The Segovia Scales : A Practical Guide

//The Segovia Scales : A Practical Guide

The Segovia Scales : A Practical Guide

Andrés Segovia blazed many trails for the modern classical guitarist, and one of them was a systematized approach to scale practice. We may take his scale set for granted today, but when he compiled and fingered his collection of scales, the young Segovia was demonstrating his visionary approach to the instrument along with an innovative courage that elevated our instrument to the concert stage.

In this article I want to answer the very practical questions I often receive from guitar students, which sound regularly like this:

  1. What are the Segovia Scales?
  2. Are the Segovia Scales better than other scales?

If you are interested in reading the historical context of these scales I highly recommend the article: Andrés Segovia’s Unfinished Method: Placing His “Scales” in Historical Context. by Andreas Stevens – featured in Soundboard Scholar No.3

What are the Segovia Scales?

A musical scale does not belong to anybody. The scales that are featured in the “Segovia Scales” have the same arrangement of notes as most any other scale book featuring major and minor scales. 

There are three reasons, however, why the Segovia Scales stand out from the pack:

First and foremost, they were compiled, organized, and fingered by Andrés Segovia.

The Maestro’s name is synonymous with classical guitar and it was his pioneering work that paved the way for many of us to follow. It is understandable, then, that any educational material that was produced by Segovia would be highly sought after, potentially offering an insight into his methodology and approach to the classical guitar.

Secondly, they were first. Sort of.

In the preface to the 2011 edition of the scale book Thea Smith writes “What makes these scales unique is the fingering: it is organized systematically, something Segovia was the first to do.”

There are several method books for classical guitar predating the Segovia Scales that include scales and scale sets. J.K. Mertz, Carcassi, and Pratten to name just three. So, by no means was this the first set of scales to be published for the classical guitar. However, they are organized, systematic, and also focused (i.e. no arpeggios or other technical exercises). In this regard they were first, and they stood out.

With time and momentum to ingrain the scales into the modern classical guitar canon they developed a legendary status. They are not just scales but the Segovia scales!

Third, they are concise. 

Scales and arpeggios can provide a very deep resource for any musician. So much so that they can easily become overwhelming. Having written my own scale book, I know first hand that it becomes more of a challenge to exclude ideas than to compile them. After all, what good is a book full of black dots if they are so numerous that they stun the reader into inaction.

The Segovia Scales cover seven pages. Just seven.

I can only imagine that the publishers must have been bemused at this little booklet as it rose to the ranks of “one of the best-selling guitar publications of all time.” Of all time!

The booklet is short enough that you can learn it like a piece of music. This in itself is powerful and makes it stand out from the more exhaustive compilations available today.

Are the Segovia Scales “Better” than other scale books?

No.

The actual scales inside the booklet are no better, and no worse, than any other scales. They ascend and descend like countless other scales have done over the centuries.

Segovia uses a lot of shifting in his scales, which gives a workout to that aspect of your technique. This is great if you want to focus on improving your left hand shifts, or perhaps delve into the idiomatic fingering choices of Segovia, Tárrega, and Llobet which rely heavily on this kind of shifting, but as I have written about before, scales are tools to help us work on focused elements of our technique and shifting is just one of those elements.

There are pros and cons to all manner of scale forms. Some traverse the length of the fingerboard, some make use of extensions, some use efficient fingering, some challenge you with shifts. You could even argue that a scale played on one string with just one finger has some virtue to it!

Modern scale books are even more systematized that the Segovia Scales and include arpeggios, octave scales, scales in thirds, sixths, tenths. They can be graded for beginners through advanced, and they can also include harmonic cadences to delve into the key of each scale.

With Segovia’s lifelong efforts to elevate the classical guitar, I hope and believe he would be pleased to see such a flowering of pedagogical material in the last thirty years.

The Real Question

The REAL question is: are you going to practice the scales?

If Segovia’s name helps your diligence, then go for it! These kinds of books can make you feel good to purchase them. Just by having them in your possession makes you feel like you are moving in the right direction. 10,000 hours here I come!

