Practicing Guitar Scales & Guitar Chords: The Inherent Value

When thinking in terms of practicing guitar scales and guitar chords, many guitarists tend to overlook the overwhelming value of such practice. After all, some might argue, practicing a guitar scale just for the sake of practicing a guitar scale, doesn’t seem like a very exciting prospect. The same argument, for some, is also applied to learning and playing guitar chords. In other words, why learn a major 9 chord, when a major triad is easier to learn and play? We’ll examine the answer in a moment.

Keep in mind that many guitarists are satisfied with their ability to play just a few songs here and there. There are many guitarists who enjoy performing in clubs for larger audiences. Others strive to become accomplished nationally and internationally. The practice habits for all are different, because the goals are different.

For the purpose of this article, I believe it’s safe to say that those who enjoy playing a few songs here and there, will, most likely, bypass the rigorous schedule of scale and chord practice.

For the intermediates, advanced, or professional players, scale and chord practice is absolutely essential. In fact, daily practice sessions are in line with these levels of musicianship. Why? The development of strength, endurance, recognition of melodic and harmonic structure, and, of course, more facility on the guitar.

The leap from good to great on the guitar is actually a short distance. Shorter than one might think. It’s really all about the level of desire and commitment one has, that will determine the actual distance. However, willingness without action equals fantasy. Good intent means nothing if one is not prepared to act.

None of us believe that, as guitarists, our fingers somehow magically end up on the correct note, the correct string, at the right time, merely by accident. In fact, a great melodic solo and chord work is generally reflective of many years of pure practice. It’s almost a guarantee that behind every great guitarist, there are thousands and thousands of hours of scale and chord practice. It’s important to remind ourselves of all the benefits as a result of this hard work.

For starters, practicing scales develops finger strength, wrist control, picking techniques, pivot techniques, thumb placement, fret logic, and a multitude of other essential elements needed in order to execute in a professional manner. By practicing scales as scales (not musical statements per se), we learn very good habits and general rules of performance. We also learn that rules are made to be broken. When we, as experienced guitarists, break a rule, we at least know that we are, in fact, breaking a rule. Further, we all know that it’s permissible to break certain rules due to the impositions of certain styles of music, among other things.

For the experienced guitarist, I truly believe it’s important to remember how we arrived at our proficiency level. This is important because, in reality, we should never stop learning and progressing.

As a progressive guitarist, I enjoy those over-the-top solos that generally send chills up the spine of the listener. However, I also enjoy the hours of personal practice that allows me to execute those solos. Performance is one thing and skill development is another. It’s beneficial to enjoy both.

Imagine setting aside approximately eight straight hours of practice time and devoting a good share of that time to practicing one or two scales only. The thought of this routine might surprise some of the more experienced players. Once again, why practice scales when we can solo into infinity? The answer is forth coming.

I can almost guarantee that after a few hours of practicing a scale, the strict succession of the scale tones will disappear and will be replaced with new musical statements. Further, fresh new techniques will also emerge. For example, one might discover a new way to pick a string, cross a string, mute a string, embellish the scale tones, as well as many, many other discoveries. How’s that for progression?

A hardcore practice session can easily turn into a fantastic creative session. This is great news for the original guitarist and songwriter. Need a new guitar lick or song? Practice, practice, practice.

Everything discussed thus far, pertaining to guitar scales, also applies to practicing guitar chords. In music, time waits for no man. Chord construction and execution takes practice. Especially, when dealing with extended chords and altered chords (let’s not forget inversions). Not all of us will have the opportunity to encounter a major 11 Augmented 13th chord. However, what happens if we do? Answer; play it at the speed of right.

Whatever your level of musicianship, be sure to practice for the sake of practice. Great things will result from your hard work.

Post by: Michael E. Fletcher
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