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Why learn scales? What are they for?

I tried Googling but it seems there is no answer for this one. So the internet assumes everyone
knows what scales are for? Why should I learn them? Are they important to be a good guitarist?

Scales are important for a guitarist, just as

learning good grammar is important to
speaking properly.

If you are intent on "playing" guitar then

learning the language of music is going to be

From my own personal and teaching

standpoint, guitar music should start with
Chords. As opposed to notes. To me they are
the most practical form of music as they are
immediate. Consider chords to be words.

So like a child, you are taught "MUM",

"DAD", "YES", "NO" - so you might learn the
chords G, C and D. That may suffice you if all
the conversations you will ever want to do on
guitar is in the Key of G, eg. But soon you will
want to know other things, like Em, Am and
now the intensity and complexity of MORE
KNOWLEDGE comes into play.

Well that's where SCALES comes in. They are

the alphabet of the chords that you play. It can
make a difference from a chord progression /
accompaniement sounding like "GOOD

Scales can set the tone. Knowledge of this

alphabet allows you to add twiddles and
trinkets to your rhythm work... that is, adding
little fills based on your knowledge of scale
shapes or forms or even better - true music
theory where you know whether a particular
note is a flat 3rd or diminished 5th and whether
it is a Lydian or a Phrygian mode of a scale. All
this KNOWLEDGE of SCALES allows you to
set the mood and tone of your playing.

Now the connotation of scales is another thing

entirely. In my mind, metal and hard rock styles
have tinged the learning of scales slightly as
SCALES often gets equated to SHRED. But
that's not the case. Even styles like Blues and
Jazz and Latin all have their tones and styles
completely defined by the SCALES that are
dominant in their music structure.

Last week, for example, I was explaining to one

of my students the elusive difference of the
MAJOR and MINOR scale change of a Blues
progression. This was invaluable information to
him - because it now explains what he can hear
in records/songs. He knew there was something
going on but he didn't have the vocabulary to
explain it - which translates into better
technique and conscious choice in what notes to

SCALES will lead to understanding; the ability

to know and recall relationships between notes;
this leads towards understanding the
relationship between chords and how this sets
an emotional mood; this leads towards
understanding good composition and song
writing; this leads towards good technique and
more interesting rhythm work; this leads
towards a roadmap for soloing and knowing
various melodies to play over the right chords
at the right time; this leads to complete mastery
of the guitar.

LEARNING SCALES can do this for you. It's

invaluable and will open up the guitar for you.

answered Oct 24 '11 at


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Vlad -
see, as I said, here's a very nice answer
with the correct terms and the reason
scales are important :) – jackJoe Oct 24
'11 at 11:40
Scales are the foundation to building the
chords. Each scale, whether it be major,
minor, dominant, Lydian Dominant,
Harmonic minor, pentatonic and on, enables
you to construct different set of chords,
because of its structure, i.e., the intervals
between notes of the scales.

In this case scales are then the backbone of

chord building and harmony.

And, reversed, when you see the chord and

you know from which scale it has been
constructed, you can use this scale to
improvise or compose a melody over that

So if you see a G7 chord, it's a C major scale

chord, or G mixolydian if we were talking
about modes. So you can more or less play
notes of the C major scale and they will
sound good over this chord, but not all of
them equally good.
up vote 7 down vote
So, you can use scales with melody and

Considering both statements above, scale

knowledge facilitates composition a lot. It
tells you which note will be diatonic, i.e., a
scale notes, and which one will not be,
which can be used to build tension for

Scales can be thought as one of the systems

to organize and get to know well your

Many rock, blues, metal players rely on this

system solely.

If you are curious, there is the "CAGED"

system, based around chord shapes popular
amongst jazz players, but there other systems
as well.

shareimprove edited May answered Oct

this answer 10 at 21:57 24 '11 at

the Tin Man

3,578319 Hubert
I'm not a theorist, nor do I have a proper musical background, but from my
experience, scales are the basis for the composition.

In other words:

The scale is the structure and everything moves around it. For example, a guitar solo
can follow one or more scales, and for the layman/listener it may seem random notes
being played, but in fact those notes follow a structure.

If you would like to be very picky, this structures can be found everywhere, so in
my opinion, a scale is a structure that you follow. In an extreme, a very complex
solo, that seems it not following any scale, can be following a mix of scales or even
variations of scales, but this can be refuted by some, saying that a random play is
just that: random... I don't agree, I'm one of those maniacs that think of a structure
behind everything :)

Knowing this, if you learn scales, it will help you improve your playing (may it be
up vote composing or improvising). Many people try to step out of the normal scales and
5 down make variations, that's the beauty of it, because then they sound different but still
vote come from a familiar origin. Mixing scales is also very useful and can give a nice
twist to your solo.

Solos aren't the only thing based on scales, a rithm/chord also has the basis on a
scale. Knowing scales also helps you with the chords.

