Close
Skip to content

Forum

Notifications
Clear all

How important are scales?

Page 2 / 3

(@s1120)
Prominent Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 849
 

I pratice scales buy spending a short time running through them when I start, then spend a wile taking those scales, and try to turn them into a solo/song/tune. Helps me get the scales down, but also teaches me a lot more, and keeps me learning and interested.

If you're making music with your practice, that's a good way to do it. Joe Pass used to do the same thing, just make stuff up. Of course his father was quite strict on him.
I just have a short attention span :D. Helps me focus better

Paul B


ReplyQuote
(@chris-c)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

I think it's good to know a bit of basic theory about scales, because it provides some very useful guidelines to the whole business of building melodies and harmonies. But I'm not hugely fond of playing them for long. I see drilling my fingers as being a bit like drilling soldiers - good for getting the buggers to do what they're told, but not necessarily rigidly applicable in battle.

Whenever I do practice a scale I'll run it around for a little bit, just so the fingers get a good sniff of the territory, and then go straight into making up tunes, noodling and improvising. It's not really a deliberate thing, I just get bored with playing them straight - and the underlying point of the things for me is to make music with them.

Chris


ReplyQuote
(@chris-c)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

Here's a sort of 'Scale Game' that I tried last week, which I rather enjoyed. It came from trying to name any note played randomly at the piano with my eyes closed. Now I don't have perfect pitch and I failed utterly. But as I noodled up and down the white keys, with my eyes still shut, I quickly found middle C, with no trouble at all. The reason being that the white keys are a C Major scale and my improvised tunes kept trying to resolve to C. I thought this was pretty smart... for a couple of days.... until it occurred to me that the white keys are also an A minor scale and I'd never once resolved to the A. So I practised trying to 'think minor' and eventually managed to pull that trick off too. But not as easily or reliably as the mighty Major!

In the variation for guitar, I closed my eyes and plonked my middle finger down on a string. It landed 5 or 6 frets up on the 5th string. So I just started testing out the sounds until I had found a clear and appropriate sounding pattern across all 6 strings, spanning four frets - one per finger (guided only by the sounds). Then I improvised a few tunes with my new found pattern. Sure enough there were 3 spots where the tunes kept wanting to stop. One on each E string and one on the D string. So that had to be whatever key the scale was in. Then I opened my eyes and looked. Yep, they were all A notes and I had ‘found' an A Major scale. I could have simply looked up the positions, but I now feel that I “own” that scale, in that position, in a way that appeals to me. The noises are now mine to do want I want with. And that's what scales are about for me. For sure, they're handy things to use to practice accuracy and touch but what I really want them for is to make up songs. So making music with them is what makes them ‘stick' for me, not trying to memorise boxes off charts. It will be interesting to see if I can 'discover' anything other than more Major scale patterns.

But I bet that others would find my odd methods not their style at all. That's fine too! :D

Chris


ReplyQuote
(@johnny-lee)
Eminent Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 48
 

So making music with them is what makes them ‘stick' for me, not trying to memorise boxes off charts.

Yeah, that's exactly how it works. It's a scientific fact that the brain learns better when there's a context to the thing you're learning. It's easy to remember that way. It's like trying to memorize 10 names vs reading a book with 10 characters. Clearly a no brainer, right? That's why I think its insane that people will practice scales all day long, when they could easily learn that scale much more easily by playing some licks and riffs that use those same exact notes.

My writings on playing guitar => No B.S. Guitar


ReplyQuote
(@sgincyqx)
Reputable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 404
 

Hey, thought this'd be a good place to chime in.

I started out playing a lot of theory/exercises including scales.

1. they were boring
2. it wasn't music

Then I began just learning lots of solos and licks. That's when things actually started to click and make sense. Plus, it sounded good and kept me motivated to continue playing, unlike scales which bored me to tears.

I'd say practice scales a little, but knowing music is superior to knowing lots of theory. :)

The thing is, they are music.

Knowing how to play music is a different beast from just playing the guitar.

Ewan McGregor: I said, "Eve, I want you to look after my wedding ring while I'm away," and she started to cry and I said, "Eve. Eve, I can't wear my ring or I won't get laid on the trip!"


ReplyQuote
(@tinsmith)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 830
 

I agree...they are boring.....modes too.
I'd rather learn songs.


