Want to Learn Lead Guitar and Think Scales Are Unimportant? Think Again
Article by Youngmin Park
If you are dying to learn how to play lead guitar but think scales are worthless, you have come to the right article.
In a nutshell, scales are the alphabet of music theory and every professional musician understands this. It’s the people who haven’t had professional instruction that believe scales are useless and make their solos sound boring. NEVER take advice from these people. All chords, licks, riffs, and not to mention many of the most famous solos are derived from scales.
You might now be thinking one of several things: “Okay so this guy is saying scales are great, but they are so boring! Why would anyone spend so much time playing the same 8 notes again and again?” or “Whenever I try playing a solo using a scale I sound too mechanical” or some variation on this theme.
If you sound too mechanical while trying to solo with a scale, the truth is that some scales are easier to solo with than others. If you want a fun and easy scale to work with, learn the blues or pentatonic scale and solo to blues tracks on YouTube. This is assuming you understand what root notes and keys are. If you don’t know what either of these mean, please refer to the links in my signature for resources.
I find it much harder (even after 9 years of playing guitar) to solo with a major cage scale than a major pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is a simplified version of the major cage scale, and it is much easier to work with. As to why this is true I don’t know, but that’s just how it is. The same goes for the minor pentatonic and minor scale – the minor pentatonic is much easier to solo with than the minor scale.
So you see, the choice of scales (as a beginner) is much more important than the scale itself. However, as you improve you will be able to play the scale along the entire neck of the guitar and you won’t be limited to just one type of scale.
Now let us discuss why scales are worth playing and keeping in your repertoire. It may not be obvious to you how important they are so I will do my best to convince you how essential they are to your lead guitar development with a list of reasons starting with the third most important thing about scales
Reason #4: Awareness of skill level. From the day you learn the scale until the day you stop playing guitar, scales are a good measure of how dexterous your fingers are. You should learn a variety of scales (and yes I do understand how frustrating they can be to master), but it will be well worth it in the long run.
Reason #3: Become a more cultured and well-rounded guitarist.This is especially important if you are learning guitar to eventually play in front of crowds. You want a strong, dynamic sound and learning many scales can help you achieve it. This doesn’t mean you have to learn every scale under the sun, but it really isn’t enough to only know the blues scale.
Even if you want to go for a less dynamic sound, it always helps to be a well-rounded guitarist.
Reason #2: You will be able to come up with your own solos. It seems a little circular to mention but it is an important point and here is why: As I mentioned before, scales are the like the alphabet of music theory. It takes practice to not only learn the alphabet, but it takes practice to learn how to formulate words and come up with entire sentences. A scale isn’t a magical solo-making device. Instead, think of the scale as a baby step towards complete guitar mastery where you will be the magical solo-making device.
If you are someone who is naturally creative, knowing a lot of scales will help you express your creativity in many different ways. On the other hand if you aren’t very creative (like me), learning scales will give you new insight into playing different combinations of notes in different ways. It is a great dry-spell buster.
Reason #1: Development of proper technique.This is probably the most overlooked or underrated aspect of learning scales. Technique is so important I could write an entire book on it (and plenty of people already have). When you play a scale, you aren’t just playing a scale. You are building muscle memory in your fingers and learning the way your frets feel. You are learning how to navigate the guitar neck and learning to understand how to position your fingers. You are developing the precision you will need to become great guitarist. When you practice scales you are practicing guitar. Practice is also one of the most underrated part of learning guitar and playing scales forces you to practice. When you practice you get good at something. When you are good at something, people pay attention.
Think about these three reasons – in the process of learning scales, not only will you be a well-rounded guitarist, but you will be able to express your creative ideas with clarity and people will be compelled to listen. Believe me, people love watching people do skilled things. Watching someone play guitar with skill is no exception.
Always strive to be better. Even if you can’t hear faults in your playing, better guitarists can hear things you can’t. There is always room for improvement. It never hut anyone to strive to improve a little every day.
About the Author
I write many free guitar lessons at http://www.vitalguitar.com and have been teaching guitar since 2004.
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