Classical Guitar Scales - Which Scales to Practice?

At first glance there are so many scales and so many different ways to practice them that one can get quite disillusioned and end up not knowing where to start.  And then not practicing scales at all!  

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This page is about deciding WHAT TO PRACTICE when it comes to scales practice. Here the fundamental and most important principle is that the choice of scales be defined by the reason why you are practicing them. 

That's common sense, isn't it!

Classical guitar practice, like everything else in life, is exactly about common sense. If there isn’t a good reason to do something we are going to struggle to get committed to doing it. Let alone following through and actually do it.

To help you get going and keep going with your scale practice, this page maps out the THREE  approaches that you can use to select the scales that you practice. This is not about how you practice - you can click on this link if you want more information on how to practice - it is about what you practice.

APPROACH 1: Let a method decide for you

The choice of scales can be guided by the musical method that you are working through. There are a number of classical guitar methods that provide clear guidelines on scale practise. Segovia’s Diatonic Major And Minor Scales Book is very specific about the scales that are to be practiced and the order for doing so. So too is Frederick Noad who has a set of scales suggested for beginners in his Solo Guitar Playing Volume 1 and Volume 2

APPROACH 2: Be guided by an examination board curriculum

If you are preparing for a classical guitar examination such as the Trinity Guildhall Classical Guitar Examinations then the scales that you practice for the examination will be dictated by the scales that you will be examined on. Classical guitar examinations are designed to progressively increase in difficulty with each grade level which makes this is a great place to start if you are unsure of designing a scale practice routine for yourself. You could start at Initial, then move to Grade 1 and onwards to Grade 8 steadily moving yourself through the curriculum of any of the examination boards. Trinity Guildhall has a succint and affordable book, Trinity Scales Arpeggios , which provides the scales required at each grade examination and the way in which they are to played.

APPROACH 3: Let your repertoire define your scales

Link, wherever possible, your scale practise to the pieces that you are playing as this strengthens your familiarity and comfort in the key. Here a good practise is to begin and end every piece that you practise with the major and relative minor of the key that you are working on. If your piece is in C major, for example, you would practise the C major scale and the relative minor, A minor. Here it is suggested that you start and end pieces that you are working on by playing the scales in the key of the piece. This serves as a great warm up for repertoire but also serves to develop your ear. Let’s take a well-known classical guitar piece, Romance de Amor. Romance de Amor is in E minor, so I would practice the E minor scale and the relative major, G major

The melodic shape of the music will alert you as to whether you should be practising the scale in one, two or three octaves and also to the positions in which you should practise the scale. In Romance de Amor the melody cuts across three octaves so I would practice the scale across three octaves. The shape of the scale that I select will be defined by the melody of the piece. In Romance de Amor the melody is provided in the first 3 bars of the piece as the E minor scale descending in the following way B ’ A ’ G ’ F#. From bar 4 the melody then ascends E ’ G ’ B ’ E. All of these are played on the top E string which suggests that when you practice the E minor scale you are going to practice these notes on the top E string so that you can practice the position shifts involved in the piece. 

The THREE principles

Whichever approach you take to selecting the scales that you are going to focus on, the following THREE principles are important considerations. 

  1. As discussed above, link wherever possible, your scale practice to the pieces that you are playing. 
  2. If possible, try and cover all the major and minor keys that you are working on within the course of a week. As you develop, and eventually, you will cover all the major and minor keys over the course of the week. This allows you to become familiar with the particular shapes involved and to practice, and across keys, problems that you might have with particular string crossings or position shifts.
  3. When playing through multiple scales a good practice is to use the circle of fifths to determine the order of the scales:  C major and A minor;    G major and E minor;   D major and B minor ;   A major and F# minor;   E major and C# minor ;   B major and G# minor ;   and so on  ...

Go to other pages in the classical guitar scales series

This series on classical guitar scales gives you everything that you need to get started and to keep going with your scale practice. It includes a few pages which you can access by clicking on the links provided.

  • Go to the introduction and overview of the Classical Guitar Scale series 
  • 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. 
  • 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.

You'll need to go a little deeper into music theory as you proceed. The best online resource for this is Guitar Theory Revolution. It recognises that music theory is very hard for guitarists because music theory has till now been located in the piano paradigm. The Guitar Theory Revolution overthrows the piano paradigm that is holding you back and embraces the attributes of the guitar to unpack music theory. In fact, it goes further and allows you to see that the guitar is one of the best instruments for learning theory. 

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