Scales & Why You Should Practice Them

By Casey Cormier, Guitar & Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier

“Eat your vegetables before dessert,” says Mom.  “Stretch before taking the field,” says Coach.  “Practice your scales before playing that song,” says music instructor.  What do all of these things have in common?  Many consider them boring, or unnecessary, but all are good for you!

I’ve been asked many times before, by all ages of guitar students, “do I have to play this scale?”  I always say, “You don’t have to, but your hands will thank you for it in the long run”.  Scales help stretch your fingers, improve your picking and fretting technique, and prepare your wrist for those challenging chord switches.

Of course, the ability of the student should inform what scales he/she practices.  For beginners, the C major scale is great practice for the open position natural notes, ear training (do, re, mi can be sung along to it), and outlining the C major chord.  For intermediate players, the pentatonic scales (5 notes per octave) are great for strengthening the wrist, and provide barre chord approximation as well as lead guitar preparation.  For advanced players, playing the modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and so on – is equal parts ear training, technique building, and hand strengthening.  Not sure what some of the terms above are?  Don’t worry, you’ll learn as you progress on your instrument of choice.

Scale practice of all types can become stale, so it’s important to mix it up with some exercises.  A metronome is always useful for pushing one’s abilities.  For guitarists, try string skipping, playing in 3rds (do, mi, re, fa, mi, sol), and alternate picking to keep it fresh.  No matter what, you’ll have that song to look forward to after a quick warm-up session, and be surprised by how much easier playing will become!

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