ReplyQuote
(@johnny-lee)
Eminent Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 48
 

The thing is, they are music.

Knowing how to play music is a different beast from just playing the guitar.

Can you explain that a little? Going up and down a scale is music to you?

My writings on playing guitar => No B.S. Guitar


ReplyQuote
(@almann1979)
Noble Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 1283
 

Scales are very important to me. They let me know which notes i can and cant play over certain chords/keys. If I want to put in a wrong note now, i do it deliberately, but without scales, i would be doing it all the time.

Learning the intervals allows me to hear in my head what the sound of a particular note will be over a certain chord, so that helps me plan ahead better while improvising, and create tension/colour with the right notes when needed - something i used to struggle with.

Knowing my scales also helps me figure out my own arpeggio's and understand why the arpeggio's i already knew worked.

I also find it helps me memorize other peoples solo's better - because if i can visualize the scale they are using, it just seems to make it easier to remember than trying to remember a totally random sequence of notes.

Running up and down scales in different picking/legato patterns can be a great practice tool, and if the pattern is interesting enough, then it can have musical implications. I very rarely just play scales "in order" now when i practice, but i will instead sit for half an hour just going over the scale with a picking pattern i find interesting that i could use when improvising.

On top of that, knowing scales helps my rhythm playing, it allows me to come up with my own riffs far more quickly, and allows me to put in fills in between the vocal line - even if i am just making it up on the spot i know the lick will fit, because i know my scales.

Finally, knowing my scales allows me to make different types of music. I can make a major sounding happy solo, or a more rocky blues solo - because i know my scales. I am currently working on using the pentatonic scale in situations that wouldnt normally have occured to me to get different modal sounds that would be impossible for me to achieve just by guessing where the notes are.

i am certainly no expert, but i could not imagine not knowing my scales.

The funny thing is, when i started playing i had no interest in learning scales because i couldnt see their use - i sort of decided to learn them when i could see the need. One of my biggest learning mistakes i think.

"I like to play that guitar. I have to stare at it while I'm playing it because I'm not very good at playing it."
Noel Gallagher (who took the words right out of my mouth)


ReplyQuote
(@s1120)
Prominent Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 849
 

The funny thing is, when i started playing i had no interest in learning scales because i couldnt see their use - i sort of decided to learn them when i could see the need. One of my biggest learning mistakes i think]

I was the same way... im still quite green when it comes to playing, and hated working on the scales... seemed like real "work" and not fun... boring.... One day I started messing around with the One of the blues scales... learning the notes and stuff... and messing around I hurd something.... "whats that?" "Could that be.... MUSIC coming from this chunk of wood and strings?????" THAT was the day it clicked, and looked at learning scales in a totaly diferent ways!!! It moved from a chore, to something I could work with, and figure out new ways to make the sounds Ive been hearing in my head for years!!! I also make a point to use them as a filler when Im doing simple blues songs inbetween, or as a replacement to some of the barrs... I make up some simple riffs.... have eaven hammerd out some simple basic tunes just using them.... I enjoy it now. its a good way to challenge myself to not just copy music from a tab, or a youtube vid...but realy make music!!

Paul B


ReplyQuote
(@sgincyqx)
Reputable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 404
 

The thing is, they are music.

Knowing how to play music is a different beast from just playing the guitar.

Can you explain that a little? Going up and down a scale is music to you?

I don't think you meant to be sarcastic although it kind of came across that way, so here's a bit of expansion.

Music is built around scales. Every single one of those solo's and licks guitar players want to learn are based around a certain scale in a certain key and refusing to learn scales ultimately just limits you as a player IMO. Obviously I don't know your experience level or your skill level but I consider it very important to know some good old fashioned musical theory. My perspective is a little different too maybe because I had a decent level of musical education before I started playing guitar.

Again, I have no idea about your experience level so please don't think I'm talking down to you. I'm just answering your question.

Ewan McGregor: I said, "Eve, I want you to look after my wedding ring while I'm away," and she started to cry and I said, "Eve. Eve, I can't wear my ring or I won't get laid on the trip!"


ReplyQuote
(@noteboat)
Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

knowing music is superior to knowing lots of theory.

I'd restate that... knowing lots of theory is inferior to being able to USE that theory. But the truth is, you can't really "know" music without knowing theory.

Music is an incredibly deep pond. I'm constantly saying that music is a language - theory is simply the rules of grammar. You can write or play within the rules of grammar, or outside of them.

