What’s a C major scale? ‘Oh it is *plays C D E F G A B C*. That’s it.’

Often when we see the term ‘scale’, we think of a set of notes played ascending or descending evenly. In fact, most of us learn our scales this way (me included) and perhaps with different note groupings here and there. Now the question is, how do we apply these scales in our playing?

Suddenly the world comes crumbling down. Practiced scales 8 hours a day but have no idea how to use them.

The problem is not with the scales themselves but the perception.

Generally, when we learn a scale, let’s say a G major scale for now, we learn that a G major scale consists of G A B C D E F#. Perfectly fine but why not think the other way?

Instead of thinking that the scale makes up these notes, go for the opposite and think that it is these notes that make up the scale.

Now looking at each individual note, these notes can be arranged anyway we want (as long as it sounds good). It doesn’t need to be played evenly like a machine in 8th notes, 16th notes etc.

Where do we hear the application of scales then? It’s everywhere in music. Just because it doesn’t go up and down in even subdivisions doesn’t mean a scale is not involved. The melody of a radio pop song, that involves a scale (or more than 1 scale!) with its notes arranged to eventually form, well, the melody.

The general way of practicing scales (up and down) is good for recognizing the notes on our instruments. In my case, the guitar. When I talk of playing a scale, it is the ability to recognize all the notes of that scale on the fretboard, NOT going up and down on specific positions only.

I still practice my scales especially Db and Gb major (my nightmare) all over the fretboard to be able to recognize all the notes at once without relying on a specific anchor (I was thinking of another word but I lost it!) e.g. needing to find a Db note before playing in the key of Db major.

Scales are in my opinion one dangerous topic because they can be so easily misused, abused, misunderstood and all the bad things. The goal is to make scales not sound like scales with proper phrasing.

To recap, instead of thinking that a scale makes up the notes in it, go for the opposite and think that these individual notes are the ones that make up the scale. This slight change in perception could be huge so do try!

 

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