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The TRUTH about Learning Guitar
 
Improve Your Skills > For All Styles > Why You Can't Play Fast Scales On Guitar
Why You Can't Play Fast Scales On Guitar



Scary Scales !!

 

One of the most frightening moments I have as a teacher is when I have a new student in front of me, and I am checking to see what shape their playing technique is in. What I usually do is ask the student to play a scale; that will tell me the whole story. Unfortunately, it is usually a sad story, in fact, it is often a horror story!

With straining fingers and hunched shoulders, many students valiantly try to get their fingers where they need to go when they need to go there. Many have apparent success up to a certain speed, and then the problems set in. Weak notes, missing notes, out of rhythm notes-all stemming from the same set of problems. And unknown to the player, those problems began as soon as they tried to play their first scale, which for some players, was their first guitar lesson, as some incredibly ignorant teacher who should be sued for mal-practice scribbled a bunch of scales in a notebook!

The fact is that no one should begin to practice scales until a number of preliminary skills have been developed, and not until the physical apparatus itself, the muscles, ligaments, and sensory awareness have been correctly initiated and oriented. I am not exaggerating when I say this is never done. I have been a guitar student for 37 years, I have been a guitar teacher for 33 years, I have read hundreds of method books, I have known many, many guitar teachers: I have never seen it done.

And that is why I have seen all the horror stories I have seen, and starred in a few myself!

One of the most frightening moments I have as a teacher is when I have a new student in front of me, and I am checking to see what shape their playing technique is in. What I usually do is ask the student to play a scale; that will tell me the whole story. Unfortunately, it is usually a sad story, in fact, it is often a horror story!

With straining fingers and hunched shoulders, many students valiantly try to get their fingers where they need to go when they need to go there. Many have apparent success up to a certain speed, and then the problems set in. Weak notes, missing notes, out of rhythm notes-all stemming from the same set of problems. And unknown to the player, those problems began as soon as they tried to play their first scale, which for some players, was their first guitar lesson, as some incredibly ignorant teacher who should be sued for mal-practice scribbled a bunch of scales in a notebook!

The fact is that no one should begin to practice scales until a number of preliminary skills have been developed, and not until the physical apparatus itself, the muscles, ligaments, and sensory awareness have been correctly initiated and oriented. I am not exaggerating when I say this is never done. I have been a guitar student for 37 years, I have been a guitar teacher for 33 years, I have read hundreds of method books, I have known many, many guitar teachers: I have never seen it done.

And that is why I have seen all the horror stories I have seen, and starred in a few myself!

The only players who become able to play solid, fast scales are the lucky and talented ones who have managed to figure out all the pieces that must be mastered and pieced together in order to perform the complex action of playing scales. That does not have to be the case anymore, anyone can develop the necessary skills to play solid, fast scales, in any style of music. That is because I have just released, in the GuitarPrinciples member area, "Beyond The Walking Exercises: Toward Mastery of Scales". (excerpt from lesson below)

Yes, I have laid out all the pieces, and I am showing you how to put it together. But, you need to understand that this lesson can only be used correctly by someone who has worked with The Principles and all the left hand exercises in The Principles. All of the left hand work in The Principles gives you the necessary preparation for playing scales that I mentioned earlier. That preparation consists of some extremely basic skills, the first of which is how to touch a guitar string with a finger!

Yes, many players do not actually know how to touch a guitar string correctly! They are not aware of the various states the finger goes through in touching a string and pressing it to a fret. They are also not aware of the various states the arm goes through. No one can play well and develop correctly without knowing these things. That is why they are in The Principles and that is why they make it possible to use and benefit from the lesson on scales.

As Segovia said, "learning the guitar is a step by step process" and that is very true. Unfortunately, no one has ever discovered all the steps and put them in the proper order, until now. All you get are random and incomplete pieces all over the place. I hope you appreciate this fact, and can also recognize the difference in how GuitarPrinciples goes about doing things!

Segovia also said "a greater number of technical problems are solved by the study of scales than by any other exercise". True again, because, as I said, scales put together so many vital and basic guitar playing skills. What Segovia didn't tell you is that it is almost impossible to gain the skills necessary to play scales by just practicing scales! The way the average person practices scales builds so many problems into the fingers that scale practice generally does more harm (to technique) than good.

I will leave you with something that I just read on our forum. By an incredible coincidence, one of our Principled Teachers, Paul Bone from Vidalia Georgia, just reported overhearing a lesson in a music store. The scene illustrates perfectly everything I have said about the usual guitar instruction. Paul reports....

" I just came back from a 10 day road trip to SC, and while in Charleston SC, visited a small music store, which turned out to be a guitar lesson in progress and not much of a store..I asked if I could watch and listen...