Now if you don't know ANY theory, if if you know very little, you can convince yourself that you're coloring outside the lines and breaking new ground. But the fact is that's very VERY rarely true. You're simply applying rules that you don't know.

Some people can be quite successful at working with limited resources, either deliberately or unwittingly. But the fact that good music can be made without consciously applying theory doesn't mean theory takes the back seat. It only means you don't know WHY what you're doing works - and hand in hand with that, it means you don't know what ELSE might work in the same situation. So that's where I'd have to disagree with your statement - being able to do one thing well because it's the only thing you know how to do is NOT in any way superior to being able to do one thing well because you've been able to consider all the options and decide it's the best choice.

If you are actually successful at making music that's truly outside the rules, the grammar of music expands to explain what you have done. This happens with some regularity. All of the basic tools we use as musicians didn't exist until someone developed them. For example, we used flats in music for a few hundred years until Josquin des Pres decided that if you can lower a tone, you should also be able to raise it too - and he invented the sharp about 550 years ago.

It's somewhat true that rules are made to be broken. Today's power chord guitarists are playing parallel perfect fifths - something that was popular about 11 centuries ago (it was called fixed organum). As music developed more complexity, that style fell out of favor. The 'rules' (i.e. accepted theory) said you should avoid them, as it made music that was rather boring. Half a millenium later, Claude Debussy figured out a way to use them that was quite artistic, and the 'rules' were revised to explain why it worked.

Every time I've heard people say they avoid theory because it's unimportant, or because it stifles their creativity, I listen to their stuff and discover two things: first, they are working within accepted theory. I am not aware of ANY new development in music, at any time in history, that was actually created by someone by accident. The true innovation has always been done by the people who know the rules and are able to see beyond them.

Second, the people who don't know theory tend to produce music that's rather bland. It may be very good in terms of instrumental technique, but on a compositional level it's lacking. They can only do new things by trial and error. On the other hand, those serious musicians who are well versed in theory can benefit from the failed attempts of others - studying anything deeply means understanding not only what's done, but what's been done against the grain - and why it ended up being inferior. It's always fastest to let others make your mistakes for you.

As far as the practicing scales part of this thread goes, simply running up and down scales can be boring, and once you've learned them it's not very productive except for maintaining muscle memory. But that doesn't mean you should throw them overboard... it just means you've gone as far as you can with running up and down the scales. So shift your scale practice to playing them in thirds, playing them in sequences, or using them to develop technical exercises for string skipping or other drills. They're still the building blocks of ALL melodies, and the better you know them they better results you'll get from using them.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


ReplyQuote
(@chris-c)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

Music is an incredibly deep pond. I'm constantly saying that music is a language - theory is simply the rules of grammar. You can write or play within the rules of grammar, or outside of them.

I think that the language analogy is a very good one. It's actually true too - language is basically a series of sounds or symbols that convey meaning, and music clearly qualifies on both counts.

It allows some useful comparisons, especially when you consider how we learn and use other languages. As children, we begin to learn to speak without any training in theory, and initially without the aid of texts - simply by copying what we hear, and then developing our own way of using it. You could be a great storyteller or orator yet be completely illiterate. Not being able to read or write was the norm for thousands of years. There's no doubt that you can learn music that way too. In fact, I'd say that it's an essential part of the package.

It was useful to have learned some French at school, but it didn't come to life for me until I went to stay with a family in France and started using it. When I stopped speaking it then the theoretical knowledge began fading away again. I also have a pretty sketchy knowledge of the rules of English grammar. I've certainly heard of words like ‘gerund', ‘ablative', ‘pluperfect' and ‘vocative' but I've no idea what they mean. Yet I bet that I can use examples of them. I can write well enough to have had my words published in print many times, and also performed on stage.

I enjoy reading books about music theory, orchestration, arrangement etc so I probably know more about the terminology of music and its grammar (admittedly in a relatively superficial way) than I do for English. But does that help my playing? My take on it is that you can master both English and music without ever studying the rules. Yet ignorance is clearly never any kind of advantage. Knowing how to read English has been a great gift, and so has being able to read standard notation for music - it's a massive asset. So has understanding what the point of scales are and how you can use them to build melody and harmony.

