Scales on the Classical Guitar

Scales, along with arpeggios, form the bulk of all we do on the classical guitar.  Perhaps 20% of right hand technique on classical guitar is scale technique.

On classical guitar, we use scale practice mainly to train the hands.  Other genres (jazz, blues, rock, etc.) use scales in different ways, with a focus on improvisation. On classical guitar, the focus is on how the hands move together.

Right-Hand Technique for Scales

  • I/M AlternationIf you only study one scale technique, this is the one.  The most common and useful right hand technique for scales is I/M alternation.  This is the index (I) and middle (M) alternating.  Alternation is the basis of most scale and melodic playing.
  • String-Crossing – One of the main challenges of I/M alternation is moving from one string to another.  So it pays to perfect your string-crossing.  This will allow you to play smoothly at top speed.
  • Avoid Rest-Strokes – There are two ways to play scales with the right hand: free strokes and rest strokes.  We recommend using only free-stroke until the technique is fully ingrained.  And only then introducing rest-strokes.  This article explains the differences, and the reasoning behind this recommendation.

The Left Hand in Classical Guitar Scales

How to Improve Right-Hand Scale Technique

  • Quick-Prepping – This practice technique helps you train your hands to work in a well synchronized way.  It’s useful not just in scale practice, but in pieces as well.
  • Scale Fragments – Use small bits of scales to work on the fine details of synchronization, string-crossing, connecting notes, etc.
  • The Art of Legato Scales – “Legato” means smooth and connected.  This tutorial discusses connecting notes beautifully.  When done well, melodies sing and everything sounds more flowing and natural.

Increasing Scale Speed

For lessons on speeding up, see the Speed section.  Note – “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” It’s more important to play scales in steady rhythm, with well-connected notes.  Speed will naturally come as your hands ingrain the movements.  (Just as we can now tie our shoes quickly, though we never actively try to speed this up. Speed comes from familiarity.)

The Inner Game of Scales – Mindset and Theory


All Scale Articles

Below are all the articles tagged Scales.