One of the most versatile tools that classical guitarists could learn to play are scales. Although we may not think about them as such, scales are of great value for the improvement of left and right hand techniques. Usually, we like to get rid of scales within the first 5-10 minutes of practice time, just to say that we practiced them. The problem by doing this is that we are undermining the benefits we may get by practicing them correctly or with a purpose.
Scales are extremely useful when developing or maintaining technique. But let me suggest that we get the most out of them when we assign specific technique elements to them. It is when we practice without specifics in mind that scales become detrimental to the development of the classical guitarist. We tend to see them as a waste of time when we don’t seem to find a purpose through their practice.
But, if you think about it, in scales there’s an equal distribution of work between the hands, so; the possibilities for practice are endless. We just need to get creative at the moment of approaching scales.
Here are some specific technique elements you can work when practicing scales:
- Hand synchronization - left and right hands have to work together if you want your scales to sound smooth.
- Strokes – free stroke and rest stroke.
- Right hand fingering – im, ma, ia, etc…
- Speed – although is not super important some degree of speed is always beneficial.
- Dynamics – forte, piano, crescendo, decrescendo etc…
- Tempo – allegro, vivace, presto, lento, adagio, etc…
- Rhythms – play your scales as triplets instead of eighth or sixteenth notes. Vary the rhythms and the time signatures; even try to create your own phrases out of a scale passage and make different grouping of notes. Practice by using different figures: whole, quarter, eighth notes, etc…
- Articulations - staccato, legato, tenuto, etc…
- Planting – scales are a really good tool to practice and develop the planting technique.
These are just a few specifics that you can use to bring some energy and variety to your scale practice. As mentioned before, be creative!
Please feel free to combine and use these elements according to your needs.
Now, the question would be: How long do I need to practice scales? Well, you don’t have to spend hours practicing scales, a few good, quality minutes a day will do the work. Remember, scales are just a mean to help you achieve specifics not the end itself.
I had the opportunity to attend a classical guitar techniques class with Jason Vieaux, and he said that he likes to practice short scales with specific technique elements instead of long scales without a purpose. I remember practicing the G major scale (one octave) with planting and staccato while on the class. So, you see, is not how lengthy our practice session is, but how efficiently we practice.
Scales are beneficial to you as a guitarist, give them a chance and develop your technique through them. In time, as you get better you will find yourself focusing more on repertoire than in scales, but always knowing that you can come back and refresh anything through scales.