5 important tips for learning guitar scales and improving your solos

Musician and blogger Alex Frank has outlined five important things that every guitarist should do to make sure they’re making the most out of their newly-learnt scale to help improve their performance, creativity and solo building…


If you ever tried to master new scales on guitar, you’ve probably learned it, practiced for a few days, and then got bored and wanted to move on to some new scales.

While this is very common amongst guitar players, most don’t actually know what to do with the scales they’ve learned and they think that they are done with the learning as soon as they have memorised all the notes in the scale and practiced briefly.

The truth is, this can actually restrict you in many ways. It can limit your creativity by limiting the ways you can use the scales in your solos.

Luckily, there are some better ways for practicing guitar scales that can be quite helpful and enable you to get the best out of your time spent practicing. It’s very important that you explore all the possibilities that the new scale you’ve learned has to offer before you switch to practicing the next one.

If you do this, you will be amazed by how much more fun you’ll have while practicing, and how many more possibilities will open for you.

Here are five very important things that you need to do after you finish the initial step of memorising the notes in the scale:

1. Don’t do it randomly

There are numerous scales in music and it’s very important that you organise yourself and decide which scales are more important to learn first. The best way to get organised is to make a list of the scales that are most common in your genre. Learn these first and don’t move on to learning new obscure and exotic scales until you have mastered the essentials.

This doesn’t mean just being able to play them but you also need to be skillful enough to use these scales freely anytime and in any musical context.

Now, of course, it is useful to learn other scales too because they can add some unusual and exotic sound to your music, but you will not benefit from those scales unless you have already mastered the basics and you are sure that your way of learning is effective.

If you are not completely sure which scales are most commonly used in your genre you can always ask a guitar teacher, a more skilled guitar player or simply research a bit online.

2. Use the entire fretboard

This is actually the most common mistake and a lot of guitar players do this – they play the scales in a single area of their guitar. Most typically, blues and rock guitarist always play the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth fret position and never try to learn it in any other position.

This mistake disables you from using the scale’s full potential. To avoid this, you need to take your time and learn every scale in every possible position on your fretboard. The fact is, you can write more expressive music with just one scale that you can play on your entire fretboard than you can with a bunch of scales that you can play in a single position.

3. Listen to your favourite solos and try to focus on the scales used in them

Other than practicing, you also need to spend some time observing and analysing your favourite guitar players and the ways in which they use the scales in their music. The way you will do this depends on your skill level.

If you are a bit more skillful, you can transcribe the solos by ear and then analyse them, which would be ideal. But you can also use tabs.

This is, furthermore, excellent ear training and it can enable you to see how the scales can be used to form melodies and solos.

Aside from the list of scales you intend to learn, you will also learn a lot by doing this excerise.

4. Avoid the CAGED

This system is very popular amongst guitar teachers but not very popular amongst guitar virtuosos ¬– and there’s a good reason for that: This system restricts you from using scales freely.

We can go on until tomorrow about the flaws of this system, but to put it bluntly, it’s the most flawed system out there. It’s not based on how the scales work for all instruments and it’s made to create shortcuts by exploiting a few illogical and isolated visual shapes on the guitar.

Furthermore, this system only works in standard tuning and becomes totally useless if you use a drop or open tuning.

This system completely cripples guitar players. It restricts them from using scales all over the guitar like players that have a complete and real understanding of scales can.

Luckily, the complete and efficient ways of practicing scales are no more difficult to learn than this system.

5. Practice how to play scales on a single string

Most guitar players know how to play scales vertically, and are comfortable with these ‘scale shapes’. This is, of course, a very important way of playing the scales, but it is also quite important that learn how to play the scales on each string from the first fret to the last fret.

Learning to play from side-to-side across the guitar neck will help you to picture the scales in every position, even when you start to play your phrase from any string other than 6th.

Conclusion

There are numerous ways to learn guitar scales, and these five are just some of them. Some approaches are more effective than others, so watch lots of guitarists and tutorial videos and find the approach that suits you the most.

Alex Frank has worked in the sound technology industry for over 10 years and is a musician and blogger. You can find his work at musicinstrumentscenter.com