Theory and practical usage are partners not rivals. But in my opinion the senior partner is - and always will be - the practical use of the language. It's been a joy beyond description to have taken up playing late in my life and find that I can actually say something in the language of music. And whereas I do enjoy studying the grammar of music and playing set texts, it's “conversational” music that will always be the holy grail for me. It's the difference between being in a play where all the actors have learned precise lines, and having a chat with your mates (where, as you say, you're all still applying certain rules even if you can't name them all). I think that's what Johnny Lee means by “knowing music is superior to knowing lots of theory” - it's that ability to jam along and play some appropriate chords, bass lines or whatever, without necessarily having either a script to follow or having a full grasp of the written theory behind what you're doing. It's the joy of being able to have improvised music flow through your fingers in the same way that conversational speech is made up as you go along, using a blend of known elements that are mixed on the fly. If so, then I'm right with him there. :)

Chris


ReplyQuote
(@johnny-lee)
Eminent Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 48
 

The thing is, they are music.

Knowing how to play music is a different beast from just playing the guitar.

Can you explain that a little? Going up and down a scale is music to you?

I don't think you meant to be sarcastic although it kind of came across that way, so here's a bit of expansion.

Music is built around scales. Every single one of those solo's and licks guitar players want to learn are based around a certain scale in a certain key and refusing to learn scales ultimately just limits you as a player IMO. Obviously I don't know your experience level or your skill level but I consider it very important to know some good old fashioned musical theory. My perspective is a little different too maybe because I had a decent level of musical education before I started playing guitar.

Again, I have no idea about your experience level so please don't think I'm talking down to you. I'm just answering your question.

Didn't mean to offend you. I was just confused as to how scales, in and of themselves, could be music. A scale contains the elements required to make music, but if a running through a scale itself were musical, I imagine would would be listening to it on records.

I'm not saying to not learn what they are (I definitely know mine), but once you know a scale, practicing more scales faster will not do anything for your ability to "speak" in the language of music. It's like memorizing your ABCs but never using them to make words or form sentences. Useless. I picture scale runs pretty much the same way, like reciting your ABCs, but faster and faster.

My writings on playing guitar => No B.S. Guitar


ReplyQuote
(@johnny-lee)
Eminent Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 48
 

My take on it is that you can master both English and music without ever studying the rules. Yet ignorance is clearly never any kind of advantage. Knowing how to read English has been a great gift, and so has being able to read standard notation for music - it's a massive asset. So has understanding what the point of scales are and how you can use them to build melody and harmony.

Theory and practical usage are partners not rivals. But in my opinion the senior partner is - and always will be - the practical use of the language. It's been a joy beyond description to have taken up playing late in my life and find that I can actually say something in the language of music. And whereas I do enjoy studying the grammar of music and playing set texts, it's “conversational” music that will always be the holy grail for me. It's the difference between being in a play where all the actors have learned precise lines, and having a chat with your mates (where, as you say, you're all still applying certain rules even if you can't name them all). I think that's what Johnny Lee means by “knowing music is superior to knowing lots of theory” - it's that ability to jam along and play some appropriate chords, bass lines or whatever, without necessarily having either a script to follow or having a full grasp of the written theory behind what you're doing. It's the joy of being able to have improvised music flow through your fingers in the same way that conversational speech is made up as you go along, using a blend of known elements that are mixed on the fly. If so, then I'm right with him there. :)

Chris

That's it exactly. I think the theory part is useful, if you really understand it on a deep level. What better way to understand it than in seeing how it's actually used in songs? Through examples.

It's extremely frustrating to learn a language by memorizing the rules. None of it has become functional. I've noticed time and again that the people who actually learn a language, they go out and use it, and see how other's are using it. Whereas the people who studying it all day via books, audio, or whatever but never actually use it... they can't speak in the langauge! Obviously, there's a strong correlation between seeing "rules" in the context of its actual usage and how much you actually REALLY know the language. Not being able to speak it, is not knowing a language in my opinion.

The example I always go back to is the Beatles. They just played a whole ton of very good songs, and learned how the language BEST works, according to their taste and ears. Could they explain all the theory behind everything? Doubtful. But I'd take intuitive understanding of something over theoretical but non-applicable knowledge ANY DAY.

My writings on playing guitar => No B.S. Guitar


ReplyQuote
 cnev
(@cnev)
Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4478
 

In my opinion scales are as important to music as letters are to language.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


ReplyQuote
Page 2 / 3