The reality is that many of us will play a few scales here or there. Usually major scales. But I will make an educated guess that a just small percentage of guitarists that purchase the Segovia Scales actually practice the scales in the second half of the book! These scales have more than four sharps in the key signature, and then proceed to the dark side of the circle of fifths… the flat side.

“The practice of scales enables one to solve a greater number of technical problems in a shorter time than any other exercise.” – Andrés Segovia

More important than who’s scales you are playing is the consistency, mindfulness, and focus in which you work on your scales.

Your Challenge from Simon

To give you something concrete to work on right now here is a challenge for you, should you wish to accept it:

  • Choose a scale that is within your technical ability
  • Set a timer on your phone for 15 minutes
  • Select an aspect of your technique you would like to work on (staccato, shifting, left hand position, speed etc.)
  • Work on that one scale, and that one technical focus for the full 15 minutes

If you don’t have a scale book handy, here is one for free from me:

Daily Scales for Classical Guitar

Here are some further resources to help you with your scale practice:

Download Your Scale Book Here

2017-12-11T17:27:09+00:0032 Comments

32 Comments

  1. John Mancia December 10, 2017 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks Simon. I find this info to be especially useful for an “absolute beginner” such as myself (ie, no previous guitar or music experience).

    Appreciate the historical perspective, practical advice – and challenge!

    Would like to join tonite’s Facebook broadcast but fear that I will be in transit during that time.

    Best,

    John

    • Simon December 10, 2017 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      Hi John,

      Great to hear from you. The replay of tonight should be available for a while so if you want to see a bit of it, it should still be there after your trip.

      Cheers,
      Simon

  2. Marilynn Stark December 10, 2017 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    I have the book “Diatonic Major and Minor Scales” by Segovia, and what you say about having the book as a harbinger of what may come as a player, a student of classical guitar, rings true. I am picking up on alternation of fingers nicely with Sor’s Study No. 1 where I keep watching my fingers alternate carefully. My goal has been to achieve assurance of perfect alternation in this piece, and it steadily improves as I practice, taking less and less work or mindful assertion. What I might do next is take my newly found development of alternating fingers (which I still want to develop for some time to come, so that it is even more mindlessly reliable, dependable and most of all working to keep my hand relaxed as you say) to those scales and see what a more extended workout for alternation of fingers would mean. I have always kept an awareness of alternation of fingers, so I am not at all a newcomer to it; I simply do not know how perfect it is/has been. It is just that when I approached Sor’s Study No. 1, I found that it was more challenging than even following a Segovia scale’s fingering since the scale is at a dependable tempo in simple sequence. Thank you for your instructions and for the information on Segovia’s scales and what they mean, including their historical context, since they occupy for me a special place. Words about these scales are all over the Internet, and that is what had sent me to them. However, I did not maintain practicing them for long enough to say that I am deeply engrossed in them; what I learned from practicing them is rather hidden. I made a leap into them, and then for some reason, I found myself gone — that is something of a weighty matter that staying in practice with CGC’s curriculum is solving. I face a lot of obstacles to learning classical guitar, but keeping things simple lately has been a good thing — concentrating on the 10 Progressive Pieces for Classical Guitar. Learning the technology of music recording and then video making is always taking up time recently, yet the results of this will allow some posting at CGC. I would think posting here a couple of scales from Segovia’s book might be appropriate if I record such.

  3. Anne Flanigan December 10, 2017 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    Thank you for the article and the scale book! I’ll do my best to make it home from work in time to join the Facebook broadcast.

    Anne

  4. David December 10, 2017 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Simon,

    A question one might consider (from a pedagogical perspective) is why he didn’t include the natural minor and harmonic minor scales. Some may say those scales are loosely “covered” by the melodic minor version, however, most music departments require all three versions of the minor scale from other instruments. Why is not standard for guitarists as well? This is perhaps a question for later discussion.

    Best wishes!

    • John December 11, 2017 at 5:14 am - Reply

      Hi David

      Re the major/minor scales thing. When I was learning piano and harmony and counterpoint, I don’t ever recall seeing any mention of a natural minor scale…..harmonic and melodic minor, yes, but no natural minor. Just got out my old piano scales book to make sure and there is no mention of a natural minor scale, anywhere. I went as far as 7th grade piano AMEB (Australia) and I was studying diploma level (Trinity College) harmony and counterpoint, but I have no recall of ever seeing a natural minor scale mentioned. OK, that was way back in the early 1970s, but things don’t change that much in these fields…..maybe I missed something.

