Scales and Arpeggios

Why learn scales and arpeggios?
Learning scales helps you learn your way around the fretboard. Your fingers (brain) develops “muscle memory” on how to play a combination of notes. Arpeggios bring you closer to understanding what notes to play for different chords. Scales and arpeggios can be used as the skeleton for a solo and provide the fill-in connections between parts of a solo.

C scale notation over musical staff

I took clarinet lessons when I was in elementary school. Scales were a prominent feature among the lesson subjects. Scales were boring. No one ever told me why they were important. I wanted to play tunes I recognized. But this is the way music was taught back then. “We’ve always taught it this way.” Or, “you must learn the fundamentals (scales) before you can play music.” Or the most typical reaso, “because.”

When I learned to play guitar I faced the same problem. It seemed I should know scales but no one ever explained exactly why.

Now days, I know some of my scales – though there is so much more to learn. But I’ve only just discovered the wonder of arpeggios. Why didn’t someone tell me about this forty years ago? Actually, part of the answer is that when I first learned to play guitar, more than forty years ago, there was no internet and much of the printed lesson material was terrible. Things have improved greatly since then.

Here’s some reasons to learn scales and arpeggios:

  • Scales and arpeggios help you learn where notes are on the fingerboard.
  • Scales and arpeggios help you gain muscle memory of where to put your fingers to play a series of notes.
  • Scales and arpeggios help you play faster (see above).
  • Scales and arpeggios help you recognize the sound and relationship of scale degrees – the notes in the scale.
  • Scales and arpeggios may not constitute a mature solo, but they can be used as a starting point for soloing.
  • Scales and arpeggios are also frequently used to tie chords, licks and sections of a tune together.

It’s far easier to identify what you should learn than it is to go out and learn it. I know my pentatonic scales, the major and minor scales and a few arpeggios. I just want you to understand that I have a lot more to learn and am presenting this to you as much for myself as for you.

Here’s what I intend to cover in the next few blog posts.

  1. Major scale positions on the guitar.
  2. The dominant 7th arpeggio.
  3. The harmonized scale and the arpeggios it contains.

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