What to do with scales to help learning them?

I’m at the point in my guitar learning where I feel that I should be learning (and using) scales - or at least, going beyond simply strumming chords to accompany a song. The problem is that I can play the basic (major and pentatonic) scales fairly OK - not perfectly, but reasonably consistently and at a sensible speed. This is a “problem”, because I’m finding that I don’t have much motivation to keep practising. Getting a few more bpm, or a bit better accuracy, doesn’t really get me wanting to pick up the guitar.

I think the main issue is that I don’t know how to use the scales I’m learning for anything useful. Simply playing them up and down isn’t giving me a huge sense of how they’d be useful in the sort of playing I like to do, which is acoustic styles like folk and ballads (with a bit of acoustic rock, like “Wish you were here” thrown in…).

So I guess what I’m asking is what do people do in order to make “technique” stuff like this come to life? I’m basically learning solo (I play in a church group but that’s very much just simple strumming) and some of the later grade 3 stuff on the site looks interesting, but I’m worried that if I start leaping too far ahead without consolidating the basics, I’ll end up struggling and demotivating myself even more.

Hi Paul ,
I hope this helps,

I thank you for posting this. I did not realize there are sub-categorize in places that I need to be clicking on. I’ve purposely stayed out to not distract myself and low and behold there are “beginner” sections! Thanks!

Hi Paul @p.f.moore, I’m currently consolidating Grade 2, so no expert. That said, have a look a the Major Scale Improvisation lesson if you haven’t already. There may be additional applications for scales, but for me improvising over a backing track (and eventually improvising with other players) is good enough for now!

Probably ahead of your level but…

you can throw in licks and links using the correct scale as part of your playing

A scale itself is like reciting the alphabet not really fun or useful in itself but you have to make words from it…

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One thing I do know to add to this is “Walk Ups” and “Walk Downs” in country style and bluegrass style guitar. You use the scale to walk from one chord to the next. Sure, you could just memorize what to do, but if you KNOW what to do, then you can fiddle around for a few bars and arrive where you want.

I felt the same way as I had no understanding how to “apply” the scales I learned even though I memorized five positions over the entire neck. Then, I started learning blues licks just because they all sound great. There’s a Justin chapter that goes through many examples. Lightbulb moment as it becomes clear that they are all scale related. It also benefits learning specific notes all over the fretboard. I wouldn’t be put off by what grade this is in, besides it’s a lot of fun.

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There is a discussion thread for every lesson, every level in case you did not know,

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I sortof did know that, but there is the few comments that are easy to see, then the full discussion. I don’t make a habit of clicking into the full discussion, and I’ll bet it may be of value to do so. Thanks for the reminder on that.

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Bingo!!! I

I am no teacher, but I have already asked this question at some point along the way. Right now, you are(from the sounds of things), right where I am, at the end of grade 2. Moving to grade 3.

Consolidation at this point is important. So don"t let yourself get too far ahaed. At the same time grade 3 is where it all really comes together. This is where putting the chords amd scales together comes into play, it is also where triads and all the material you will need in pace to get to where you would like to be. It is importa t to organise your practice schedule moving towards that point. This can be tricky my friend. Between, theory, chord practice, singing practice, ear training technique and lets not foget rhythm!! Is alot to take in. So really get to know those scales well, so well you don"t have to think about it. It is the way to get there! Practicing it till it becomes natural. Could take, days to years depending. The point is it will take most of us time to get there.

You have the right mindset as far as I’m concerned. We all get to this point. You know where you want to be, now get a good practice session that will get you there. Starting by getting really good with grade 2 (except blues, if that’s not your thing, explore, move on, except A minor pentatonic)iwhile dabbling in grade 3 to get some new food that may apply. You really should go through grade 3. There is all kinds of excellent techniques and brain food you will want and need to go the direction you wish.

Hope this helps.

Rock on!


I’m not the one you are replying to, but beginners like me also need to hear what you have written. Thanks for typing.


One of the main reasons(I think) Justin has put this here, alot of us are in the same boat and wish to help others progress! Such a fantastical envronment to learn!! Just so happens, this is a great opportunity(practice) as I wish to teach people in the “super beginer” stages. Long term goal.

Rock on!


It’s working!

Hey Paul,

Lets assume you’ve learnt the first pattern of the minor pentatonic. Once you can play it up and down, freely, without errors, at a reasonable pace, then stop doing this. Its as boring as hell; but more to the point, there’s no benefit on continuing to do it as a dedicated exercise.

The goal is to really get to know the scale musically - not just the patterns; but how the scale sounds; how each interval sounds against the root note, and other notes etc; experiencing it in many different contexts, styles, rhythms etc.
There are numerous (and fun) musical exercises and lessons that will increase your knowledge and competency in this area - many contained in Justin’s lessons as you move forward. Its hard to be patient, I know, but just stick close to Justins lessons, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
The key is to start very simple, and build. This stuff is not easy, particularly at first.

