained by practicing transcribing your favorite guitar solos to see how these scales are used in real musical contexts.

4. Practice Scales On Guitar Laterally (Side To Side) In Addition To Vertically (Up And Down)

The majority of musicians only practice guitar scales in one way: by playing them from the sixth (thickest) string to the first string (in other words: vertically). Although this is a fine way to practice guitar scales, this is not the only approach you should use to completely master a certain scale on guitar. You must also make time to practice the scale you are learning on guitar on every string from the first fret to the last fret (moving laterally or "horizontally" across the guitar neck). This will make it much easier to visualize the scale in every position on the guitar. All great guitarists are able to maintain this awareness when they use any scale in their music.

5. Do NOT Follow The CAGED System

Although very commonly taught, the CAGED system is a highly limiting method of practicing guitar scales and approaching guitar soloing in general. The most glaring weakness of this system when it comes to scales is that it forces you to only think about guitar in vertical "sections/patterns" that are completely dependent on arbitrary visual chord “shapes” instead of having a complete mental understanding of how and why scales work in music and being able to visualize the entire fretboard when you play guitar. If you want to truly master using scales as a musician and feel completely FREE when you create your own guitar solos, stay away from the CAGED method. All great guitar players are able to fully use the entire neck of the guitar in a very fluid way because they all have a much more comprehensive (and intuitive) understanding of how to visualize scale shapes on guitar than the CAGED system is able to provide. Learning guitar via the CAGED method attempts to create a “shortcut” to mastering scales on guitar, but the fact is that unless you truly understand how and WHY scales work on a general, musical level you will be forever limiting your guitar playing creativity in very severe ways. The good news is that the most effective way of learning to play scales on guitar is not any harder to learn (and is in some ways much easier to master) than the CAGED system.

If you haven't yet watched the video about the most effective way of practicing scales on guitar that I mentioned at the beginning of this article I highly recommend to do so now to learn how to avoid the crippling musical restrictions that the CAGED system brings.  

The most important thing to realize is that (as with everything in music) there are different ways of practicing scales on guitar and some ways are far more effective than others. If you are unhappy with the results you have been getting in this area of your guitar playing, use the advice you have learned in this article and in the free video above to begin making faster progress from practicing guitar scales.

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