Most beginners normally concentrate exclusively on chords and strumming in the early stages of learning guitar. As you progress however you’ll find that not only is there a harmonic aspect to playing guitar but also a melodic aspect through the use of acoustic guitar scales. Just as chords can be difficult or relatively easy depending on which ones you play, scales can also have their easier or more difficult versions.
One of the easiest acoustic guitar scales to learn is called the pentatonic scale. When played in the key of E, the scale incorporates a lot of open strings and its shape is very easy to learn and remember. Fortunately it’s also one of the most widely used scales in all of popular music. It has been used to great effect in pop music, rock music and particularly in blues. All of these factors make it a perfect guitar scale for beginners to learn and also to use in their first attempts at improvisation.
Every method offering acoustic guitar lessons should incorporate scales, soloing and improvisation as a standard part of learning to play acoustic guitar. There are some students who will naturally be able to express themselves melodically on guitar using these guitar scales however it’s fair to say that such students are exceptions to the general rule. Most beginners find their first attempts at improvising on guitar to be a little awkward and challenging.
This is entirely normal and to be expected as whenever we make the transition into a new area of guitar playing there is bound to be a short period of uncertainty and challenge. When learning acoustic guitar scales it is always advised to play up and down the scale shape many times until you have memorised the scale and can play it without thinking. Only then will you be ready to start using the scale for improvising over chord progressions. In order to get a real sense for the sound quality of a scale it helps to have your tutor play chords while you practice the scale on top. If you do not have someone to play chords for you it’s possible to download a backing track instead.
For most guitar scales it’s only possible to hear their true tonal characteristics when they are played against a background of selected chords. You’ll come to see that even though the scale remains exactly the same, when different chords are played underneath it they have a great power to change the apparent personality of the scale. Be patient when you first start learning scales and practise them very slowly so that your brain is given the chance to record them properly.
It’s a good idea to always practise scales on acoustic guitar with a metronome. This will help you to not only memorise the scale securely but also to develop your technical control over speed. All serious musicians across all instruments use metronomes for this purpose. If you do not want the expense of buying a metronome there are many available for free online.
Set up your metronome to play at a relatively slow tempo and begin to practise playing your scales both ascending and descending in time with the click. After a few minutes increase the tempo on your metronome and repeat the exercise once more. You should continue doing this until you reach your limit for how fast you are able to play the scale cleanly. Upon having reached this point you then retrace your steps backwards decreasing the tempo.
This is how to practice scales in an excellent way, secure in the knowledge that you are programming them correctly and this is going to pay big dividends later on.