How To Play Guitar -Scale Fingerings

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When ever someone is interested in how to play guitar one of the first thing comes to mind is scales. It’s has been considered to be one of the most crucial parts of practicing your instrument. What scales do you know? In how many positions? How fast?

What’s interesting though is that even among students who come to Guitar Lessons NYC knowing some positions, they are unaware of their uses.

It seems that over the years scales are this thing guitarists go through the motions with because they hear rumors it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. In this article I’m going to break the truth about scales and their importance.

The first ting to note is that practicing scales on their own is not going to make you an amazing musician. They are a piece of the puzzle rather then the key to the puzzle. They do happen to be an important piece in how to play guitar ,but I find a lot of people misunderstand their importance.

Guitarists have a tendency to know more about scale acrobatics rather then function. Turns out that although the physicality is important the function is the real reward.

Guitarists when learning how to play guitar seem to think a few positions are the be all end all to solo theory. This is where some of the problems begin. Solely living in the physicality side (boxes) will limit ones progress.


Music theory has a tendency to be very rigid. It’s as if there is a secret law written that can’t be broken. As lot of teachers when discussing how to play guitar have the tendency to approach scales and music theory from 1 angle. The “this” is absolutely correct angle.

The truth is there are many ways to approach a scale. There isn’t one fingering that is correct for everything. Don’t let the books mislead you!! Adjustments are made all the time based on where you’re going and where you came from.

For every position of a box, I can think of multiple ways to play it depending on the expression I want to add. Bends? Slides? Pull offs?

The goal is to see scales as a tool to assist you with your ideas. Not as the Governor of Woodbury (Walking Dead Reference).

What Should Practicing Scales Provide You

The first and most important element of how to play guitar and learning scales is why they exist. Functionality. By learning scales you should understand what intervals are. You should understand the concept of what whole and half steps are. You should see how notes are laid out on the guitar across the strings. Then you should be able to see intervals mapped out on the fretboard.

This is incredibly important because scales are the building blocks of music. Without a clear understanding of scales you won’t be able to understand how chords are built. Learning a box won’t necessarily make all that clear.

Let’s Get Physical

There are benefits to practicing scales. They can help build hand coordination and build muscle memory. There is no denying thew importance of those two things in how to play guitar . But, we shouldn’t get lost in only the speed benefits.

The mental and physical should always be connected with guitar. You’re not only trying to develop your hand muscles, but also your mind (another muscle). Ideally it would be great for them to grow at the same time. Working on the physical and not the mental will create an imbalance.

This is why I’m teaching students how to play guitar we maintain a balance of the two. Everything you play, you should see in your minds eye.

The Trap

When learning how to play guitar over practicing scales out of context can lead a guitarists to a trap. Boxes on their own are nothing. They’re not musical. It’s difficult to progress your musicality if you spend too much time practicing non-musical elements.

For instance: A student came in and was pretty good at playing major scales around the guitar neck. When I played a chord sequence and asked him to solo, his ability to match notes to my chordal movement was much weaker then his ability to run the scale.

Practicing scales on their own without some support can leave you weak in your knowledge of melody and harmony. This is not the most stable footing for how to play guitar .

Shed Some Light On Me

Yes, in my lessons I don’t skip scale study. For those looking to get deeper into music I strongly urge scale study. It’s the first chapter of my own book!! My approach to it is a bit different though.

I not only have simple explanations for the function of scales but, I also have exercises designed to prevent you from getting stuck in a trap.

I tie scales to music. My exercises stress how melodies are built from scales. This also keeps scale study from becoming a total bore you feel forced to do. I want each student to know the real meaning and value of scales.

A Captive Audience

Do you ever invite your friends over, pull out your guitar and play scales for them? No way. You would lose friends pretty quickly. That’s not how to play guitar !!

Wen I solo I’m aware of scales. I’m aware of what key I’m in. What scale the melody is based from. And after all that I know what position can facilitate it best.

I’m also thinking about how I want to stress the melody because this may change my fingering for the scale position the melody is sitting in.

The scale serves my needs rather then me being tied to it.

Watching from the Sidelines

I’ve seen many students do a mind split. They let their fingers run the scale as they watch. It’s as if they’re barely involved in the process. Their fingers simply do the drill they’ve been trained. This how a lot of people learn how to play guitar .

Why is this bad?

Because the real control over your instrument happens in your mind. Your mind always has to be at the same place as you fingers!!

Contact me for more information about Guitar Courses On Scale Theory

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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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