      Cheers, John. (near Sydney) Australia.

  5. Jim Simpson December 10, 2017 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    Thank you very much for this interesting insight into the Segovia Scales. Personally, I’ve never used them, having learned scales and arpeggios etc for my Certificate Grade exams with Trinity College London using ‘Technical Development for Guitarists’ by Charles Ramirez. I admit that I rarely look at that book now but since joining CGC Academy, I use your Daily Scales for Classical Guitar regularly as warm-up exercises. I will take a look at the Segovia Scales because learning and enlightenment comes from many sources.

    Kind regards,

    Jim

  6. Rian December 10, 2017 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    I used to practice the Segovia scales for 1 – 2 hours a day when I was younger and doing lots of playing (60’s, 70’s, 80’s). I had them all memorized and would do them rest stroke and free stroke with 7 right hand fingerings: IM, MI,AM, MA, IA, AI, and IMAMI. Oscar Ghiglia recommended doing them very slowly also, always making sure that the fingertips were 90 degrees to the fingerboard with minimal motion of fingers not being used (to train the 3rd & 4th fingers not to straighten while the 1st & 2nd were being placed). It was a great way to establish the left hand position of efficiency.

  7. David Aitken December 10, 2017 at 10:46 pm - Reply

    Simon

    I wrote an ebook on Segovia’s scales some time back and shared it on Delcamp Classical Guitar Forum*, http://www.classicalguitardelcamp.com/viewtopic.php?f=118&t=59233#p646217 It’s based on using the patterns in the scales to learn them more quickly and to vary the practice of them. Be interested in your thoughts.

    *I sought permission from Columbia Music to do this, so as to not infringe their copyright.

    David

    • Simon December 10, 2017 at 10:50 pm - Reply

      Hi David,

      Sound interesting! I couldn’t download it to look at it but I read your description. I too created my scale book with a similar approach, but using the CAGED system as the linchpin. Some fingerings need to be adapted as shapes move around, but more or less it provides a quick framework to work with patterns rather than reading in higher position. Congratulations on getting approval from Colombia! Was that a difficult thing to do?

      • Michael Young December 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm - Reply

        You have to be logged in to the Forum to access the attachments. Registration is free. I found David’s format to be very helpful when I was memorizing the scales.

  8. Heike Matthiesen December 10, 2017 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    I play all of them everyday ( when these are not too many at the time to prepare…) It is like a checkup and it is focussing on all basic things like relaxation, scanning body tension etc. And also meditation.
    I once got the advice from Pepe Romero to work them regularly! Today I understand what importance a technique routine has when it is not just about trying to reach new skill Himalayas but how to stay healthy for a long lasting career…..

    • Simon December 11, 2017 at 12:24 am - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Heike. I think the idea of using them as a checkup is invaluable, great point.

  9. John December 11, 2017 at 12:42 am - Reply

    My “problem” was memorising them way before learning the notes on the fretboard so could play them fluently but had no idea what notes I was playing.
    A major later breakthrough as mentioned by Simon was starting to recognise the patterns (CAGED) and applying them to the logic of the scales.
    All of which was wonderful in navigating the fingerboard and shifting and left and right hand development, but no help in knowing what notes I was playing. Took many years to catch up :)

  10. Irv Williamson December 11, 2017 at 3:35 am - Reply

    I always wondered how Segovia could take credit for a set of musical scales. Thanks for clearing that part up.

    I learned most of the scales a few years ago but only practice C major, G major, and sometimes A minor. And like John, I memorized without knowing what the notes were. While there is nothing magical about these scales, they have help me improve my shifting which I still find challenging.

    Mistake I made was to practice these scales too focused on speed while ignoring tone, rhythm, and hand position. I have recently started working through your courses. Your recommended technical exercises are replacing my scale playing and are helping me greatly improve technique.

