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4 Problems Playing Jazz Guitar Scales


If you want to develop a well-rounded jazz guitar skill-set, learning and practicing jazz guitar scales will be critical. However, it is important to keep in mind that as with any other discipline, you will encounter roadblocks and hurdles along the way. Let’s dive into four all too common struggles you may face as you progress your way toward jazz guitar mastery.

1. Hand Cramps

While cramping and soreness are ubiquitous problems for every guitarist, they can be especially troublesome when you are playing through jazz scales. Many of the major scale positions outlined by our jazz guitar instructor, Chuck Loeb, here require a fair amount of stretching, so be mindful of what your hand is telling you while practicing to avoid injuries and fatigue. Stretching your fingers will be your best tool to keep your hands in the proper condition for playing scales.

One simple stretch is to hold your hand in front of you with your palm facing outward and pulling each finger back towards you, for five to ten seconds each. Another way to reduce the chance of cramping is to shake your left hand out and let it hang by your side. This will help to increase circulation, and gives your hand a brief chance to relax.

It’s also important to take breaks during practice sessions, especially when you start to feel the signs of incoming cramping.

2. Mindless Practice

A common problem you may face, especially when practicing jazz scales, will be mindlessly playing without any element of focus. In fact, you should be utilizing scale practice as a means to learn the notes and intervals of the fretboard - as well as to increase your finger speed and dexterity. As Chuck Loeb points out, you should be focusing on the “intervallic makeup” of the major scale while playing it, not simply playing through the shapes.

Saying note names out loud as you play them can be a useful tool to help you focus on maximizing your practice time.

3. Metronome, Metronome, Metronome. . .

The importance of a metronome cannot be emphasized enough when working on jazz scales. It is a common mistake among beginner jazz guitarists to avoid using a metronome, or to only using a metronome to try to speed up. While developing speed is essential, the primary function of a metronome should be to slow you down so you can concentrate on coordinating your finger exchanges and right hand picking techniques with precision.

A wise man once said, “if you are not using a metronome, you are not practicing. You are simply noodling.”

4. Linear vs. Sequential Practicing

Another common problem that jazz guitarists face is getting into the habit of only playing scales linearly (in order, either ascending and descending). You will want to incorporate sequences into your practice to help you think outside the box! This will help you immensely when you are developing your improvisational skills.

Here are a few examples of various sequences to add to any jazz guitar scale:

  • 3 notes up, 1 note back
  • 4 notes up, 2 notes back
  • and so on…

You can also think about intervals to create sequences. For example, move up a major scale by playing a note’s corresponding 3rd directly following each note. With the G major scale, this would mean playing: G, B, A, C, B, D, C, E, D, F#, E, G, F#, A, G.

Remember that any problems you encounter while practicing jazz scales can always be overcome with mindfulness, focus and dedication to the discipline.

Ready to step up your jazz guitar playing? ArtistWorks has what you need. Click here for free jazz guitar lessons from Dave Stryker.



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