The Segovia Scales

The great Andres Segovia, who taught four generations of guitarists how a guitar should sound, wrote some scales for guitar as a young man, and they have been widely imitated. For the most part, the imitators have taken the bad and left the good, so Segovia's scales are the best of a bad lot.

In sum, considering the left hand alone, what's good about Segovia's scales is that they get you up and down the neck, and what's bad is that they don't do it enough and, worse, they do it in a haphazard manner. If you compare Segovia's C scale and my A-flat, you see the same manners of shifting practiced: up from 3 to 1, down from 1 to 3. In my A-flat, it's done three times. In Segovia's C, with the same two octave span, only once. Moreover, the three octaves in Segovia's G scale, which is the star of the show, have different fingerings in every octave. Furthermore, you can get carpal tunnel syndrome from Segovia's scales, because too many of them fail to force bending of the wrist by going up onto the short frets. Not a problem with mine. Every single one goes at least to the 15th fret.

I have known guitarists, including a University instructor in guitar, who have been turned away from the whole idea of technique because of experience with the Segovia scales. To some extent he poisoned the well. If his stuff wasn't good enough, how could anyone else's be?

Segovia set himself an impossible task. The best way to finger a three octave scale on the guitar is with one slide in each octave. That is the way every sane guitarist fingers the run at the end of the adagio in the Concierto de Aranjuez, for example. Two-fret slides are not worth much as practice in getting up and down the neck. Therefore, good three octave scale fingering for practice purposes is impossible, Q. E. D.. Follow the logic. He simply never thought it through.

In writing technique, any flaw in underlying concepts or approach is necessarily utterly fatal, a house on sand, a hog on ice. His wrong turn was to devise scales for the musical range of the instrument instead of its physical range.

On the right hand fingering which he proposed for his scales I must be even less generous. It is a very bad idea to practice for hours without any use of the thumb at all. Practicing the apoyando stroke to the exclusion of the escape stroke makes little sense with the index and middle finger, but absolutely none with the middle and annular. You never ever play anything whatever alternating the middle and annular with an apoyando stroke. Moreover, he may have felt that alternating thumb and finger in scales did not get sufficient evenness of tone. If a violinist tried to tell you that the upbow should not be used for that reason, which would be an equally fair objection, you would doubt his sanity. Thumb and finger gets very even indeed when you work on it, and I advise to do so. All the lutenists and guitarists of previous ages played monophonically with thumb and finger most or almost all of the time. To rule it out is impossibly perverse.

Segovia assumed flamenco as a model for how a guitar should be played. He wasn't seeking the same sound, but he uncritically accepted the idea that monody was thumb or two fingers on the guitar and never thumb and finger. It didn't hurt him too much because he did not attempt types of music like jazz or fiddle tunes which require a different approach. I see no good reason why any guitarist today would want to so limit himself. I used to think that one had to choose what type of music one wanted to play on the instrument and tailor the technique accordingly. Not so.

I don't want to give the impression that I do not admire Segovia merely because he did not write as well as he played. He wrote music all his life and as far as I know he never became really good at it, but in my opinion he was an authentic genius of a performer. His fingerings are the only ones which I consult, because I sympathize with his concept of how a guitar should sound. If you don't sympathize with a performer in that way, you may enjoy their playing very much but you can't use their fingerings or arrangements, because it's better and even quicker to start over from scratch than to make all the necessary changes to make their stuff useful to you.

So I admire Segovia very much but I have no use for his scales. I am very pleased to have succeeded where he failed. Mine are so much better that I confidently promise miracles to those who practice them diligently. They are the third part of "Dynamic Guitar Technique". daveA