Lesson 1: Sharps and Flats in New Rhythms

Chapter 4

Scales

Learning to play scales is extremely important to your development as a guitarist and musician. When you practice scales, you accelerate your technical proficiency. And being proficient at scales makes it easier to overcome certain physical challenges that you encounter when you’re learning new music.

Western music is greatly influenced by diatonic scales, a progression through musical notes. There are many types of scales in music, but for this introductory course, let’s examine a simple major scale.

A major scale is built of whole steps and half steps that occur in a certain formula or pattern. The scale below consists of eight consecutive notes, numbered one through eight. It starts with the root note, or letter name of the scale (in this case G), and it progresses through all the letters of the music alphabet, with the octave as the last note.

sheet music example
Pattern of whole and half steps that make up a major scale

Whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half is the pattern for all major scales, which can begin on any of the seven musical notes. A music interval is the distance between two notes. We count intervals from the lower note to the higher note. We count the lower note as number one. For example, the interval from the G note to the A note is a second (G is one; A is two). This would mean that the interval between the G note and the B note would be a third (G is one; B is three).

So here’s another question for you: What would the interval from the G note to the D note be?

If you answered a fifth, you’d be correct.

Scale Practice

Let’s try playing a G scale. The exercise below shows the scale in three different rhythmic values. When you play it, do your best to alternate the m and i fingers. Also, try to accent the numbered beats in red to help you stay in synch with your metronome. And try to synchronize your two hands together to play the notes legato.

Listen to the audio recording, and then give it a try.

sheet music example
G scale in quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes

A Friendly Reminder

Let’s conclude this chapter with a friendly reminder. By now, you’ve probably started to develop a few bad habits. (Most beginning guitar players begin to develop bad habits after a few weeks!) It’s important to correct these as soon as possible so they don’t hamper you for the rest of your playing life.

Here’s a list of some common bad habits that many beginning students develop:

  • Holding your guitar incorrectly. This is a big one, because how you hold your guitar determines how easily you can play it. Refer to Lesson 1, and check to make sure that you’re holding your guitar in the correct position.
  • Incorrect right-hand position. Resting the heel of your hand on the top of the guitar, or resting that little finger on the top of the guitar, will pull your hand out of the correct position. Refer to Lesson 1 if necessary.
  • Incorrect right-hand finger alignment. Play on the left side of the fingernail, and play with the point-of-contact technique. Strive to always play beautiful-sounding notes.
  • Incorrect left-hand finger alignment. This has so much to do with how easy it is to consistently produce clear notes. If you’re still having trouble, refer to Lesson 4.
  • Incorrect left-hand thumb placement on the neck. If your thumb is peaking up above the neck, then you need to lower it. Press with the ball of your thumb directly behind your fingertips.
  • Right-hand thumb joint bent instead of flat. If you can hear a scraping sound from your thumbnail on the wound bass strings when you play, then your thumb joint that’s closest to the nail is probably bent. It should be flat or straight. Refer to Lessons 2 and 3, Chapters 2.
  • Not consistently alternating between index and middle fingers when playing running note passages. This goes back to playing the G scale. Always strive to consistently alternate between i and m.

Remember that I’m available in the Discussion Area to answer all your questions.

Before you begin practicing your music each day, you should work on some arpeggio warm-ups and scale practice with the metronome. If you’re warmed up before you play your music, you’ll make fewer mistakes and enjoy more success!