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Blues Guitar Institute

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Guitar Scales: Are You Practicing This Way?

Lesson ID: TB257

It’s easy to get stuck in boxes and patterns on the fingerboard.

In this lesson, we’ll take a look at 5 different ways to practice the major scale to help you break out of box patterns.

First, let’s have a look at the basic 3 string “box” pattern that is most likely the first major scale pattern you learned.  We’ll use A major (A B C# D E F# G#) as an example throughout this lesson.

Certainly, this pattern is usable and it is fantastic for beginners.  But it shouldn’t be the only way you play the scale.  Practicing the scale several different ways leads to a deeper understanding of the scale and more versatility on the fretboard.

The more comfortable you are playing the scale in different positions and moving in different directions, the easier it will be to make music with the scale. Let’s take a look at another way to practice your scales that will get you moving around the fretboard and seeing the scale differently.

Once String Scale

I’ve said this before and it’s because I believe in it so much. If you’re not practicing your scales on one string, you are missing out.

We can play the A major scale beginning on the open 5th string which is tuned to A.  We’ll move up the scale from there using our pattern of whole steps and half steps:  WWHWWWH

Practicing scales this way helps you visualize the gaps between the notes which are the very essence of the scale itself.

Crossing strings can confuse the physical space between intervals on the fretboard.  In contrast, playing on one string helps you see and feel the intervals.

Grouping Notes

Another way that helps to break free of well-worn finger patterns is to practice the scale in groups of notes.

For example, play the scale ascending but in groups of three notes like this:

Try experimenting with this grouping of three notes and your fingers will begin to get a feel for the scale rather than just a fretboard pattern.  An added benefit is that your ear will hear the intervals a bit more acutely.  Try descending through the scale as well.

It’s important to note that you don’t want to create a new pattern to get stuck in out of this exercise.  Shake things up by moving on to groups of 4 and then 5 notes once you are comfortable with the 3 note group in the example.

Two Notes Per String

Placing strategic limitations on yourself during practice can yield fantastic results.  For this exercise, try playing through the scale but only playing two notes per string.  Resist the temptation to play three notes on any string and you’ll find yourself moving to a different part of the neck in no time.

This quickly gets you out of the box position at the 5th fret.

Three Notes Per String

Next, let’s only play the scale using a three-note per string fingering.  In this example, we’ll cover two full octaves.

If the stretch is too difficult, try this strategy for working your way up to tough stretches:

How To Nail The Long A Stretch

MOST IMPORTANTLY:  Clearly, if the stretch causes pain, stop.  You don’t want to injure your hand leading to time off of your practice routine or potentially something much worse.

Restricted Improvising

This final exercise is a fun one and it will have you practicing the scale in a musical way.

Improvise using the scale on one string, but restrict the notes that you play to no more than two in a row from this scale. For example, if you play an A and then move to B, choose another note besides the C# since that would be three in a row from the scale

This will have your hand jumping around the fretboard in new ways and your ear will start to notice different intervals that you don’t normally hear when you’re running scales in a pattern.

Give these things a try and let me know if it helps.

I definitely want to hear from you in the comments below.  Good luck with your major scale practice and…

Play on!

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

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