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About scales


When I was at school I played lots of scales, scales with single notes, in thirds, sixths, eighths and tenths. Scales are very important for the development of instrumental technique: they are good exercises in which you should try to play as fast and as loud as possible, with the best sound you can make; in other words the best compromise between sound and speed.

Scales are useful for guitarists of all levels to improve their left hand ability on the fingerboard and for their right hand plucking skills.

Regarding the left hand it’s important that the four fingers are always near the string they have to press, because the smaller the movement you do the better it is. You must pay particular attention to the position of your fingers; your thumb at the back of the neck in the centre, and the other four fingers in line with each other and bent to the same degree.

Regarding the right hand, the position of the forearm is important, because it must move the player's hand and fingers from the sixth string to the first string and back, keeping them in the same position. The wrist must be in a straight line with the forearm, with the palm directly in front of the sound hole, and the fingers that pluck the strings must all be curved in the same way.

The player's nails are very important and playing the scales with alternating fingers is necessary; in my opinion scales should be performed with supported touch (apoyado) using the combination of index and middle fingers, to play as fast as possible.

This is basic logical advice.

I think all guitar teachers know the possible difficulties mentioned before and is able to get the best out of their students. But one important question, in my opinion, remains: how to group the notes of the scales.

If you look at scales in different books, you notice that they are written in different ways; in crotchets, in quavers and in semiquavers. Although every scale starts in the same way, with an accent on the first note, the scales can be written in different groupings; e.g. in twos, threes or fours, and here is the problem: if we take the C scale, we will start from bottom C, go up to high C and return to the first C: fifteen notes, which are impossible to play with accents on the notes that the key requires. If you play a C scale, you have to put the accent on the C, because this note is the key note, the note from which you start and to which you will arrive, even if you have a 8 octave scale. Whatever grouping of notes you have (2's, 3's or 4's), the accent does not always fall on the C.

I believe that this problem can be solved using a typical Balcan rhythmic grouping: the seven quaver rhythm, which can be divided into a group of four followed by three and so you have a secondary accent on the G, the dominant of the key. Unfortunately this rhythm is rather uncommon with some classically-trained instrumentalists and there are musicians that never play anything with this rhythm. At the beginning it may be difficult for them to play with such  irregular rhythmic patterns, but, believe me, this is the best way to organize the notes of the scales.

My last observation about playing scales on the guitar: with the fingering I suggest, I try to avoid large movements of the left arm along the fingerboard as far as possible. If we look at the C scale fingered by Segovia, we will observe that on the third string Segovia moves the arm from the second fret to the fifth fret, with the finger combination 1-3; 1-3. There is no doubt that this is the hardest point of this scale, difficult for the fingers, for the arm, for maintaining a steady tempo. With my fingering I avoid this big movement dividing it into two smaller movements. I begin the scale as Segovia does, but when I arrive on the third string I play A, B, C with 1-3-4, then I do a small arm movement along the fingerboard, after which I play  D, E, F on the second string with 1-3-4. Subsequently I play G and A on the first string with 1-3, then I shift 3 to B and I play C with 4. The descending part is organized in this way: I play B, A with 3-1, then I return with 1 on the G, and from here I continue down, reversing the order of the fingers used for ascending. So I do two little movements going up and another two going down, which helps me keep the speed of my performance, by dividing one difficult point into two less difficult points.

With this idea I’ve fingered all the 24 scales. I think this is the best way to obtain maximum speed. Download them and believe in yourself!

Stefano Masera

Rovereto, 11 April 2013

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