Classical Guitar Scales - Common Mistakes

classical guitar scales - common mistakes

Practicing scales is an essential part of any musical discipline.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to practice scales!

This discusses the wrong way − it focusses on the 4 common mistakes made by classical guitar players practicing scales. classical guitar scales - common mistakes

1. Rushing scales

The first error is rushing through scales and practicing at breakneck speed before the basic building blocks of the scale has been well mastered and well secured. The classical guitar is not about ego and pride − although there is an increase in self-respect and self-esteem that comes with persevering through the challenge of a particular technique. While it is each musician’s task to develop and play to the best of their ability, it is also and primarily each musician’s task to live a healthy and happy life. According to Aaron Shearer, one of the most widely recognized and respected classical guitar teachers of this era, the correct approach to learning the guitar is,
to learn patiently, avoiding error, confusion, and anxiety.
His world renowned method for classical guitar can be found in his three part, Classical Guitar Technique Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Scale Pattern Studies for the Guitar. classical guitar scales - common mistakes

2. Practising mistakes

The second error is repeating the same mistakes over and over again. If you do not securely hit a particular note the first, second and third time you practice the scale, it is hardly likely that you will hit it the fourth or the fifth time without changing something that you are doing. As Einstein says, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.classical guitar scales - common mistakes
Similarly if the string squeaks the first and second time you change position (from V to the VIII, for example), it is highly likely that it will do so the third time too. What you have done, is that you have practised and perfected the particular mistake. When confronted with a problem area in the scale I suggest you step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air and feel grateful to be alive. Come back to your guitar and now focus on the particular problem area. Break it down into its smallest unit. Now play the particular problem unit, but slow it down to a snail’s pace. See if you can identify the cause of the problem through this slow playing. Is it perhaps a string crossing or a difficulty with a movement shift? These two are the most common challenges facing the left hand in scale playing. Is it perhaps the angle that you are holding your hands? Is your thumb in the correct place at the back of the neck? Or perhaps it is in the overall positioning of the guitar or perhaps your right hand. Aaron Shearer talks of the The Four Principles of Efficient Muscle Function in Classical Guitar Technique Vol. 1. Are you perhaps breaking one of these principles? Whatever the problem is, you have to slow it down to identify it. Once you have identified it then you can begin to find a solution.classical guitar scales - common mistakes

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Carlevaro in his method School of Guitar suggests that the best way to solve such problems is to focus on the particular problem area, such as the string crossing or movement shift that is causing the problem, isolate the particular moment that you are struggling with and practice that particular string crossing or the particular shift until it is relaxed and second nature at a slow tempo. Once you are very comfortable at that tempo, increase the speed. And then only when you are very comfortable at that speed do you increase the speed again. And so on until you have reached the desired tempo. Nine times out of ten this approach of slowing down your practice to a snail’s pace will sort out the problem. classical guitar scales - common mistakes
If the problem is with string crossing you might want to refer to Alice Artzt's 1978, The Art of Practicing. The book is regarded as a classic because it dedicates itself through a series of ingenius exercises which are developed from the principles of the Carlevaro's School of Guitar method. The exercises and the approach underlying it, addresses left hand strenth and ease of movement and the major difficulties with string crossing faced by classical (and other) guitar players. If the problem is position movement you mind find Charles Duncan’s book, Art of Classical Guitar, a great help as it contains an absolutely excellent chapter which discusses ways of approaching left hand shifts. classical guitar scales - common mistakes
A teacher can help you with this process of identifying the problem and even with helping you to find a solution, but the strongest ally in the long term is the development of your own reflexivity – that is, your own ability to reflect on your own guitar playing. I like to call this musical reflexivity. A good teacher can and should help you develop this important aspect of empowerment. In the practicing of scales, this is particularly important in cases where the problem is not externally obvious in the form missed or blurred note notes, but is internally obvious to the player through an internal sense of insecurity that occurs at a particular moment when you play the scale (or piece of music for that matter). This internal insecurity is as valid as a blurring or fluffing of notes as it functions as a blurring (or fluffing) of the mind and the confidence which is as damaging to musical development. Only you can identify these problems as they are not necessarily always externally obvious, but are internally obvious and the stronger your musical reflexivity, the more clearly you will identify and be able to address these problem areas. In fact, this aim of strengthening your ability (empowering yourself) to recognise problems in your playing and then devise approaches to resolve these is an essential part of the caelvaro method and the approach which Alice Artzt's demonstrates The Art of Practicing. classical guitar scales - common mistakes

