On the Speed of the Scales on the Classical Guitar

Fly on the strings!

A common aspect of the guitar playing technique that causes much trouble is playing the scales at fast tempos. Arpeggios and chords are more convenient so those problems seem more realistic to overcome. But what to do with the scales? Specially when plucking strings with fingers not a pick. About how fast tempos are we talking about?

When you can play four notes per 120bpm click then you should be able to play most of the classical guitar repertoire. You can graduate from an average academy of music with a little less, too. But flamenco-players are able to play at 140 and even 160. How to get there? Let’s see what kind of problems are we facing here:

Playing a scale on the guitar includes following mechanical activities:

  1. producing sound with right hand
  2. alternating fingers (or pick) of right hand
  3. moving from string to string with right hand fingers
  4. position of the right arm
  5. position of the left arm
  6. placing left hand fingers
  7. moving from string to string with left hand
  8. changing positions
  9. cooperation of hands

You can come up with more but the point is – there are far more aspects than a player could possibly think of when playing. Memory comes in, too. Knowing the right notes, sure.

If at least one of those elements fails then a fast and fluent scale will not happen. The key is to train all those mechanical elements separately or in a pair until they become automatic. So – begin with alternating right hand fingers on a single string, then add left hand fingers on one string, then add string shifts then position shifts.

Here are couple of examples how I practice those things:

1. Tempo 120bpm. First of all I play on the open 2nd string and when I feel comfortable then I start to add left hand. I move up and down on the major scale on single string. Note that I move slow and then suddenly double the tempo. This is the only way that gives results. I play each left hand combination two times and start with a different right hand finger each time. Common combinatsions to practice are i-m, m-i, i-a, a-i, p-i, p-m


2. Tempo 160 bpm Basically, the approach is the same but finally I will start to move to first string. It brings in the string shifting element and you should do it only if you feel confident enough with the rest.


So find your max tempo on open strings, reduce 20 bpm and start practicing. When playing with a pick the same rules will apply. Working this way will give good results with just a couple of years but only if you are honest and take notice of your mistakes. Don’t forget the metronome!

Your experience is welcome, please share!

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