The student, a child, couldn't even play a decent chord and the teacher was working him on learning the G major 2nd position scale too...The poor boy's hands and fingers were flailing wildly, not having a clue what they were doing...

You could see the tension, and the child was playing with his left elbow resting on his left thigh... The teacher acted as tho he was insulted and started telling me how good he(the teacher ) was, and that is the way he was taught and that it is better for the kid to do things now that he can't do, so he will learn them better later...

I told him of the principles and left him the website...But I still can hardly believe what other teachers are teaching and how....I literally got sick watching this lesson...I was shaking my head in disbelief and told the teacher that he was going to cripple the young player."

And that, folks, is a real live scene from a typical guitar lesson! I know it is hard to believe, but I am not making this stuff up! Paul is exactly right, this student is in the process, most likely, of being crippled for his guitar playing life. As I wrote in The Principles, many teachers use the "sink or swim" method. They give the student something to play, regardless of any evidence of preparedness on the students part, and sit back to see if they drown or not. Most do. It sounds like this one was definitely in need of a life-guard!

 

 

 

An Excerpt From "Beyond The Walking Exercises" Toward Mastery Of Scales

Like the Walking Exercises themselves, and all the exercises that lead up to them, this lesson is absolutely essential for all guitarists, regardless of style. All styles of guitar use scales, and the fingers must be trained for full strength, flexibility, and independence whether we play rock, jazz, folk, or classical.

After going into great detail about exactly how to develop the skills that lie between the Walking Exercises and actual scales, we begin our first actual scale. That scale is the 2nd position G major scale, which I have chosen for a number of reasons.

One, it stays in one position. Position shifts are a separate skill, and should not be combined with scales at first (as they are in Segovia's collection for classical guitarists).

Two, this scale does not have out of position stretches that many scales have, and so the most common finger actions are worked on and developed. All fingers are developed evenly, especially the weak pinky. Third, in the awkward movement from the 2nd to the 3rd string, where many people stumble as the fingers start the new string with the 2nd finger instead of the 1st finger, it is a good opportunity to teach a number of special techniques for negotiating such passages, and these techniques can be applied to an infinite number of similar passages.

Detailed instructions are given for each note of the scale, all 29 of them. Commonly, when students learn this and other scales, no instructions are given (as in Paul's report above). I tell you what to do with every finger during the playing of every note! Going down the scale is vastly different (for the fingers) than going up the scale. The technical requirements, and the proper finger behavior, must be understood.

Here is something to think about. People travel thousands of miles, and pay lots of money for personal instruction from me. One of the things everyone gets is the knowledge that is in this lesson. I give it to everyone I teach, because I consider it mandatory for all students. Of course, I would like to see you in person too, but until I do, here is something I would teach you if you were here!

Here is the whole scale. I am playing it at 150 bpm.....

 

Note 1: Place a light 2 on the G note, with the other fingers in “all aboard” position on the 6 th string. Then, move 1 over to the next string, and leave it waiting lightly on the 5th string, 2nd fret. We do not need it until the 3 rd note.

Do a string push down with 2. Lift 3 and 4, and play the G.

Note 2: Touch the A note lightly with 4, do a string push down. Release pressure with 2. Play the A. 1 is still down on the 5th string.

Note 3: 1 is already on the B. Begin to shift weight to 1, release 2 and 4, and bring them over to the 5th string, waiting above as 1 plays. Be aware of the different feeling in the shoulder as a result of having shifted weight from 4 to 1. Play the B. Follow general instructions given above.

Note 4: Touch the C note lightly with 2, then slowly push it to the fret. Release pressure with 1, but keep it lightly on the string. Play the C. Make sure 4 stays out and over the 5th fret.

Note 5: Touch the D note lightly with 4. Release pressure with 2. Keep it very low or lightly grazing the string. 1 is still lightly touching the string with only enough pressure to give a feeling of balance and support between 1 and 4 on the string. Play the D. Follow general instructions.

Note 6: Keep the weight on 4 while you move 1 over to the next string. Shift weight to 1, and release the weight from 4. Bring other fingers over the 4 th string, close to string, spread out, but relaxed. Play the E note.

Note 7: Touch the F# lightly with 3 then slowly push it to the fret. WATCH 4 AS YOU DO SO, KEEP IT LOW AND RELAXED. You may have to go super slow for this. Release pressure with 1 but keep it on the string lightly. 1 is still lightly touching the string. Play the F#. Follow general instructions

Note 8: Touch the G lightly with 4 then slowly push it to the fret, simultaneously releasing the pressure of 3 on the F#. Be aware of the feeling of balance in the left hand as 1 and 3 remain lightly on the strings. Play the G.

 



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IN THIS SECTION
Are Your Guitar Exercises REALLY Helping You?
Why You Can't Play Fast Scales On Guitar
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