Question on Scales

Got a question from Rich on another post:

“I have been really practicing scales recently as many people have told me of the importance of this… and from what you have said here that seems like good advice.

“I have a question though as I read in one guitar book that constant repetition of a scale pattern is, whilst important, not what I am supposed to be doing, but instead applying that pattern to the instrument as a whole to gain a better understanding of the way the scale moves across the whole guitar neck. I wonder how to learn a pattern back to front, but then change it to move it to a different set of frets that the pattern originally taught.

“Am I missing something?”

This question came in the comments and I wanted to address in detail.

Scales can be used for many things on the guitar. Most rock or jazz guitarists will use scales for improvising, etc. Classical guitarists tend to them of them as technical exercises.

As a technical exercise scales can be used for (talking about traditional Segovia Scales):

  • coordination of the two hands
  • practice shifting
  • speed development – to a certain point
  • practicing rest or free stroke
  • practicing RH alternation

The list could probably go on. But scales can also be used to begin to understand more about the fretboard. Noticing where the half and whole steps are, noticing where and how shifts are made, noticing interval structures and what they look like on the guitar are all steps to using scales for things other than technique. Simply noticing that a major scale is always the same series of half and whole steps is a leap forward in musical and fretboard understanding.

Essentially the question above is a question of goals. As I’ve discussed before, having a goal is extremely important. So, no, Rich, you’re not missing anything. You’ve just seen two side to the same coin in the various things you’ve read. But it’s up to a player to decide how they’d like to use scales. If it’s for pure technical purposes, repetition and clean playing becomes more important that understand what is going on note-wise. In other words, the scale becomes a purely a finger pattern rather than a series of specific notes in a given key. I would say that it’s best not to mix two things together. Pick one goal and pursue it specifically for a while, then switch gears. This can even be in the same practice session. Like everything else, it’s better to separate ideas than to try and do both.

Hope this helps!

Posted on in Classical Guitar Technique


  • clarence gilbert lore
    clarence gilbert lore

    that was great info on scales. go for one at a time. wow. that sure makes it easier. then switch back. so simple but so complex to a novice. thanks so much. teacher never advised on that one.