Cheers, Shane


Learn things that push you a bit. And that are, for whatever reason, fun. I’m not a big scales guy. I’m taking Justin’s strumming course – one of the big things I want to learn. I learned Travis picking years ago, and when I’d play the guitar sporadically through the past few decades, I’d always finger pick, which is fine. It sounds good. But it bugged me that I was not comfortable or adept with a pick. So that’s what I’m working on, because there’s so much just in the rhythm, the different strums, and getting to where I can pick up a guitar, a pick, and go. I want to get really good with the pick, and with strumming with it, not so much solo stuff.

It’s fun to do stuff which I struggle with, because that tells me where to focus – assuming I want to learn that skill. Soloing may come later, but there’s so much to learn with chords, progressions, using the pick.

I signed up earlier today for an online course at tonypolecastro.com. 60-day money back guarantee. A couple hundred dollars. The guy’s cool, articulate, encouraging. And takes you at a very basic level to start. And I find it interesting that there’s much I don’t know … lol … every single time! He puts a big emphasis on ‘fun.’ How to make it fun, every time you practice.

For me, I’m learning the skills so I can play what I want to play. Be adept with the pick especially. Just takes a lot of practice, but I’ve already seen progress just from doing it for 10 to 20 minutes a day (or less). I love acoustic, I love country. I’m working on cross picking, those strums, clean sounds, clean chord changes, more complex chords.

As Justin and most teachers insist, it’s consistency. 10 minutes a day every day, far better than 2 hours a week, on one day. Tony’s lessons make it easy to do that. The guy’s got a great approach. Do what’s fun, even if it’s just playing with new tunings, triads, strumming, playing along with a song you hear. I’ve started picking up the guitar when I’m listening to a song I like, and finding the key, the chords, and strumming away. I find that just by doing simple things like that, my confidence is growing. The key for me is to just pick up the guitar, and play – something, anything, and once I do that, then I suddenly find I ‘have the time’ … lol …

Hope there’s something useful in all this rambling.

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It’s all spelled out in the courseware. So pay the man! LOL

Always make music, even when practicing. Here are some things that I like to do:

  1. Play over drone backing tracks in the key that you want to work with on youtube. These are a great tool to work out scale movement and learning the fretboard.
  2. Practice playing rhythm guitar into a looper. From there you can work on layering with triads, explore CAGED, playing over the changes and work out melodies (or improvise) using scales and chord tones.


One scale and one pattern only at a time.
And incrementally increasing speed is not the driving factor.
Music is.


I also find it super useful to read through threads like these.
I learn a lot and pick up lots of tips :slight_smile:


In one of my Live Clubs I pointed out that it is a lot easier to motivate yourself to practice osmething when it actually serves something; like a song you are learning or a general style/genre you are working on.

When it ocmes to scales, I rather have you getting the most out of 1 shape but being able to use it in a REAL place; like a certain song or an improv exercise you are working on. I rather have you bagin proficient in 1 shape and being able to express yourself with it, apply some techniques (slides, hammer-ons, bends) etc, to know where the notes are, to show some dexterity and most of all confidence in that one shape…that having you playing out of context scales all over the neck but not serving anything.

Being able to know something and use it very well, gives you the tool to throw in a little lead part instead of chord strums in a song.

Bruce Lee said he rather fears a man who practiced 1 kick a thousand times than a man who practied a thousand kicks just 1 time :smiley:

When you are really confident around one shape, gradually add notes to it; make the shape grow by learning (part of) an adjecent shape and learn to blend them. BUT make sure you’ll USE them as well because otherwsie you’ll just forget and those boring exercises served no purpose :wink:

For me:

  • learning a scale: boring
  • learning a part of a scale to spice up a song: creative
  • Then I learn to psice up the song in more than one way but with the same scale piece: even more creative.
  • Then I want to get more creative in that song I like to make it even more…my own song" and I’m actually motivated to learn a bit f extra scale shape for this scale.

You see; scales are a means to an end but no goal an sich.
Make sure you know what the goal is you are aimign for and how the scale with suit that. It will automatically dictate which scale and which part of it you’ll often need. When you get good at that, expanding gets easier and especially; more fun!


Thanks for this, it was really helpful. You’re right about where I’m up to, but I’m a bit of an odd case in that I’ve been playing, in the sense of strumming chords over songs, for 30+ years off and on. But it’s always been just that - strumming. I can play most chords, but I’ve never really gone much beyond that, and never needed to for the sort of music I play in public. But for myself, I’d like to “do more” - I just don’t really know what “more” would involve, which is where my confusion lies.

I’ve been going through Justin’s course on the basis that it’ll help me consolidate what I do know, and maybe fill in any gaps I have. One of which was scales (hence my question). But a lot of it is pretty basic for me, so it’s hard not to rush ahead, and I’m continually telling myself I need to hold back and complete lessons “properly” without assuming I’m good enough.

I think, given what you’ve said, and what I’ve explained above, I do need to move on a bit. Start to look at grade 3, and get a better sense of where some of this is going. I agree that consolidation is important, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve still got plenty of ingrained “bad habits” from 30 years of self-taught play, but at the same time, getting demotivated is my major problem right now, and pushing myself a bit seems like the best way to go.

Thanks for the advice and pep-talk!

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