  11. Steven December 11, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Simon,
    I very much enjoyed your Facebook Live presentation last night. Thanks to you and your team for sharing time with us.
    I have never been able to stay motivated to run scales in my practice routine. I do incorporate arpeggio studies and try to follow some of the basic scale methodology such as focus on economy of motion. Obviously I would need a knowledge of scales to progress in music theory, but do you otherwise think arpeggio studies are an alternative?
    Yours,
    Steven

    • Dave Belcher December 13, 2017 at 1:06 am - Reply

      Hi Steven,

      Yes, arpeggios are definitely one of the tools in the toolbox to have and I think it’s important to practice them frequently (if not daily). Arpeggios are an excellent tool for developing all sorts of different movements in the right hand. However, I do still think that scales are an essential asset for left-hand development as well as left- and right-hand syncronization. In that sense I think it’s a good idea to figure out ways of incorporating them into your practice routine.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  12. Oscar Corea December 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    I have been playing the Segovia Scales on and off since 1987. In my opinion they have helped me with my rest stroke and with right hand finger independence. I first used them to develop speed with some success. Also at first I tried playing all the scales on a daily basis, later in my playing I shifted to tackling one scale at a time with better success.

    I still play them one or two at a time to help reinforce my finger memorization of the scale and to keep me honest with my finger alternation especially with the IMAMI pattern. I play them at about MM80 and try to pay close attention to my left finger landing position on the fret board as well as my tone production quality.

  13. Lou Arnold December 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    This is a concise and to the point article! I bought the Segovia Scales around 1964 while still in college. I dutifully practiced them all every day for about a year. The available thinking on guitar technical development in the early 1960’s was quite limited by today’s standard. Still, I felt that my general technique improved at the time and if I missed a day or two of scale practice, I felt less secure in my playing that day.
    Since that time I have continued to practice scales from sources including Emilio Pujol, Aaron Shearer, Christopher Berg, Terre Roche and Simon Powis. Eliot Fisk’s scale exercises that can be found in the video section of the Strings by mail website are very good. I like to work some with what the various Jazz educators have put out. I think of Bruce Saunders, “Jazz Pentatonics published by Mel Bay. Pentatonic scales are interesting and they offer great opportunity for practicing right hand string crossing since they are usually played 2 notes per string. Scales are meat and potatoes or bread and butter for musicians. Eat healthy portions every day!

  14. Eduardo December 11, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    Great article Simon.
    When I started studying classical guitar, the Segovia scales were the only scales I knew, at that time my knowledge of music was very limited, so when someone spoke of scales, all I could think about were the Segovia Scales. When I started practicing them, my only concern was to use the scales as a warm-up exercise, but after a while I discovered that they were useful for many aspects of classical guitar technique and also as a good way to learn all the notes on the fret . To this day I continue to practice them, although I have learned and practiced other scales, the Segovia scales continue to be my first choice, but as you said Simon, the most important thing in any scale or exercise that you practice is consistency, mindfulness, and the approach with which you work.
    Eduardo

  15. Greg White December 12, 2017 at 2:09 am - Reply

    Simon,
    I think your article about his scales has arrived at a perfect time for me; to remind me how lazy I have been. Just this weekend I found my copy of his little book during a clean-out of my guitar book shelf. Think I will make it part of my 2018 resolutions to add the 15m idea to each and every practice session I do from now and see what kind of benefits I get from it. I am also making the progress journal part of my plan too.
    Greg

  16. Farid Yousefi December 12, 2017 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Hi dear Simon
    Thank you for this great article .
    So what I understand is scales are good for practicing techniques (staccato, shifting, left hand position, speed etc.) because we can focus on those instead of musical aspect , phrasing and so on .
    Now my question is we must practice techniques while playing scales not practicing scales while using techniques , right ?
    And should we increase the speed ? I mean does it essential to playing fast ? Or the goal is playing correct or correct and fast simultaneously?

