Should You Learn the Segovia Scales?
Eventually, most serious students of the classical guitar are exposed to the Segovia Scales, or at least hear of them (perhaps in low murmurs from dark corners of the internet).
And so arises the question, “Should I be learning these scales?” and “Are the Segovia Scales what I’ve been searching for all my life?”
Maybe, or maybe not. Only you can decide to set out on that quest.
Below you’ll find some considerations to help inform your decision.
What are the Segovia Scales?
The so-called “Segovia Scales” are a specific fingering of all the major and minor scales. They use the entire fretboard of the guitar, and demanding frequent shifting of position.
As with all scales, they are a practice tool with which to focus on improving classical guitar technique. They provide a container in which to focus on specific right-hand and left-hand challenges. There are, of course, other reasons to practice scales as well.
These scales got their name (so the story goes), when the great guitarist Andrés Segovia recommended them to students in a masterclass. Though this fingering of scales had been used previous to this by numerous players worldwide, clever publishers immediately released new editions under the famous guitarist’s name.
Students of guitar ever since have flocked to this collection as a time-tested addition to their classical guitar technique practice.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I offer a course on these scales. You can learn more about the scale course here if you like. That said, I try to remain objective.
The Benefits of Practicing the Segovia Scales
There are numerous benefits to be gained by working to master any scale patterns, and these are certainly included.
They’re a robust technique practice tool
As with the 5 basic scale shapes, the Segovia Scales, once learned and memorized, give you a tool to work on specific technical challenges.
The form a template from which you can refine elements of playing that will then transfer to the actual music you play.
They use the entire guitar neck
From the lowest E to the highest B, these scales put you in virtually every position on the guitar.
Few exercises make such use of the entirety of the instrument.
But moving constantly up and down the neck has its challenges. Which leads us to….
They’re wonderful for practicing shifting positions
They demand clean shifting from one position to the next, which is an art unto itself.
As we progress to more challenging music, we’re required to move around the fretboard more.
The Segovia Scales give a direct way to master this skill.
They move through all keys, major and minor
Most guitar music is written in one of a few “guitar-friendly” keys (mainly sharps, not so many flats, open strings whenever possible).
However, the Segovia Scale fingerings go methodically (using a logical pattern) through all 12 keys.
They present first a major scale, then it’s relative minor (ignore this if you don’t recognize the terms. If you like, it’s all explained in the course).
In this way, you move through every major and minor scale.
They’re a way to focus on many musical skills at once
The Upanishads say that, “A wise sage enjoys many pleasures at once.” (How’s that for self-serving selective memory and disregard of context!)
“A wise sage enjoys many pleasures at once.” The Upanishads
The Segovia Scales allow you to meet several challenges (or pleasures) at one time.
While some of these repeat afore-mentioned aspects, when practicing these scales, you work on:
1. Connecting notes (legato)
2. Right-hand scale technique
3. Consistent tone while shifting
4. Playing in all positions on neck
5. Pattern recognition
6. Habit formation
Connection to a lasting musical heritage
In addition to being a technical tool that can help you progress towards your musical goals and aspirations, the Segovia Scales also allow you to connect to a guitar tradition.
For decades, players have sharpened their axes on the stone of these patterns. They are used and taught by the top players and teachers in the world.
Chances are, these will still be popular 100 years from now (or so says the Lindy Effect), and people just like you will be considering whether or not to take up the gauntlet.
Just as piano has it’s “Hanons”, and trumpet has it’s “Arban’s”, so we, too have our go-to single-line scale practice.
In addition to the technical benefits, there is something gratifying about having made the journey and survived the tribulations of learning and memorizing all these scales.
It can be rewarding to have a tried-and-true method to work on your skills.
And if you’re ever in a group of fellow classical guitarists, you can share in the knowledge that you each have shared a common endeavor (in a good way!).
Reasons to Avoid the Segovia Scales
All that said, these scale patterns are not a good fit for everyone.
There are two sides to every coin, and these are no different.
Here are a few considerations that must be mentioned:
They are not music.
No one (unless they’re just being nice) wants to hear you play your scales.
You put in hours of work to initially learn them, then practice them on and off for the rest of your musical life, and at no time will they be entertaining for anyone but you.
Scales are a solitary pleasure.
