Memorize those scales.
How many times have beginning musicians heard this advice, no matter what instrument or genre they are playing?
Drilling scales may seem boring when you are anxious to learn new songs, but this discipline has its worth. Here are a few reasons to consider memorizing some scales:
- Improve your coordination. As a beginner, you may find coordinating your left and right hands on your new instrument difficult at first. Scales offer an easy way to learn to match the two hands. You probably already know how a scale should sound, so you can spend more time thinking about playing the notes and less time thinking about the notes themselves. Scales are also a great way for a beginning vocalist to learn how to coordinate the vocal cords.
- Practice timing. Developing a sense of rhythm and timing is crucial to every new musician. Practicing scales is an easy way to practice rhythm, since it is easy to hear when you have made a mistake. Once you are comfortable with playing quarter and eighth notes in time, you can even add more novel rhythms to your scales for extra practice. For instance, try playing a scale in swing time to get used to the feel of a different rhythm.
- Practice technique. Again, one of the best things about practicing scales is that you can concentrate on many aspects of your playing, rather than just hitting all the correct notes. Use your scale practice as an opportunity to build good technical habits. For example, let’s say you are picking a guitar. While playing a scale, you can check your right-hand picking pattern. Are you using a downstroke on every beat and an upstroke on every offbeat? You can also check your left-hand technique. Are you keeping your pinky finger low and close to the strings?
- Learn new songs quicker. Most songs, particularly those written in a more traditional style, are built on chords and scales. If you already know your scales inside and out, you will find that you can pick up new songs faster because you will already know how to find many of the notes. Yes, some notes will be outliers, but these will likely be in the minority.
- Learn to play in many keys. Likewise, if you can play scales in several keys, you can readily find notes in several keys. This makes it easier to transpose a song you already know to another key.
- Use the length of the fretboard. Too often, intermediate instrumentalists get stuck playing notes only from the bottom of the neck, near the headstock. Learning to play up the neck has many advantages—it can add variety to your solos and it can make changing keys easier. One of the best ways to become familiar with the notes up the neck is to learn to play scales in those positions.
- Learn scales that can be used in solos. Some of the most interesting licks can be scale-based. To prepare yourself to add scale-based licks and patterns to your solos, practice adding variations to your scales. For example, don’t play all of the notes in order. As you ascend a scale, try playing the first note, then the third, then the second, then the fourth, and so on.
- Start on basic music theory. Scales are an integral part of music theory. If for any reason you ever need to (or want to) take up the study of music theory, you will have a head start by just knowing scales.
So what are you waiting for? Start memorizing scales!