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Should I Learn Guitar Scales?

Hey there, over the years I've had many students and I've heard also people write comments "Should I learn guitar scales? I'm just starting out. Should I only learn scales when I first starting? Or do I really have to learn scales?" So first of all, the short answer is yes and sometimes no. Certainly, scales are the building blocks of music. They're the sort of the vocabulary that music is built off of and certainly if you want to improvise they're one of the main  tools for improvisation.

Let me talk about several of the reasons why you should learn scales but then I'll also tell you when you should not be focusing on scales. So first of all to start off, scales make good exercises to train your fingers. They're a great way to especially if you practice them slowly and accurately to get your fingers in the right place next to the frets on the guitar and I consider them a great warm-up especially if you pick the right scales for your level and your interest also scales are great for learning music theory. I often have to refer to the basic major scale just to explain the foundation of music theory and from there on I'll also have to refer to like the minor scale and sometimes other scales. If you don't know how to play any scales, the sound and the mental concept they don't line up. You need to hear what we're talking about when we're talking about music theory to really be helpful anyway. Also, scales help train your ears. 

When you play scales they train your ear to hear the notes that kinda belong together in a key.

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When you play scales they train your ear to hear the notes that kind of belong together in a key. We'll talk about that in another video. So when you play a minor scale little by little your ear will start to kind of memorize the distances between notes that make that sound, the minor sound. Also when you play a major scale you'll little by little get the idea of what it really takes to create that major sound. Being able to play at least some scales will help you tremendously when you go to either play melodies or create your own melodies which is something I love to do. And finally, scales are one of the main tools you use for improvisation soloing and taking a solo either on electric or acoustic guitar.

Now you're also going to want to learn things like licks and arpeggios and other little patterns but scales are a big part of understanding and when I say learning scales I mean the type of scales that's appropriate for whatever style or whatever level you are in improvising.

So when is learning scales a problem? Well the first one is when you don't know why you're learning a scale or what its for.  I've seen people who can play a bunch of scales or play one scale and many patterns all up and down but they can't really use it for anything. That's not the best use of your time or energy and it's certainly not going to make you a great musician. Learn a scale and then practice it first of all as an exercise just do it slowly and accurately then learn to use it in some form or fashion. 

And next, it's not a good idea to learn skills if you're slopping through them and not playing them either accurately with good technique or with good timing just kind of speeding up and slowing down that's gonna create a habit that'll be hard to break later. Learn just enough scales that you can actually play correctly and properly slowly at first and pick up the speed. If you find yourself tensing stop, relax and slow down. And finally, if scales are taking up all or most of your practice time that's too much that's very unlikely where you should be spending your time. Scales are just a part of the whole pattern.

Now if you're learning folk style and singer/songwriter style probably a very small portion it'll help you with melodies and with the theory but it's not you're not gonna improvise. If you are gonna improvise probably a little bit more and that would approach it by learning the appropriate scales for the styles of music I like. If it's rock, blues, start off with a minor pentatonic scale. If you're playing rock in general and some of that's kind of major sounding add the major pentatonic. If you're doing folk style and you just want scales for the basic exercise and for theory I would go with a basic C major scale and then maybe expand on that a little bit. Start doing some of the other main keys that you're playing in. 

Thank you for joining me. I'm Tomas Michauld from Real Guitar it's been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing you again. Please leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up if you're on YouTube or anywhere else you can do that and let me know if there's another video or lesson you'd like to see me make. Bye for now.

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  1. Thanks for helpful info. Practice, play it correctly, Listen to how it sounds. GREAT advise what ever level.. Appreciate these HELPFUL Videos and messages.

  2. Hi Tomas, i play a few scales before i play any repertoire. Scales help me to loosen up my fingers. Scales can be useful to strengthen the fingers when you have to stretch your left hand to play certain classical guitar pieces. But if you’re just into strumming folk songs, then perhaps scales are not that important. Scales for sure are not musically attractive, only technically useful

  3. I like to play with the radio but some times I don’t know what key there in. Is there an easy way to tell what the key there in and what cards to play. thanks.

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