Posted on August 8, 2011 by Andy John

I recently had a guitar student of mine ask me what the value of practicing scales is.  If you never play them in your solos, songs, etc, why should you bother practicing them?  Shouldn’t you just practice songs and licks?

This relates to the adage “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.  When I started playing guitar I had training in scales and quickly dismissed them after I could half play the minor pentatonic in one position.  It wasn’t until I started studying jazz that my teacher (Mark Boling) made me learn not just the pentatonic in one position, but in five positions, which covers the entire instrument.  It was like having a new box of toys to play with.  Not only can I play this thing here, but here, and here, and here, and here…  And once I learned the major scale, I learned it in five positions too and the same thing happened.  And once I learned the 7 modes (which are really just the same scale) it happened again.  Do I think scales when I perform?         Never.

And that’s the point.  I’ve engrained them so they are automatic.  I think all good musicians learn their material this way.  The reason Jimmy Page sounds so natural and easy when he plays is because it IS easy, for him.  He has practiced (and played) for hours every day for years and you can’t help but learn your instrument on a deep level with that kind of commitment.

I got distracted, sorry.  I guess the point is that I don’t know if Jimmy Page (or any musician in particular) practices scales.  I would tend to think he did.  The advantage of practicing scales is that it develops facility in your fingers, it organizes the notes so you can play what you hear, and it helps you visualize your instrument.  It’s just one of many tools that musicians use.  Those are reasons enough for me to see the value of learning scales.

<INSERT FAMOUS GUITAR PLAYER HERE> never practiced scales, why should I?