I'm probably not very accurate/may not have used the correct terms, but I think this
answer will at least contribute with the view of a self-learnt player (someone more
theoretical will give you a better answer).

answered Oct 24 '11 at 8:50

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up vote I'd also add that practicing scales allows you to concentrate on learning the physical
5 down motions of going from note to note (this is why interval practice is useful as well).
vote As with any other physical action, more practice allows you to spend less cognitive
resource on "let's see, C to D is that, and D to G is that, and...", allowing you to
think, "oh, C-D-G, right", with the notes occurring as fast as you can think them -
and as you practice further, without even the subvocalizations of note names: the
note becomes the action without your thinking about taking the action at all.

This will greatly enhance your ability to sight-read and improvise, and to
concentrate on other aspects of your performance - e.g., tone, dynamics, and
expression - because you will have the cognitive resources to do so.

answered Oct 26 '11 at 22:24

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Joe McMahon
This is a very important point, and the main reason to practice scales. While the
other answers here points out good theory on what scales are, and why they are
significant, this answer gives the reason to why you should practice scales.
When you can play scales without thinking on what you play, you can play
almost anything. This is also the way to improve your speed. – awe Nov 22 '11
at 10:56
This and this are questions that have some good advice on practicing scales on
guitar. – awe Nov 22 '11 at 11:35
Two points to complement the other answers:

1. Playing one note at a time, whether in scales, arpeggios, melodies, etc., helps
you fine-tune your sound/tone.
2. Especially when you are new to the guitar, practicing various scales can help
strengthen your fretting hand and will allow you to move between various
up vote chord shapes/voicings more easily.
3 down
vote edited May 10 at 21:59 answered Oct 24 '11 at 20:32

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the Tin Man The Chaz 2.0

3,578319 35328
Let's take one scale, C major, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, chosen so we don't have to deal
with majors and minors and naturals and all that confusion. You may know that as
"do rey me fa so la ti do".
up vote
3 down Let's take every other note, C, E, G. Those are the root, third, and fifth, the building
vote blocks of chords. Skip forward a few to F. F, A, C. One more, to G. G, B, D. Those
are the root, fourth and fifth chords. I, IV, V are the three major chords, which are all
you need for a whole lot of songs. The same processes will get you D minor, E
minor and A minor. Plus B diminished, which is beyond what I want to handle

A rule of harmony is that, for every note in a melody, you play a chord that contains
that note. (Not everything does this, but it's a way to work it.) So, "Twinkle Twinkle
Little Star" is C C G G A A G | F F E E D D C. First, once you have a sense of the
scale, you can identify it as part of the C major scale. (Actually, I think I could have
hit this part first, but ahh well.) So, chordally, you might play the chords C C G G F
F G over those notes, or C C C C F F C. C C G G Am Am G. C C Em Em Am Am
G. All sorts of fun choices.

So, knowing scales help you know how to take apart a song and know what you can
play behind it.

edited May 10 at 22:03 answered Oct 28 '11 at 2:44

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the Tin Man VarLogRant

3,578319 4,806621
Scales are trying to use some "math" to describe sounding of music intervals.
Anyway there are people who say that they are necessary for music composition and
someone else call it unnecessary limitation. There are realations between keys,
scales and chords that will allow musician to improvise easier. Also music score
bases on scales so if you want to learn reading it you need to learn at least Cmajor.
up vote
0 down answered Mar 1 at 23:14

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When I was a kid I learned to play piano first, then a bit of trumpet, then picked up
guitar in my teens. Piano taught me to read scales, and I learned a bit about how
melody and chords work. Guitar is my favorite, and I played it in jazz, country and
rock bands for years.

I decided to take some music theory classes at the local community college, which,
up vote with what I'd learned from my jazz and piano, really opened up my understanding
0 down of what makes music work, and allowed me to be a lot more expressive.
Instead of guessing what notes would work, or learning riffs without understanding
why they sounded good, I knew what a riff did, how to transpose it, enhance it,
modify it to fit with a different scale, etc.

In other words, my understanding of what makes all music tick suddenly grew, and
it's made me a lot better musician, and gave me a lot better appreciation of more
forms of music.

Knowing scales and how they fit with chords gave me the tools to try to sound like
me, not like someone else, and what I play is mine, not someone else's riffs
regurgitated. I like that a lot.

answered May 10 at 22:11

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the Tin Man

You are playing a guitar. All the notes on your guitar (piano etc) are in a scale - the
chromatic scale. From my outside perspective if you play some notes together it is a
chord, and if you play tunes on a restricted set of notes (ie not playing all the notes)
that would be a scale. If you use the same set of notes again you will save time by
giving the scale a name to help remember it. If you play with other people, as they
up vote -
all call those scales the same thing it might help to learn their names for scales. I
2 down
worked out the maths of music in the 1980s and I would argue that there are 57
main Keys based on 7 scales (I'm sure many people here would argue about that)
but you would want to learn one scale at a time. Once you can play a scale pattern
you can slide the same pattern along the neck by one fret (or more) to play in a new
key (still the same scale though - keys are named after the note they 'start' with,
scales can start anywhere). Good luck with your music.