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How Scales Work on the Guitar...

 

HOW SCALES WORK ON THE GUITAR:

Q: How Do Scales Work on the Guitar?
About a year ago, I began studying guitar after playing piano for six years. I was wondering if you could quickly explain how scales work on the guitar, because I am finding it quite different compared to the piano.
~ Shannon

A: I imagine you are confused about how the scales are laid out on guitar, as opposed to how they are laid out on the piano. And, this makes sense to me, because I also play piano, and the keyboard, as opposed to a fret-board, really has two different things going on.  Scales on the piano's keyboard are laid out in terms of how the accidentals. (sharps and flats), operate alongside of the natural notes of the scale you are playing. On piano, you study a lot about hand positions and fingerings for scales since these positions and fingerings change when you switch to different keys. However, when you begin studying scales on the guitar the fingerings do not change when you switch to different keys.

 

Fingerings for scales on the guitar remain the same once you have established a tonality. For example; the fingering for a sixth string root “G major scale” would be exactly the same for every other major scale based off of the sixth string. Scales on the guitar are nothing more than fingering patterns.  A student of the guitar could learn all of the scale patterns across the entire guitar neck for either a major, or a minor scale, without ever knowing what the specific notes were that they were playing. This is very different as opposed to many other instruments. Guitar players are notorious for not knowing the notes on their fret-board's, and this might have a lot to do with how shape and pattern oriented the guitar fret-board is laid out.

Because of how pattern and shape oriented the guitar fret board is, I believe it is very important to constantly study music reading on the guitar. There is no better method for learning the notes on your fret-board then by studying music reading. Too many students of the guitar tend to rely far too heavily on tablature alone. I believe that in this modern age of guitar playing, one must develop a keen sense of abilities for reading; tablature, music notation, and chord charts to be well rounded.

In studying the scales on the guitar fret-board, I would highly recommend learning the five octave pattern system. This five octave pattern learning method is an excellent way that you can use to first map, then template, regions of your guitar fret-board off of root notes for learning any; scale, chord, or arpeggio.

how scales work

So, just like on piano, you need to develop fingerings for scales when studying them on the guitar.  Only now, the difference with doing this on the guitar becomes the fact that the scale patterns are shapes specifically oriented to tonality, (major & minor sounds). Whereas, on the piano keyboard, the shapes you learn are specifically oriented toward the scales *key signature, (*the accidentals found in a particular scale).

In wrapping up, I would like to mention how important I believe that it is to use the scales as soon as possible to create music. One of the most common things I see happening in my studio are students involved in classes studying scales, who comment on the fact that they had learned scales before, but they forgot all of them.

Please keep in mind that we study the scales not only to develop technique, but to use them to make music. As quickly as you possibly can, begin using the scales to create music, and make a study of harmony. If you know and understand keys and the chords that fit inside them, you will be able to use scales to create music.  And, once you begin down this path, you will most certainly never forget your scales.