how to practice scales properly will help you navigate them more
fluidly and musically.
There are two elements at play here - the
physical and theoretical aspects of scale navigation.
getting your fingers used to both vertical and horizontal movements
across the fretboard. The theoretical
involves knowing how to move between the key intervals of a scale
beyond mere guesswork.
series will guide you through how to apply both these elements
effectively in your scale practice. By the end, you'll have a solid
process for practicing guitar scales and a variety of exercises to
develop your speed, timing, technique and even just for warming up.
to practice scales using a metronome
it's crucial that you use a metronome
when you practice guitar scales,
or any lick, in order to develop your speed gradually. Jumping straight
in at higher tempos will not only prove difficult, but will also
neglect developing your timing and technique at slower tempos
which is just as important.
In a nutshell - start slow and only speed up when you can play
at the current tempo.
(beats per minute) should I start at?
Whatever feels comfortable. However, in this example, we're starting at
This is a good base tempo for developing our timing.
It may sound slow, but as we progress we'll be cramming more and more
notes between each beat.
So, set your metronome to 80 BPM. We'll be using alternate picking for these
this process applies to every single scale (or lick) you want to
master, but for this example we'll be using Dorian - a commonly used
minor scale. The fingering for its first position pattern is shown
The first exercise is very simple (and a bit dull, but essential!).
Move up and down the scale in a linear sequence starting at whichever
fret you choose.
With the metronome at 80 BPM, start with one note every beat (click).
This is known as playing quarter
The note should last the duration between each click. Count in groups
of 4 (known as 4/4 time). This will help you when you later come to
accenting notes on certain beats.
this is VERY slow, but we're just getting our fingers familiar with the
scale pattern. This is important for developing muscle memory. It also
trains our ears to the tonality of the scale.
When you can play
up and down the scale with clean and even note separation, without any
mistakes, move the metronome up another 10 BPM (so we'd be at 90 BPM in
this example) and play the same sequence.
If you're already
getting bored (and if you're like me, you will!), try moving around the
scale in more interesting,
non-linear ways and introduce phrasing
to your scale movements. For example, the below tab incorporates
(moving up/down a string on the same fret) as
well as horizontal movements and a bit of string skipping...
So we're exploring the scale's tonality at the same time as
building up our physical confidence with it. We'll look more at actual
harmony when learning how to practice scales over chords. Combining
harmony with fluid movements across the fretboard is a key scale
Keep notching up the metronome in increments
of 10 BPM,
but only do so when you're 100% confident with the current tempo.
Challenge yourself by navigating up and down the scale in unusual ways.
We'll add more structure to these movements in later parts.
Once you comfortably get to around 200
BPM, bring the metronome back down to 80 for the next
We're now going to play what are known as eighth notes. This
is simply where we play two notes per click as follows...
it is literally double the speed of the first exercise, but still
comfortable. Again once you can play a variety of scale movements at
your base tempo (80 BPM in this case), push the metronome up 10 and
follow the same process.
As you approach 200 BPM, it will start
to get more challenging. Try and resist jumping ahead of yourself.
You'll likely encounter more hurdles with eighth notes and have to
longer on the higher tempos. Have patience and persistence!
Once you've mastered eighth notes at 200 BPM (or near enough) move on
to sixteenth notes
(starting back at 80 BPM) -
four notes per click...
now you can tell it's going to get a lot more challenging at the higher
tempos! Just stay focussed on your base tempo to begin with. Increments
of 10 BPM like before.
As you approach 100 BPM, you'll most
likely need to move back to more linear scale movements. That's fine.
We're just getting our timing sorted at the moment. A lot of runs and
fast legatos are played in sixteenths.
Now, this isn't
necessarily about "how fast can I play?" and remember, don't touch that
metronome until you can play at the current tempo in your sleep.
Getting to 120 BPM will be fast enough for most guitarists.
you want to shred, sixteenth notes at 160 BPM is a solid goal to work
towards. It'll take some time, but you will get there with enough
patience and persistence following this process.
tips for practicing scales with a metronome
So why have I taught you such a long, drawn out process for learning
how to practice scales with a metronome?
think of it this way. If you started at 80 BPM playing quarter notes,
and instead of increasing the metronome's tempo you went straight to
playing eighth and sixteenth notes at 80 BPM, that's too big a jump
in my opinion.
By keeping your note values constant as you push
the metronome up, you get a much more gradual increase in speed and
therefore you'll be less inclined to jump ahead of yourself. The
smoother and more subtle the transition, the easier it is for your mind
to process, and therefore your fingers to apply the increase in tempo.
Remember, any change in tempo should be based on
how confident you are with the current
You'll progress faster than you might have initially anticipated...