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Scales Comparison

David Raleigh Arnold

A Summary of the Advantages of the Scales in “Dynamic Guitar Technique” (DGT) Over All Others

  • Doing all the scale sets invented for guitar or skipping from one to the other makes no sense. On all other instruments, a single scale fingering for technical practice has become standard because, if it is not the only one possible, it is the best. This has not happened for the guitar because the problems in creating such a scale set are very complex. DGT succeeds where others fail because it was made by seeing such exercises as a series of problems and ranking them, rather than as patterns of notes on the fretboard.
  • DGT scales have two octaves with identical fingering in every way that matters. The overwhelming importance of that should be apparent to any discerning musician.[1] That alone is a compelling reason to choose DGT scales for technical practice and abandon the others, replacing one scale at a time.
  • DGT scales exploit the whole physical range of the guitar, and with the three octave versions also exploit the whole musical range of the guitar. Unless you practice scales in a single position, the paramount single technical problem in scale study is that of placing a finger when shifting up or down the neck. DGT scales provide the most intense and organized shifting practice. The octave frets must always be reached, requiring that the wrist be flexed, which prevents injury. Position scales do not sufficiently open and close the hand laterally, which makes extended practice of them lead to inflexibility at best and injury at worst.
  • DGT scales provide systematic practice in shifting. Each scale targets one or more specific shifts by repeating them in each octave and sometimes in the way the octaves are connected also. Each octave helps you with the other.
  • DGT scales use reasonable extensions of the left hand and compression shifting, which Segovia’s scales do not. Those additional techical problems make DGT scales not only more effective for time spent but also less boring, because of their greater variety. The fingerings learned have more application in the real world because more situations are covered. Therefore the player who practices DGT scales will be prepared to make better fingering decisions in his music with imagination and objectivity.

Let the Rumpus Begin

The detailed comparisons below will show the perceptive player or teacher how technical exercises for guitar should be constructed. Each item of comparison is a consideration which was weighed. Theory follows practice. Fundamental concepts usually don’t reveal themselves until after the work is done.

About Scale Sets

Of course technical exercises must be beautiful, not as a work of art but as a manifestation of order, as a perfect circle or triangle is beautiful. It’s hard for any artist to keep working on an exercise that’s ugly.

Segovia’s are the best of all the rest, and others score far lower. Please compare others, any of them.

“Fail” means there was insufficient or no consideration of the issue at all. Scales on a single string are better than scales in a single position, but they are unduly tedious. Extended scales or position scales are not pure technical exercises, working on them solves few technical problems, and they do not require enough change of hand position to prevent repetetive motion injury. I don’t consider them worthy of consideration, but I compare them anyway.

The position scales and Aguado one-octave scales are considered to be general types, so they are credited with being as good as the type could possibly be made. No existing examples are as good as this comparison indicates.

Right hand considerations are not addressed here, nor should they be. Scales do not provide intense practice in moving from string to string, which is why the arpeggios in DGT should be considered indispensible regardless.

If you consider that this comparison lacks important questions, or that it is somehow unfair, contact me.

Scale Comparison

The Contenders, Listed from Least to Most Boring

  1. DGT = The Scales in Dynamic Guitar Technique: openguitar.com/files/scales.pdf
  2. Sgva = The Scales of Segovia
  3. posn = Scales which stay in one position or two positions one fret apart, optimized.
  4. Agdo = One octave scales on one string such as Aguado’s, optimized.


DGT Sgva posn Agdo

Exploits the whole musical range of the instrument?

pass pass fail fail

Exploits the whole physical range of the instrument?

pass fail fail fail

Opens and closes the hand laterally?[2]

pass pass fail pass

Reasonable and appropriate extensions of fingers?[3]

pass fail pass pass

System includes one octave for beginners?

pass fail pass pass

Systematic shift practice?

pass fail fail pass

Same positions rising and descending? [4]

pass fail fail pass

Systematic position practice?

pass fail fail fail

Includes augmented 2nd interval?[5]

pass fail fail fail

Includes 2-3 3-2 finger sequences?

pass fail pass pass

Equal use of fingers?[6]

pass fail fail pass

Equal use of finger combinations?

pass fail pass pass

Equal use of fingers in shifts?

pass fail fail fail

Same fingers shifted to and from for each of two octaves?

pass fail fail fail

One or more shifts in each of two octaves?

pass fail fail fail

Same shifts in each of two octaves?

pass fail fail fail

Fingering repeated in each of two octaves?

pass fail fail fail

Compression (Squeeze) shifts?[7]

pass fail pass fail

Examples of octave joining according to fingering within octaves?

pass fail fail fail

All two and three octave scales ascend to above the 14th fret?[8]

pass fail fail fail

Shifting to and from every finger?

pass fail fail pass

No habits formed to influence fingering of music? [9]

pass fail fail fail

Slide of 2nd finger?

pass fail fail pass

Third octave added without changing the other two?

pass fail fail fail

End Notes:

§1 If you can repeat a fingering, the result is four times as good because:

  1. You have half as much to learn.
  2. There is twice as much practice.

If you can repeat three times, it’s nine times as good, etc.. That arithmetic is one of the most important things to understand about fingering. (The idea relates to music even more than to exercises. A pattern in the fingering is also a pattern in the music, so this thinking also improves the interpretation of any sort of music.)

§2 The DGT arpeggios are the best practice for this. Arpeggios are recommended for keyboard players because they open and close the hand laterally in very much the same manner. Scales don’t do it very much, but position scales do it the least.

§3 The distance between the 3rd and 4th fingers at the 15th to the 17th fret is the same as the distance at the 3rd and 4th frets. A refusal to practice the extension of the 4th or 1st finger is uncompromising, to say the least.

§4 The advantage to having the same finger placements rising and descending is that it makes the scale easier to learn, in two ways:

  1. It reduces the number of positions.
  2. It reduces the number of different finger placements in those positions.

Segovia as a matter of preference fingered two notes per position rising and three descending, which reduces the number of placements of weaker fingers. That might be sensible if you were ever going to play scales in concert. As my first teacher (Bill Harris) pointed out to me more than fifty years ago, scales which are different in rising and descending should also be practiced backwards.

I must point out that having the fingers placed when descending where they were placed when rising does not really constitute the same fingering up and down, because the fingers are placed in the opposite order. That is not an issue.

§5 Otherwise there is little reason to practice the minors at all. The only difference other minor scales have from majors is at the top.

§6 Playing in position, you tend to use the 1st and 4th fingers almost twice as much as the 2nd and 3rd. Total equality is not possible, but one has to make an effort to get a reasonable balance.

§7 Some position scales will allow one fret of shifting between the ③ and ② string,

§8 This prevents injury by making the wrist flex in every bout.

§9 I have seen Segovia fall prey to this in concert when playing the Sor-Mozart variations.

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©2009 David Raleigh Arnold - Latest revision: Sep 20 2011 - http://www.openguitar.com