Scales are probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of practice and technical development. The idea that practicing scales makes you a better musician seems to be universally accepted yet in the case of the classical guitar the ‘mythology’ of scale practice seems a little over-rated. Scales occur frequently in music written for violins, flutes and piano however, they come up rarely in the guitar repertoire. A full octave scale is actually quite hard to come by in much of the literature and when there is a long scale passage in a work it stands out partly because it is so rare. Violin and piano repertoire on the other hand is absolutely littered with virtuosic scale runs that span genres from the Baroque to the present day. It stands to reason, then, that we do not practice scales to be prepared for the occasional scale run in a piece.
The process of running up and down a scale, which is a very common way of practicing scales, is pointless.
So why do we practice scales ?
Scales are tools. They are simple frameworks that we can use to hone in on specific technical elements. Once those elements have been worked on in isolation they can be incorporated into music making, which is the ultimate goal of any technical work. Without a specific focus to practicing a scale then the time is wasted without any goals being reached. The scale itself may become familiar and fluid but seeing as there are few actual applications of a scale in a piece the process really is, pointless.
Scales are incredibly useful, however, if assigned a goal and function. One function might be to practice crescendo and diminuendo another could be to practice staccato articulations yet another is a variety of rhythms. As you may start to realize, the ways to use a scale to work on technical aspects is almost as diverse as your imagination. A more complete list of scale suggestions is written below and I encourage you to come up with your own uses for scale practice.
It could be argued that scales are useful for becoming acquainted with the fingerboard and learning key centers. This could be absolutely true although the common tendency to memorize scale ‘patterns’ on the guitar prevents any real development of these skills. If you doubt this, ask the next scale wiz that you come across to sight read some Bach ;)
Here are some suggestions on how to apply your scales:
- Terraced Dynamics
- Dotted Rhythms
- Triplets with duplets
- Groupings of 5,6,7
- Lento, Andante, Allegretto, Allegro, Presto etc.
- Accents (place accents on different notes)
Right Hand Fingering
- im, mi, ia, ai, ma, am, ami, mia, ima, pima, amip, pi, ip etc.
Left Hand Fingering
- Fixed fingers