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The TRUTH about Learning Guitar
Improve Your Skills > Scales > 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 48 years, I have been a guitar teacher for 44 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. Anyone who first prepares their fingers with the Foundation Exercises in "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar", and then studies "How To Master A Scale" will have excellent left hand technique on guitar that will open the door to Mastery of Scales on guitar.

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!


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