How to play guitar scales with proper fingerings

Out of all the incorrect ways to play guitar, improper fingerings is probably one of the most common bad habits we create. This is because the correct way to play doesn’t come naturally at first. When you approach a new scale or lick it is important that you play it with correct fingerings. This will help you learn faster and it won’t hinder you in your future studies. Correct fingering is closely related to positions on guitar. Let’s take a look at the definition of guitar position.

A guitar position is determined by the fret number your first finger is on. If you lay your first finger on the fifth fret then you are in 5th position. This is important because when you correctly finger a scale you should have one finger per fret. So if your first finger is on the 5th fret, your middle finger will be on the 6th fret so on. There are a few exceptions to this.

The first exception is when you switch positions during a scale. Certain scales require you to slide down a fret to play them correctly. You are still playing with 1 finger per fret, but you changed the set of fingerings to fit the new position.  The scale could also require a slide up to a new position. This does not change the rule of one note per fret, it just changes the position you are in.

The second exception to this is when a scale requires a stretch that cannot be handled with sliding to a new position. You may alter your fingerings to be able to play these scales because they cannot be played one finger per fret. The fingerings for these are not important until you are more advanced, but this exception does exist. Now let’s take a look at what people do that is incorrect.

The most common incorrect finger I have seen is when a person refuses to use their pinky. Yeah, I know the pinky is the weakest finger. This is not a good habit to create and should be avoided and fixed. Another problem I have come across is when people play with one finger. They slide that finger around. Don’t waste the energy. This is bad, it slows you down and you waste 3 fingers. Maximum efficiency is what we are aiming for.

On the topic of maximum efficiency I would like to mention that while you practice scales you should be conscious of how far you take your fingers off the strings. The closer you keep your fingers to the strings the smoother you will play, and it will help with speed greatly. Try this exercise: put your palm of your hand on your leg. Tap your leg starting with your pinky rolling your other fingers in order one at a time. First keep your fingers close to your leg and tap as fast as you can. Then I want you to lift your fingers as high as you can and try to tap as fast as you can. Which one is faster and easier? Paying attention to how close you keep your fingers is an important part of playing guitar.

We have covered the basics to correctly finger guitar scales. You keep your fingers one finger per fret unless it is one of the exceptions and keep your fingers close to the strings. These may not come naturally, but be patient and it will get easier to the point where you don’t have to think about it anymore. Practice smart!

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