This Is How You Should Be Practicing Your Scales

As a guitarist, your bread and butter is the pentatonic scale, its the bare bones of every scale you will play. Every scale is derived from the five-note scale, seems simple, right?! I am saying you HAVE to learn this stuff.

Major and Minor follow a simple pattern that you can shift anywhere up and down the neck. Learning the scales can be exciting at first, that excitement usually passes after a few minutes though. We typically don’t think of practice as exciting, but it doesn’t have to be so dull. I’m going to list a few ways to keep this intriguing, to mix up the ways we practice so we can keep it fresh and stay tight!

A pentatonic scale means we’re taking five (pentatonic) notes out of the usual seven (diatonic) that make up most scales. If you’ve seen the sound of music, you’ll remember the song that goes, “Doe a deer, a female deer” that’s a major diatonic scale! We’re just picking five notes from that song. You can highlight five notes from any scale, the scales we primarily use are the major and minor. The major derives the 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 6notes from a scale. (or just the Do-Rey-Me-So-la) The minor looks like this 1 – b3 – 4 -5 – b7, means we flat the third and seventh note (or go down one fret from where it would be on the major scale). This pattern repeats up and down the neck of a guitar in what we call a box. A box is a row of notes from within a few frets (i.e., between frets 5 and 8). A box has a couple of octaves in it. If all of this seems confusing, don’t worry about it stop thinking about it and work on the pattern your fingers will fret! Once you start working on it, it’ll make sense!

  • Scales with a metronome –Ok, so this one isn’t something that will keep it feeling fresh. But it is imperative to practice with a metronome. I’ve heard someone say (… it was me) that practicing with a metronome means you’re getting twice as good, twice as fast! That’s four times as good if you’re bad at math! The metronome is your friend! It might not seem like it at first. God knows how much I hated it when I started playing. But it is essential to improving! There a few different apps you can download for a metronome. I use the app Pulseit just feels natural for me to use. You can also find an app with a looping drum beat if you can’t stand the constant click noise. Try to speed run through the scales. Set the metronome to the fast speed you can cleanly play, meaning your not missing many notes. You want to be honest with yourself. This is a neat way to measure progress. It’s not the most fun (or practical) way to practice, so check out some of the other ideas.

  • Download a jam track and groove –Going up and down the scale is good for starters, but very few songs are actually played this way (which is a good thing, haha). I’m sure you’ve heard of the term lick before. It has very little to do with your tongue in this connotation (you pervert). A lick is a series of notes that an artist will fall back on. That quick, familiar 4-2-7slid into a1that a musician will hit without thinking about it. So, how do you find the licks that you like to run? A jam track. They are easy to follow since they usually just jam on a single chord for eight minutes. I love using a jam track because they give you full reign to hit ANY note in the pentatonic scale and sound like you’re crushing it! A jam track is a private practice session where you are the star. If you youtube “Jam track key of ____,” about seven videos will pop up, you can do this in any key. Apple music/Spotify also has some jam tracks. I use Jamtracksmania on Apple music. It’s a peculiar kind of funny, but it works for me!

  • Run the exercise when you don’t have an instrument in hand –I’m sure you’ve heard the story about half of a basketball team practicing shooting free-throws and the other half the team thinking about making free throws? If you haven’t, spoiler alert, they both made the same statistical improvement. We’re going to do one better here! When you’re at school or work or are sitting in the passenger seat being driven somewhere, I want you to take your fretting hand (I’m right-handed, so I fret with my left) and wrap it around the opposing wrist. Then I follow the pattern up and down a row of the pentatonic. I saw this done in a movie called “The Soloist” with Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Fox (usually I can’t stand the acting of the latter, but he killed it in this movie) It’s quick, you can do it anywhere. It works in helping you improve!

  • The remix technique –The minor pentatonic scale is made up of the 1 – b3 – 4 -5 – b7 Getting used to the movement of the scale is a critical first step. After we feel comfortable with ascending and descending the scale patterns. We need to learn the value of each note. Meaning how it sounds juxtaposed to the root note. To do this exercise, write down a random order to these numbers (1 – b3 – 4 -5 – b7) and play them out. An example of this would be in the Key of Am b3 – b7 – 4 – 5 – 1 – 8 (the same note as a 1, but higher an octave) Do this over different box positions up and down the guitar. I think this is the best exercise to start getting a feel for the value or tone color of each note in a scale.

  • The flashcard technique –Set the metronome up for a slow tempo, start with 70 beats per minute (bpm). Every time a beat hits try to nail a different random note from one key in a pentatonic scale. When you can move around one box of the scale cleanly, then start adding octaves and maybe even ramp it up 5-10 bpm, and add in another box in that scale. Eventually, you’ll be able to play the entire fretboard without missing a note in tempo!

Remember rule number one! All of these techniques should be practiced with a metronome. I promise you will be blown away by how fast you improve when using a metronome. Don’t be discouraged! If you need any Help With The Metronome click on this link!

Everyone has a hard time with this stuff at first. I believe the most important thing is that you pick up the guitar EVERYDAY even if it’s just for thirty seconds. just holding a guitar will help you establish a habit. If you have a habit of playing, you will improve!

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