Guitar Scales: Putting it All Together

Scales are one of the most discussed topics of guitar technique. Many believe that scale practice is the key to virtuosity. No matter what you believe, practicing scales or scale technique can have a positive effect your playing. This week on The Classical Guitar Blog we explore scales and what they mean for the classical guitarist.

Scale Practice all it’s cracked up to be?

Maybe. Segovia said that he practiced scales two hours each day. Numerous other guitarists of all genres have told stories of massive amounts of time spent on scale practice. So, do all need to that? Are we all slackers?

Maybe–I mean, I’m a slacker regardless of my scale practice habits. I look at scales this way: if I have scale practice in a piece, it will probably not be the same formula as a Segovia scale or any other scale form. In short, I would treat each scale in a piece as an individual event, because they usually are. What we’ve been discussing for the past two days has application to any scale form. The technique aspects of each hand have an effect on the efficiency with which you play any scale.

But I’m not sold on practice Segovia Scales or something similar. I am sold on practice individual things separately. Simply put: practice string crossings (both hands), shifts, RH speed bursts and things like shorter scales or 1234 exercises for hand coordination. A good technique routine would include some scale practice, but I would go crazy with it.

Some Techniques for Working Scales

  1. Double, Triple, Quadruple:
    Simple. Play a scale in eighths, triplet 8th notes then 16th notes.1,2
  2. Vary the Rhythm:
    Swing the scale! Similar to above, this is practicing a scale with different rhythms. Here’s two examples:
    This essentially like doing speed bursts. Be creative, there’s tons of rhythms. Pick a few. Most times practicing the two above really helps even out a scale.
  3. Bursts:
    Anyone can play quickly and easily. This is true when putting both hands together. Start with only a few notes of the scale. Then do three, then four notes of the scale, until the entire run is complete.3
  4. Dynamics:
    Practice Fortissimo, practice softly, practice a scale with a crescendo and decrescendo. This is all about control. It takes an amazing amount of control to pull the crescendo/decrescendo off.

1 Charles Duncan. Art of Classical Guitar Playing. (Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing).
2 Ricardo Iznaola. Kitharologus: The Path to Virtuosity. (Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications). p. 127.
3 Ibid.

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