3. Practising without musical reflexivity

The third common error is to practise scales without developing the musicality (or musical reflexivity if you like) needed to appreciate the tonal quality of the notes in the scale and the musical expression of the scale through dynamics and timbre. This leaves students with no sense of what they are to listen to while practicing scales. This is a perception problem and is the result of students seeing scales as a challenge for physical technique, rather than on perceiving scales as the building blocks of music making in its entirety – technique and musicality. Most times this is because the student has not been alerted to the importance of this focus. classical guitar scales - common mistakes
A problem with practicing without musical reflexivity is that it could result in poorly articulated scales being repeatedly practised which engrains raggedy tempos and a scratchy tone. The result is that the musician’s ear can become accustomed to the raggediness and scratchiness and begin to consider these normal. classical guitar scales - common mistakes
The only way to correct this is to get feedback. One way is through a teacher and another – hugely beneficial for your musical reflexivity – is to record yourself, listen to the scale and make notes on the areas that you would like to improve. Get a good recorder that allows for multiple play (without changing the pitch) and keep it on your music stand. A good one is the Tascam DR-08 as it’s small, fits easily on your music stand and is simple to use. Every so now and again click it on and record yourself playing that scale. Listen back on slow playback so that you can hear and identify areas that you would like to improve. I suggest that you save one track regularly, at least every month. Make a date with yourself on the last weekend of the month, for example, to record all the scales that you are working on. Listen to these, makes notes on changes that you would like to work on during the month ahead and save these on your computer in an easily accessible filing system. Do the same the following month and then listen to the recordings of the same scale that you did over the past two months. This process of listening back allows you to see progress that is often invisible to the student without this reflection (which develops your musical reflexivity). Clearly seeing the improvements that you have made makes it easier to keep excited and energetic about your practice. A student who does not see and who cannot recognise improvement is easily disillusioned with their playing and their practice. Developing the ability to recognise (through the development of musical reflexivity) that progress on the classical guitar is slow, but steady, is critical for your long term commitment to the instrument. classical guitar scales - common mistakes

4. Practising poor form

The fourth common error, suggested by all that has been said before, is to neglect to develop your sensitivity to the physical experience of scale practice. While there is general agreement that practising scales are good, there is a warning that needs to be raised right up front. The failure to practise scales properly can do more harm than good. For example, musicians who repetitively play the same scale using a bad sitting position or poor left hand shifts could find their body taking strain, particularly as they’ve ingrained the habit which could, and has in many cases, lead to repetitive strain injury. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, reassess your physical positioning such as your sitting position and the angle of your hands. And do this continually and throughout every and all practice. Shearer’s principle of efficient muscle function, described in his three part Classical Guitar Technique Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 provides a good way to think about this aspect. And ultimately most problems in the guitar (as in much of life) – while we ascribe it to technique and physical limitations are in effect mental restraints, so a change in the way we think about a problem is pretty much one of the most powerful ways to address it.

Over the past century guitar pedagogy has developed markedly. This started with Aguado’s attempt to map out a musical pedagogy in his famous Metodo de guitarra Second Part II. The method was further developed by Sor in his Method For the Spanish Guitar. This was developed further by Segovia in his Diatonic Major and Minor Scales which remains the basic text that every student is expected to master and is definitely an expectation of most degree programmes. Then Aaron Shearer’s method for guitar contained in his Classical Guitar Technique Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Scale Pattern Studies for the Guitar, which focusses specifically on scale patterns. More recently Leo Brouwer produced his Scales for Guitar which provides an approach for technically engaging with scale practice on the guitar.classical guitar scales - common mistakes
While these teachers disagree on aspects of how scales should be practiced and approached, there is some general agreement of good guidelines. These are discussed and can be found on the page that deals with how to practice.classical guitar scales - common mistakes

The classical guitar scales series

This series on classical guitar scales includes a number of pages which you can access by clicking on the links provided.

  • Aspects related to how to practice classical guitar scales are discussed. The page talks about what to practise by discussing the selection of scales to practise and the order in which they are to be practised. It discusses the amount of time that should be allocated to scale practise with the answer resting in the balance between the benefits gained and the time spent. The page ends with a suggested scale practise schedule.

  • One aspect that serves to discourage are the challenges with selecting which scales to practice. Three strategies for doing so and four key guiding principles are provided in this page.

  • Classical guitar players (from beginners to intermediary players) frequently make 4 common mistakes when practising scales. Click here for the four common mistakes made in the practise of scales and the importance of using scales for your technical and your musical development through the enhancement of your musical reflexity.

  • This page on scale notes and fingering provides the theory related to the development of major and minor scales which will empower you to construct, by yourself, any scale required in the future. It also provides links to the notes and fingering suggested for major scales, minor scales and other scales required by guitar examinations.

  • classical guitar scales

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