One day while on a break from teaching I was browsing around in a music store when someone asked me if I knew of any good books that explained scales for the guitar. In fact, despite being right there in a store full of books I couldn’t suggest one that I thought worth recommending. Over the years I had gone through scores of scale methods that students had brought with them to their lessons, most of these books had a glossy cover with the inside chock full of pictures and diagrams with scale names but they all fell short of explaining musical context and fretboard integration.
Up until this point I hadn’t realized that the reason I had been handwriting lesson after lesson was largely because there wasn’t a book that I had found that explained things clearly.
It’s not that the books didn’t have enough information, most just had too much “information” that wasn’t reconciled to the business of understanding how to make music. I decided that I would try to write a book that would explain scales clearly and simply while providing a “functional” understanding of the fretboard with music fundamentals along with a basic musical language.
The guitar is not a terribly visual instrument when compared to the piano for instance, and so, without a clear understanding of how the entire fretboard fits together it can become confusing and lead to a fractured understanding.
Most developing players tend to see the guitar in pieces, having learned favorite common scale “patterns” that they in turn try to fit into musical applications. The result is that the player has favorite regions of the fretboard that are familiar with wide chasms between those regions.
This leads to the musical purgatory of the perpetual plateau that becomes impossible to leave unless you begin to understand the guitar as an integrated system.
If you only have small pieces of the entire picture it remains a mystery until you see it as an integrated whole. In the case of the guitar this is easy to overcome by simply beginning with a complete view of all of the notes of the scale on the entire fretboard.
Now that you have the entire scale form mapped out you then divide the scale into vertical forms with your hand . This methodology leaves no gaps and will remove the mystery of the fretboard and ultimately make it as easy to understand as a piano keyboard. It is not a magic system, it is just how the guitar works.
Master Fretboard Diagram
C Major Scale – Position I
C Major Scale – Position II
C Major Scale – Position V
For this reason, “Guitar Scales” is presented with scale forms shown as they take place on the entire fretboard, vertically and horizontally. These vertical scale forms are then isolated and learned with a corresponding chord form that can later be connected horizontally with shifts.
The Guitar is an instrument that expresses a musical language. You can’t teach the mechanics of the instrument while ignoring how music and scales are constructed and explained in that musical language.
“Guitar Scales” is designed to introduce the student to music fundamentals directly on the instrument visually and then provide a basic shareable music language for communicating those ideas.
It is a bit like being a tourist in a strange land. The first thing you do is learn some common words and phrases that allow you to communicate basic information and as you become more familiar with the language you can begin to communicate concepts and ideas.
Endless diagrams with dots and names don’t really help all that much in teaching the student to play music, which of course should be the ultimate goal. You must “understand” what you are doing within a “musical” context and “language” and you must build the vocabulary for the language you wish to speak.
This musical language must be understood by your ear as sounds, in fact, what you are creating is a vocabulary of sounds. Although at the beginning visual “patterning” can be a useful tool, ultimately the guitar speaks an auditory language . This auditory language has been organized into a system over many centuries and the guitar is designed to express that language system. This language is made up of scales and chords and intervals that are expressed within the musical contexts of time and melody and harmony . All of these elements are represented by a language of definitions and terms that can be shared.
To study the Guitar is to study Music.
Both music and the guitar are elegant and simple to understand systems. There is no great mystery as to how music works and how the guitar expresses musical ideas but that mystery quickly translates to confusion if the system is not seen as a whole. It is like the story of six blindfolded men each touching different parts of an elephant, they each envision something entirely different because they are examining only parts of the animal.
That is like music and an instrument. If you focus on practicing scale forms without understanding where they come from and how they are used you will remain in a place of confusion.
Music and an instrument have to be learned and taught holistically and completely. The student must ultimately embark on their own journey of discovery from a place of understanding with a simple elegant language communicated through a functional understanding.