Learning Scales For Guitar - Is It Totally Essential?

Over the years I've had quite a few students question the value of learning scales for guitar. This is usually after they realize that mastering guitar scales will take a significant amount of time, effort and practice. After coming to this realization, they begin to doubt how essential scales are. They think that they might be wasting their time practicing them.

You could argue that they're just being lazy. But I feel that it's a valid concern. I mean, why spend a LOT of time mastering something that may not be absolutely essential? After these guitar students air their concerns, I usually say something along the lines of…

"Yes. They are ABSOLUTELY freakin' essential".

Let's take a look at one reason why NOT practicing and mastering guitar scales will seriously handicap your rate of progress. (There are plenty of other reasons, but we'll only take a look at one reason in this article). Please check out the diagram below…


This diagram shows you three absolutely vital elements of music. Anytime you play something on your guitar you are using one or more of these elements. Let's take a look at what each one means…


This is the timing of the notes that you are playing.


This is anytime you play one note at a time. (An example of this would be playing a guitar lick that doesn't require you to play multiple notes at the same time).


This is anytime you play more than one note simultaneously. (A really good example of this is anytime you play a chord or chord progression on your guitar).

So what has this got to do with guitar scales?

Almost anytime you are playing anything to do with Melody and Harmony you are using scales…

  • Playing guitar licks and solos? You're using notes from scales!
  • Playing chords and chord progressions? You're using notes from scales!
  • Playing songs? You're using notes from scales!
  • Playing completely random notes and random chords? You're using notes from scales! (In this case you're probably using notes from the chromatic scale).

Learning scales for guitar helps you understand and make sense of melody and harmony. It also helps you gain a mastery over these essential elements much faster. 

For example: If you have an excellent scale knowledge, then you'll be able to understand and memorize guitar licks and solos a LOT faster. The licks and solos won't just be random collections of notes. They will be collections of notes created from the scales that you already know.

Bottom line? Practicing guitar scales can really help your playing. So get practicing!

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