The Most Common Spanish Guitar Scales
There is often a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about the scales used in Spanish guitar from players who are new to the style of flamenco music.
In order to play Spanish guitar well however it is important to understand the basic structure in terms of how it commonly employs chords and scales as a means to produce the classic sound of flamenco guitar. When you understand the fundamental mechanics of how the music works it will not only increase your listening enjoyment due to the fact that you are able to appreciate it on a different level but also make your playing sound better too.
The Phrygian Mode Of The Major Scale
The ordinary major scale is used quite a lot however the real flavour of flamenco comes primarily from the use of one mode of the major scale - the Phrygian Mode and from one scale called The Harmonic Minor. Both these scales have exotic sounding names and best of all the sound of the scales really do justify it.
You'll find that the strongest sonic flavour comes from the Harmonic Minor as even when the scale is played on its own it has a very strong Arabian or Spanish feel to it due primarily to its use of semi-tone intervals.
The Phrygian mode is not a genuine scale, even though it is often mistakenly referred to as one. It's actually just a normal Major scale however the starting note is beginning on the 3rd scale degree. So for example if we had a C Major Scale of
C D E F G A B
The Phrygian Mode is simply arrived at through starting on the note of E
E F G A B C D
Starting from this note in the Major Scale sets up a series of intervals which result in a Spanish or exotic sound however it is most apparent when combined with chords which help to really extract the potential of its sound quality. Since the notes don't actually belong to a genuinely new scale it is referred to a Mode. There are in fact 7 modes all contained within the Major Scale but that is the subject of another tutorial and outside the scope of our Spanish guitar scales. A closer study of the Phrygian Mode will show you that it too shares the same kind of strong semi-tone influence as the Harmonic Minor.
The practicing of Spanish guitar scales make up a central core of most methods for learning flamenco guitar and even though you don't need to be absolutely proficient at them for the purposes of playing the material on this site it is none the less important for you to be able to play the basic scale shapes. They will help to develop your musical ear as well as give you the perfect practice tool for improving your fingerstyle technique. Being able to cleanly articulate individual notes is important and playing flamenco guitar scales will help you to do this.
The Harmonic Minor Scale would look like this in A
A B C D E F G#
We have here a combination of two important semi-tone intervals which are responsible for producing the characteristic sound of the scale. You'll notice that both E - F and G# - A are semi tones and together they give the scale an immediately distinctive and recognizable quality.
You'll find that playing scales mostly in a descending line easier than ascending however both directions should be included in your practice schedule. Using a metronome is advisable as it will help to train your fingers to control musical tempo and also give you a reference point upon which to judge if your speed is improving from week to week as your practice.
The other advantage to learning Spanish guitar scales is that you will have the power to compose your own melodic lines with chords should you ever feel in the 'creative' mood. This is a lot of fun and the feeling your get from having composed your own flamenco guitar composition is highly rewarding and personal.