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Perfecting Scales

Part 1: Introduction

The practice of scales is, generally speaking, very intimately related with the "serious" practice of a musical instrument. Scales will make your sense of position on the fingerboard a lot more precise. Scales will also help you polish your translation skill on the fingerboard.

Although the approach that has most people thinking of scales is the fast series of notes produced by a "possessed musician", the truth of the matter is that scales are not really meant to increase speed, synchronicity and dexterity, but to polish sound. This is especially true with the classical guitar where sound is not produced by an artifact, like a bow on a violin or the key on a piano, but by the direct contact of the flesh and fingernail with the string.

The classical guitarist must use scales with this purpose in mind primarily or he'll be wasting precious time. Speed wise, the classical guitar is never really played fast, the great masters deliver the illusion of speed but the truth of the matter is that a mediocre piano player can play a well sounding scale twice as fast as the best classical guitar player.

Sound must be the focus in scales. Scales are a lab where the single element of music, the note, is isolated and examined and pushed to all its extremes.

Unlike piano players that work independence of the hands, the classical guitarist works on synchronizing the 2 hands. When the left hand is stopping the given note in the scale, the right hand finger is planted (touching with the tip) on the string that will produce the sound. Read more on Planting.

It is only then that the command is sent to the finger to pluck (Attack) the string. Attack is a term I first heard referring to plucking the strings of the guitar when I studied with Abel Carlevaro in Montevideo. I find the term very illustrative because it depicts very well what happens to the string when it is "attacked" by the finger. You will see me use the word constantly on mangore.com.

Depending on the precision and quality of your sound, you will be defining yourself as a "good" or "not so good" guitarist. Just like with singers, that are judged by the quality of their voice: "Oh yes, she has a beautiful voice!" - Guitarists are judged by the beauty of their sound and this is strictly related to the earlier mentioned factors (planting, attack, syncronicity of the 2 hands) and not by the price tag on their instrument.

The quality of the instrument is actually measured on how easily it allows the player do do this work and not by what amount of dbs it puts out and, in my many years with the classical  guitar I have learned that it is impossible for a guitar not to sound good. It is a perfectly conceived instrument and I have played 30 bucks worth of guitar and made it sound like 3,000. Unfortunately, I have also heard very expensive instruments in mediocre players' hands sound like cheap things. It is also true that the guitar was not conceived for the classical repertoire but it is just as true that no other instrument on the planet can adapt music written for other instruments as well as the guitar does. These pieces become "adopted pieces" and often surpass in quality the original instrument version (one clear example is the music of Albéniz). And most of the great guitar repertoire is actually made of adopted pieces. This is perhaps the guitar's greatest quality, and the reason why it is the most loved instrument of them all.

Part 2: Synchronicity

Once you decided what scale(s) you want to learn, it is wise to center your energy on 2 key aspects in scales performance:

- Synchronicity between the 2 hands.
- Fast alternation between right hand fingers.

Following are 2 great exercises to achieve all these factors simultaneously. The performer must use a metronome in order to achieve smoothness. Increase the speed gradually. Do not practice this exercise if you are tired or distracted.

1) Play all the formulas. 

2) Do not wait to master one formula before you pass on to the next. 

3) Start with string 6 and descend all the way to string 1 and back up.

4) Play each model for at least 30 seconds. You will feel the right hand muscles warming up. That is good. When pain starts appearing, stop.

5) Put an accent on the first note of each 3-notes group.

6) Play these exercises every other day for 1 month and than stop. 

Remember to be creative with technique. You can change the notes to groups of 4 sixteenth notes and move the accent at every 3, 4, 5, 6... notes.

The next great exercise to master scales is the 12 measures scale in Bach's "Chaconne in D minor".

Part 3: The Chromatic Scale

The Chromatic Scale is the mother of all ... Continues in the members' area. Sign up today !

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