Question: Is it essential for a guitarist to know ALL the scales, or is it enough if one learns just the minor pentatonic scales in order to solo well? Do you have any tips on how to memorize guitar scales?

Tom Hess's Answer: You do not need to learn "all" scales, but at the same time you also shouldn't limit yourself to only one or two scales.

Generally speaking, guitar scales fall into 3 categories:

1. Scales that are universal, general and that all guitar players have to know regardless of their style (the Major scale and the minor pentatonic scale are 2 of such scales). Every guitarist needs to learn guitar scales like this at some point.

2. Scales that are more specific to a certain genre of music but are unlikely to be found in other styles. For example, the Harmonic minor scale or the Lydian mode are not really used in blues but are found all over the place in rock and metal styles. You need to identify what scales/modes apply to the styles you want to play and then learn them.

3. Scales that are commonly used in 2 or more styles. Most scales fall into this category (and all scales from lists 1 and 2 are also included here). Before you get to learning this category, make sure that you have first mastered playing scales in the lists 1 and 2 AND are also in the process of learning how to solo expressively using them. Until and unless you learn to do these 2 things, memorizing dozens of new scales will not help you.

So this means that in addition to learning how to play the guitar scales in lists 1 and 2 above, you should also be learning how to practice guitar in order to use them effectively in your music. This is what I refer to as "application" and "integration" of skills.

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