Give Your Scales Purpose

You may enjoy playing scales as much as I do. The organizational aspect of it, the ear training, the mechanical and athletic component, and the results scale practice produces keeps them on the top of my technique practice log. All musicians know how important scale work is for their musical and technical development. So if you are in the habit of running through scales as part of your routine, one simple adjustment can help: giving your scales direction.

We augment results when musical intent is paired with technical practice. To this end, start adding simple phrasing to your scales:

Step 1

Know your scales!

Scale D major open.jpg


Step 2

Add simple pair phrasings or groupings. Give a certain hierarchy to the groupings like tension to resolution or strong to weak. Establish that the two (or three or four…) notes are related in some way.


Scale D major open Phrase 1.jpg


Scale D major open Phrase 2.jpg

Keep going: group 4, 5, 6 notes together!

Step 3

Start your phrases off of the perceived downbeat.

Scale D major open Phrase 3.jpg

Off to practice!




Developing Coordination and Stroke Control

Whatever your musical intentions, developing evenness from finger stroke to finger stroke across various pulse patterns is an essential component to good right hand technique. One tool to develop this through scales is to pair three-finger right hand patterns (ami, pmi, ima) to duple rhythms, such as eighth and sixteenth notes, or two-finger patterns (im, am, ai, pi, pm, pa) to triplet patterns. Sort of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

I’ll use the following Major scale form to illustrate.

Scale Warmup 1.jpg

Three Against Two

Step 1 – Play the following eighth notes using the following three-finger right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Focus on maintaining a clear duple pulse and a consistent tone quality from note to note.

Scale Warmup 2.jpg

Step 2 – Play the following sixteenth notes using the following right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Focus on maintaining a clear duple pulse and a consistent tone from note to note.

Scale Warmup 8.jpg

Step 3 – Once that is comfortable, you can further develop coordination between your hands by playing patterns that emphasize a duple feel continuing to use the right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Here are some of my favorites.

Pattern 1

Scale Warm Up 2a.jpg

Pattern 2Scale Warmup 2c.jpg

Pattern 3

Scale Warmup 2b.jpg

Pattern 4

Scale Warmup 8a.jpg

Pattern 5

Scale Warmup 8b.jpg

Two Against Three

Step 4 – Play the following triplets using the following right hand fingerings: im, am, ai, pi, pm, and pa. The most important fingerings to develop are im, am, and pi so prioritize there first. Like before, focus on maintaining a clear triple pulse and a consistent tone from note to note.

Scale Warmup 5.jpg

Step 5 – Time to coordinate those fingers. Challenge yourself to play patterns that emphasize a duple feel continuing to use the right hand fingerings: im, am, ai, pi, pm, and pa.

Pattern 1

Scale Warmup 5a.jpg

Pattern 2

Scale Warmup 5b.jpg

Pattern 3

Scale Warmup 5c.jpg

Good luck and go pluck.

Building Scale Speed

I was warming up this morning and thought I’d post one of my favorite ways to work on scales to both warm up and build speed. I like this sequence because you can set the metronome conservatively and build up as you play. It’s much like the the sequence in this post but applied to scales. I’ll go through this with im (mi) and am (ma) both rest and free stroke but sometimes find myself working on other patterns like pi, ami, ai, and whatever else I feel is going to help my fingers get into the zone. Depending on what’s on my agenda, I may do this for 20-30 minutes or a lot longer pushing myself to build comfort at higher tempos. I like knowing I have a bit more than necessary.

The Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 2 – Speed and Flexibility workbook has a section very similar to this.

Here is the sequence:

Step 1


Step 2


Step 3

Scale Warmup 3.jpg

Step 4

Scale Warmup 4.jpg

Step 5

Scale Warmup 5.jpg

Step 6

Scale Warmup 6.jpg

Step 7

Scale Warmup 7.jpg

Step 8

Scale Warmup 8.jpg

Step 9

Scale Warmup 9.jpg

Step 10

Scale Warmup 10.jpg

Step 11

Scale Warmup 11.jpg

Good luck!