QUICK HIT: Lesson on how to play guitar scales faster by identifying root notes, segmenting, and practicing through the quarter and eighth note patterns.
First, it's important to note that the point of learning guitar scales is not necessarily to increase speed. Guitar scales and modes should be understood primarily in the context of melody. They're structures that help you improvise, regardless of how fast that improvisation might occur.
But, in this lesson, I'll focus on showing you how to play guitar scales faster by doing three basic things:
- Identifying root notes
- Breaking scales up into segments
- Practicing ascending and descending patterns
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Identifying Root Notes
If you don't already understand root guitar notes, it's an important building block to learn, not just in terms of playing scales, but for a broader understanding of the fretboard.
When you have a guitar scale that scale will always be played in a certain key. Take the C major scale, for example.
If you're playing a C major scale you should know where it could be played on the fretboard. Take this simple example of a C major scale in the third fret form. The "root" note is that low C on the fifth string.
This pattern can now be implemented anywhere that you can identify a C note on the fretboard. Let's move the shape to the eighth fret where the root C will fall on the sixth string:
Whenever you find the root of the scale, you can repeat the pattern up or down from that point (we'll cover more on these patterns later).
Breaking Scales into Shorter Segments
The first step to playing guitar scales faster is to break the scales up into smaller segments that are simpler to practice. This is easy to do because any one guitar scale repeats itself, per octave, all the way up and down the fretboard. For example, the pentatonic guitar scale contains five notes per octave, where the pattern repeats each time you hit its root note.
If you want to start playing guitar scales faster, just work on the segment within the octave and avoid repeating it until you have the five-note pattern down.
Let's start with the pentatonic major scale in the key of E.
For an easier read I'll tab out the five notes plus the octave E on the ninth fret.
How to Speed Up in Increments
Now that you have your segment I would advise speeding up in increments. For the above tab and audio, the speed should be manageable, especially since it's only six quarter notes. Once you're comfortable with that pace, speed up the segment to eighth notes.
Note that to complete the bar, I've added two additional notes on the fourth string, simply walking back down the scale. To get a feel for the pace, listen to the audio again and play along.
To build speed, focus on the eighth note version and practice going all the way through the shape in one bar, like the above tab. You can also extend by walking all the way back down to the root note.
Here's what the audio sounds like:
Now, let's extend the pattern to fill up the second bar, which basically means we're beginning to repeat the pattern all over again, ascending and descending through the shape:
Listen to the audio again and see if you can keep pace. It sounds fast, but you can slow it down if needed.
Knowing how to play guitar scales faster means being able to master these segments. If you can play them through in eighth notes and reasonably keep pace with this audio, without making mistakes, you're probably ready to add more of the scale. Before you move on, make sure you're able to get through the segment we've covered without missing notes and that each note comes out clean without unwanted muting.
Adding More of the Guitar Scale Pattern
Let's continue with our Pentatonic major scale at the seventh fret position. Remember, the actual scale is only five notes between two octaves. This is the segment we've been working on. However, if you were to lookup the same scale on a site like all-guitar-chords.com, you would see something like this:
As you can see, and as we've mentioned already, the five-note pattern making up the E major pentatonic scale extends in both directions. To continue improving our speed, we should repeat the quarter and eighth note practice method from earlier with the entire shape. Let's start with the quarter notes.
Repeat the scale in a descending pattern as we did before. Once you're ready, go ahead and move on to the eighth note version.
Once again, I would advise ascending and descending through the entire pattern until you're not making mistakes. If you take the time to work up and down the pattern and you pay attention to the difference in feeling and speed between quarter notes and eighth notes, you will be able to play faster by repeating this method with other guitar scales.
Summarizing the Method and Process
Let's quickly review that method:
- Choose a scale and identify its root notes
- Segment the scale into single octaves
- Learn the octave in quarter notes
- Learn the octave in eighth notes
- Add the full form of the scale (at a particular fret/root position)
- Learn the full form in quarter notes
- Learn the full form in eighth notes
This process will teach you how to play guitar scales faster with any pattern. In our examples we've used some pretty simple scales, namely the C major and E major pentatonic. I'll suggest some other guitar scales that are good for helping you build speed.
Other Scales to Run Through This Method
There are plenty of guitar scales to pick from, but here are a few of the more common shapes that are helpful for building speed:
E Minor Pentatonic at the Seventh Fret
Dorian Mode in E at the Seventh Fret
Pentatonic Neutral in C at the Third Fret
Use these scales, or other guitar scales you might know, to run through the method we've established in this lesson. As you get comfortable with more of these shapes, you'll not only play them quicker, but you'll identify them and start connecting different parts of the fretboard together.
Having a method and goal in place when you learn guitar scales is important. This is true whether you're trying to build speed or just expand your knowledge and creativity. Take the time to learn your root notes and break the scales down into segments before working on speed. Not only will it help you play faster, but it will help you learn the scale more thoroughly.
Do you have questions about how to play guitar scales faster or about the particular scales mentioned in this lesson? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to help out.
You can also check out some additional guitar scale-related content from us.