    Best regards

    • Dave Belcher December 13, 2017 at 1:13 am - Reply

      Hi Farid,

      Speed is something you must develop and actually I think playing fast but not correct, or precise, can actually slow you down in your speed development. Eventually you need to push your tempo up so that you can continue to advance your speed development (which can be essential to playing certain repertoire, yes), but being able to play precisely and correctly at slower tempos first will be essential to that development. As for your first question, I think Simon would say that technique and music must always go together, so I don’t think practicing scales *only* develops certain techniques, though it does that. And so it’s important to use dynamics and phrasing and color contrasts while playing scales as well.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  17. James Brass December 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    I came across the Segovia scales about three years ago and used them to revise the music theory behind them (which has never really become second nature to me as I am really trying to learn to play not compose) – I don’t feel the need to work out why a piece is written the way it is. I also enjoyed working through the various positions the scales needed which I am sure has helped with more fluidity whilst shifting up the fretboard. It made sense for the scales to span more than just a single octave (I think). Did I get regularly through all of them ? – as you suspected no. In fact I have felt for a while that practicing scales did not do much for me as most guitar music does not seem to incorporate scales per se – in fact your article fairly recently (Scale Practice on Classical Guitar) pretty much matched how I felt. I prefer the variety of techniques as per your various ‘technical routines’ publications – although I’m not adequately motivated to be thorough as I should and use them ‘as directed’ (e.g. move through the routines through the week).

  18. Don Seaborg December 13, 2017 at 4:15 am - Reply

    Simon,

    I have known of and used the Segovia scales for about 10 years now. At one point I even had them memorized, al the way around the circle of 5ths. But I found that all I was doing was playing them over and over again and not seeing any real improvement, at least none I could detect. So, I started neglecting them and now am very rusty on them.

  19. Lynda Wilson December 14, 2017 at 12:13 am - Reply

    Hello Simon,
    I used the Segovia Scales way back in the 60’s and they did help me learn the position of notes all along the fingerboard. But, I’ll admit it – I’m lazy these days! I practise the scales in the keys that come up most often in classical guitar music, and neglect the others! And I hate flat keys :(
    I have been using your daily scales book since I joined CGC and find it very helpful.

  20. Sheri Stanley December 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Hello,

    I have been playing the Segovia Diatonic Major/Minor scales for as long as I can remember! They are such a valuable tool in the development of strong technique. I can’t think of any other exercise (save, perhaps, for the Giuliani 120 Arpeggio studies) that does as much for one’s technique as the scales.

  21. joannes December 18, 2017 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Hi simon,

    thanks for your post about the segovia scales.
    I have done some work on the segovia scales some time ago and also use your scales pdf (based on the CAGED system as you mentioned.
    my main aim for this moment with scales is ear training and shifts for all fingers and for this purpose i use different sources depending on what to focus on and to satisfy my curiosity. (major, minor, pentatonic, different Modes)
    i hope to find some answers regarding the background of the Segovia scales when reading the article of Andreas Stevens.

    Regards,
    joannes

  22. John Snyder January 9, 2018 at 3:14 am - Reply

    Hello Simon,

    Any insight as to the sequence of right hand fingering alternations indicated by Segovia? He indicates practicing scales in the following sequence: im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai, back to im. To your knowledge is there a rationale for practicing scales in this sequence?

    Thank you,
    John

    • Dave Belcher January 11, 2018 at 12:45 am - Reply

      Hi John,

      I believe the point behind Segovia’s choice of alternations in fingering is a matter of presenting all possible fingering alternatives so that you really become comfortable playing all forms of alternation and not just, say, “im” or “mi.” This essentially encourages use of the “a” finger in scales, which was not as prominent in scale technique, actually, before Segovia’s method. Hope this helps.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  23. Diana M Roesling January 9, 2018 at 3:16 am - Reply

    former pianist here…..I know all about scales…..all of them! I do Segovia every day……a major and its minor…..and work my way thru the ‘book’…..every week. :)
    I use the template to work on rhythm, dynamics, phrasing,tempo….different ways to make them interesting/different.

  24. Douglas R Thompson July 18, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Is there a reason Segovia wanted us to practice the scales using ONLY apoyando? I don’t, (because I’m a rebel,) but I just wonder what his reasoning was. Also, am I the only one that found the last fingering sequence “I m a m I m a m” frustratingly difficult?

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