Play Scales on Guitar Like Etudes

For those of you that are unsure what an Etude is, essentially, historically speaking, Etudes come out of the Classical music tradition.  It is basically a “study” that is designed to help the musician perfect a specific technical aspect, often disguised as an actual tune.

So what I am going to recommend when practicing a scale, like the examples in my book New Approach to Scales for Guitarists, is to treat them as a very short Etudes. After all, you are going to be using different techniques when playing scales in this “new approach.” My last post on, Importance of Using a Metronome, I talked about learning how to play things slowly and to use the metronome to push yourself to get better by gauging your daily improvement. I have also recently created a new report, “10 Awesome Ways to Use a Metronome,” which is essentially an updated and fortified version of “Importance of Using a Metronome” post. If you sign up to my mailing list, you will get a copy of “10 Awesome Ways to Use a Metronome,” for free.

Since I lay out the scales in my book with 4 examples per scale (some scales even less) and only 2 different patterns for each scale, it really cuts learning scales down significantly, over 70% less work, along with some other great benefits. The only thing that is a little time consuming is going through all the keys. We can’t do anything about that unless you only wanted to play in one key the rest of your life. However, realistically, you could learn one new scale in all keys down cold, every week. And I don’t mean just be able to play them, I mean ripping on them! In 29 weeks you can learn all the scales in the book. That’s around 7 months. Very doable.

The How To:

1. Start by picking a tempo goal. This is your final (or maximum) tempo you would like to play all the scales at by the end of each week. Let’s pick 224 BPM as an example.

2. Next pick a slow tempo you want to start off with for each scale. Let’s say 50 BPM. Slow is good remember! Especially when learning something new.

3. Now subtract your Starting Tempo (ST) from your Maximum Tempo (MT) to figure out the complete Weekly Target Range (WTR) of the beats per minute you need to cover in a week. Next, divide that by the number of days (7), and you’ll get the BMP Daily Target Tange (DTR) for each day. Here it is expressed as an equation:

(MT – ST = WTR) ÷  7  = DTR

Now let’s use our numbers above as an example:
(224 – 50 = 174) ÷ 7 = 24-25 BPM

Over a period of one week, our Weekly Target Range goal, is to cover 174 BPM with an increase of 24-25 BPM (our DTR) each day. If you start at 50 BPM on day 1, your goal is to reach a metronome marking of 72-76 BPM, day 2, 96-100 BPM, and day 3, 126 BPM. Continue this each day until you have reached your Maximum Tempo (MT), 224 BPM by day 7.

4. Getting to your Daily Target Range (DTR): You can increase by small amounts, like 2-4 BPM if you need to depending whether you are having a little more trouble with a certain scale. You may not need to do that. I suggest using the traditional metronome tempo markings (See below).  Instead, try dividing the DTR in half.  If you start at 50 BPM, you can next practice the scale 63 BPM, then finally 76 BPM. With 3 runs through the scale, at just 3 different tempos,. You have now just completed your goal for day one! See, not that daunting.

Make sure to go through each key, every day. You can stick to one key at a time, my favorite, or do all the keys before you increase the tempo. Totally up to you. Remember, it will take longer at the the beginning of the week, simply because the tempos are slower. The faster the tempo, the amount of time it takes to practice the scales on guitar each day will decrease. Every day you practice, it takes less and less time. How cool is that?!

Final Thoughts
Not everyone has the luxury of having 7 days to practice. Let’s say you only have 5 day. Then your Daily Target Range might look more like this:

(MT – ST = WTR) ÷  5  = DTR
(224 – 50 = 174) ÷ 5 = 34-35 BPM

Still very achievable.

In the end, think of all that “study” your fingers will have gotten finding all the “good notes” by doing a different scale on your guitar each week. You’ll know your scales and your fretboard so well it will make your friends’ heads spin! No more hit and miss notes on your guitar. Furthermore, you will feel a sense of great accomplishment having one more thing towards getting your musical arsenal together–how to sound good.

Treat scales as Etudes and you’ll master what many people avoid.

Thanks for reading. Now break out your guitar and get crackin’ on those scales!

Real Metronome Tempo Markings:
40 – 60 (increases by 2 beats)
60 – 72 (increases by 3 beats)
72 – 120 (increases by 4 beats)
120 – 144 (increases by 6 beats)
144 – 208 and beyond (increases by 8 beats)


Feel free to comment or post your thoughts and ideas below


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