The benefits gained from working on them will permeate everything you play, but the scales themselves are not really suitable for sharing.
Reading music in high positions
If you don’t read well in the upper positions, and you only have musical notation to work from, learning these can be a challenge.
Note: the CGS course on these scales also includes TAB and grids, so it’s not such an issue there, but it’s worth mentioning.
They use the entire guitar neck
If you get cold sweats and night terrors every time you think of crossing into the land above the fifth fret, the Segovia Scales could potentially increase your general stress levels.
A majority of the the notes fall above the fifth fret, and require near constant changing of position.
This quality is listed in both the pros and the cons, and you can judge for yourself where on that spectrum it falls.
Lots of work
Scales are, on classical guitar at least, a tool for work. The prime purpose of practicing them is to hone physical and mental abilities.
If you have an aversion to the demanding mental work required to memorize these shapes, or the daily practice to smooth “the rough stone”, save yourself the anguish and just decide not to bother. There is no shame in choosing your battles wisely.
You Definitely SHOULD Learn and Practice Segovia Scales IF:
You want to
If you’re drawn to them, and the thought of practicing them brings you joy and motivation, then definitely jump right in.
Following your interests is a great way to progress. Motivation is a non-factor for things we’re curious about.
Sure, you may get in over your head at times, but it’s better than being safe and bored.
You’re seeking a challenge
If you crave a good challenge, and something you can “chip away at”, these scales are a wonderful way to get comfortable on the full instrument, and work on new skills.
You’re willing to invest time in your long-term guitar skills
As said above, the Segovia Scales are a tool you can use for life to perpetually master your musical craft.
If you can take a long view of the path to mastery (consistent small improvements), these a powerful tool in the adventure.
You enjoy working on technique
If you find rewarding the focusing on details of movement, listening intently for ways to subtly improve, and gently stretching your comfort zone, scale practice offers much satisfaction and joy.
Technique practice can be meditative, calming, and stress-relieving if you bring your full attention and remain in the moment.
If this is your cup of tea, dive right in.
Viable Alternatives to Learning the Segovia Scales Now
Of course, like most decisions, there is more on the table than a simple yes or no.
In addition to diving into the Segovia Scales (or not), you also have other options. Here are a few:
Don’t do anything.
Simply because they exist does not require that you react. You could stop here, and change absolutely nothing about your guitar practice.
I can virtually guarantee you that the Scale Police will not bust in your front door or shine flashlights through your window.
Staying your current path could be the best option for you, if you’re on a specific trajectory, and have specific goals and challenges you’re working towards.
Learn just the first Segovia Scale shape
You could just learn the first shape. C major.
This will be something concrete that you can memorize, and work into your practice that will be useful.
You’ll get the shifting practice, and be able to work on scale technique and all that’s included in that.
Consider this “just dipping a toe”.
Learn the 5 basic scale shapes
The 5 basic single(ish)-position scale shapes are extremely useful to know, provide many of the main benefits of general scale practice.
Also, the Segovia Scales are comprised largely of portions these five scale shapes, “chained” together.
If you are new to scales, I suggest waiting on the Segovia Scales, and learning these first.
Learn an etude or piece with scale passages
Some people (and you know who you are!) simply refuse to touch anything that is not a “real” piece of music, and don’t even feign interest in technique work of any kind.
If you’re going to be this way, at least find some etudes or pieces that have a variety of scale passages within them, and work on those passages in isolation (I like to call this “taking them over to the workbench”.)
Focus on some other aspect of technique
You could also decide to postpone your foray into scales, and instead focus on some other aspect of classical guitar technique.
Arpeggio technique is the foundation of the lion’s share of what we do on classical guitar.
Mastering basic chords and being able to switch quickly between theme is absolutely invaluable.
Improving your ability to read music is also important.
Anything that requires focused awareness, attention to detail and challenge, and offers immediate feedback (through sound or feeling) is ultimately beneficial for your skill development.
But eventually, if you want to be “good”, you’ll likely gravitate to some scale work of some kind.
You’ll have to choose for yourself whether or not the Segovia Scales are a good move for you at this point in time.
You would probably not regret working on them, and would certainly gain from the experience. But they need to fit into your personal practice plan, and add to the enjoyment, challenge and motivation you experience in your daily practice.
Either way, best of luck!
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