Accelerated Learning Technique – Learning Scales

By: Adi Hughes

Whether you’re studying a grading curriculum or just looking to expand your theoretical repertoire, learning scales is central to any player’s guitar education..

One of the main challenges you face when learning scales, is that there are so many and so little time to learn them.

Therefore, it’s really important that learning scales is an efficient process.

To do this, you need to explore the challenges involved in learning a scale, so that you can overcome them in an efficient manner.

There are essentially two parts to the learning process when learning chords and scales.

The first is the visual aspect (learning patterns and shapes), the second is muscle memory and aural recognition.

Traditionally, guitar students will sit a scale diagram on a music stand (or laptop screen), look at the notes and try to play them on the guitar at the same time as reading them.

What tends to happen is that the student frequently plays wrong notes, struggles with timing, or loses their place.

Inevitably all these mistakes become trained, making the process of learning a scale a long and frustrating one.

To overcome this challenge, you are going to divide the learning process up so that you are learning only one piece of the jigsaw at a time.

Let’s start by experimenting with the following scale:


lydian #2 scale


The above is a Lydian #2 scale. You may not have come across this scale before (which is why I chose it).

However, if you have, then please find a similar scale diagram that is either unfamiliar, or one that you are currently learning.

You can play this anywhere on the guitar, the note in red dictates the key (root) note.


Study Method

Step 1: Put your guitar down and stare at the above scale image for 60 seconds (using a stopwatch here is useful): look for any symmetry, repeating patterns, note spacings, straight lines, and unique features to its form.

Take note of where the scale starts (find the root note, coloured in red) as later you will need to play the scale starting and finishing at this point.

Look up and down the scale, committing it to memory as a visual pattern, don’t stop until a full 60 seconds have passed, and don’t be tempted to pick up your guitar.


Step 2: Cover the scale up (scroll passed it, face away from the screen, or turn the paper over if you’re working from a printed format). Ensure that your guitar is still not in your hands.

For the next 60 seconds, you are going to close you eyes, imagine your guitar in your hands, and imagine yourself playing the scale.

Picture where each finger will be placed, then slowly ascend and descend through the notes. Try to imagine how each note should sound as you go along.

Watch as your fingers progress through the notes and across your fretboard.

If you can’t remember the whole shape, just play as much as you can remember, ascending to and descending from that point. Keep going until the 60 seconds have passed.


Step 3: Now you can pick up your guitar. With the image of the scale still hidden, focus on your fretboard and play the scale up and down, just as you had imagined in the previous step.

Again, if you didn’t remember the whole shape, just play as far as you can remember, and back again – it’s really important not to try and play beyond this point.

Continue ascending and descending through the scale for a full 60 seconds.

Ensure you are using good technique, that your hand position is correct, you are using the correct fingers, and that the notes are each played at a consistent tempo.

You should now know this scale, if not in it’s entirety, then to the point that you have rehearsed above, and it has taken you less than 4 minutes.


How it Works

The first step is a recognition process, you are learning to recognise a pattern, and cutting out any external distractions.

At this point there is nothing musical occurring, nor is there any technique being undertaken.

It is purely a visual recognition process designed to guide you at the next stage, so that you do not need to keep looking back and forth at an image.

The second step it where you really learn the scale. You already know the pattern, yet now you are applying it to your instrument, except you instrument isn’t yet in your hand.

This is important, because if you make any mistakes, then you are only making it on your imaginary guitar, rather than training an unfortunate movement into your fingers.

By playing the scale in your head, you are plotting every note and encountering every difficult movement in a safe environment, where you can quickly navigate any challenge.

The third step is nothing more than a rehearsal of the previous steps, except this time you are training your muscle memory and ears.

With the scale already committed to memory, you should be placing your fingers in exactly the right place at the right time.

There is no danger of you training an incorrect movement into your fingers, as you will have ironed out any possible mistakes in the previous step.

You now know the scale you are playing without any need for reference, and can get used to the feel and sound that it makes.


Do you have any questions about this scale exercise? Share them in the comments section below.


This article has been independently supplied by the author and expresses the author’s own views and opinions; the article does not purport to represent RGT’s views or policies.

One thought on “Accelerated Learning Technique – Learning Scales

  1. Nice article – I like this approach and use something similar. But to accelerate learning further I highly recommend not starting with 2-octave scales. It takes longer for the pattern to get established in the various memory systems (i.e. intellect, visual memory, muscle memory). It’s just too big a piece to bite off for many students.

    I find students progress much quicker (and get an earlier high from achieving something) by taking scales one octave at a time, then connecting them together to make the 2-octave pattern where appropriate.

    This seems to reduce reliance on position playing. It’s also more musical. Expressive phrases don’t come often from a 2-octave scale run, and it’s good to get students thinking in musical units and motifs as much as possible. A logical next step is to get them practicing scales in sequences.

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