Segovia believed that scales formed the most important aspect of guitar practising as they develop finger strength and accuracy. In fact, he went as far as to suggest that one should play scales for about 2 hours a day!
While there is total agreement that scale practise is important for every musician (beginner or advanced), there is less agreement on how much importance should be given to scales within the practise regime of the classical guitar player. A common question is what percentage of our practise should be focused on scales? Ultimately all practise is a balance between the time available to practise and the most efficient use of that time to achieve the best progress. Notwithstanding the debates on how much time one should devote to scale practice, there is complete agreement that scale practice is one of the best tools for musical development. There are three main reasons for this:
An important reason for practising scales is to develop finger strength . Here the strategy is to play the scales i-m-i-m-i-m-i-m, then m-i-m-i-m-i. When practising for strength, scales should be played tirando and apoyando.
Scales are one of the quickest ways to become familiar with the fingerboard . Guitarists are notoriously slow at getting a grasp of the full guitar fingerboard and scales are one way to quickly move beyond that.
A last and very important reason for practicing scales is to develop your ear . Here various patterns of scales can be played to develop aural familiarity with intervals. For example, scales can be practiced 1-2-3-2-3-4-3-4-5-4-5-6-5-6-7-6-7-8 or 1-2-3-4-3-4-5-6-5-6-7-8.
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.
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.
The best books on scale practice
The practising of scales is a big topic and many books and chapters of books have been written on the topic. In fact, you can scarcely find a guitar method without a section of it devoted to scales. I’ve cited some of the best works on scales for the classical guitar below.
Dionisio Aguado, Metodo de guitarra Second Part II. This publication should be read within the context of the period in which it was produced. Nonetheless, it remains a pioneering piece of work for classical guitar pedagogy and contains octaves and thirds and many more.
Andres Segovia, Diatonic Major and Minor Scales. The fingering and position movement suggested in this method by Segovia has been adopted as the standard for most examination scales with this text existing as the standard college and degree text for classical guitar students. The contribution of this method, besides the important contribution of the fingering provided, is the ordering of the scales to be practiced with Segovia stressing the importance of practicing the major with the relative minor (and ofcourse vice versa).
Leo Brouwer, Scales for Guitar. In this method he challenges the idea that a scale is a simple exercise. He argues, on the contrary, that the performing skills required are complex as they present a number of difficulties and challenges. He proceeds to outline these difficulties and presents a series of exercises to address these.
Charles Duncan, Art of Classical Guitar. This book contains a great chapter that discusses scales and scale practice which captures succinctly the ideas contained in the other methods that I’ve indicated here and contains some great ideas for practice.
Scott Tenant’s Pumping Nylon contains a 10 page chapter on scale practice which focusses on developing ease and speed. This is an excellent chapter to work through no matter what level of guitar player you are.