Spaced Repetition for Learning Stringed Instrument Scale Patterns

I have been using Anki for scheduling the practice of various guitar scale patterns. Many of the patterns I practice are movable. So, I can play a C major scale at one place on the fretboard, then move the pattern up two frets and play a D scale. (

In theory, I should be able to first learn all of the note locations on the fretboard, and then learn one pattern, and–voila!–I can play the pattern in any key. However, there are slight differences in each pattern as you move up the neck, because the frets get closer together. So to really be good at playing the pattern everywhere, you should practice it everywhere. This is especially true for non-freted instruments, where you have to get your spacing just right for proper intonation.

How should I handle this in Anki? Should I just create a card for the pattern in every position? Should I make them “siblings” so I am not just drawing the pattern from short term memory? Or should I just let the ratings buttons sort things out? Or do you think it would be adequate to randomly assign each different movable pattern to different keys, and expect the spacing subtleties to generalize across all patterns?

I welcome any suggestions.

I play from muscle memory, which I don’t know if Anki will help with, unless you visualize yourself playing the scales.

If you know the shapes of those five chords (C, A, G, E, D) in open position, you probably already have them memorized in every key.

One idea: play them through using the circle of fifths:
Fat Cats Give Dogs An Endless Battle

By Eight All Dates Get Cold Feet

So, first play F in all the positions. Then C in all the positions, then G, etc…

Just an idea to experiment with. I haven’t played guitar in about three years because of a hand injury… :confused:

+1 moving through the circle of fifths. It’s essential to know well and teaches you just that muscle memory you are asking about.

This doesn’t have to do with Anki, but inmho, Anki isnt’t the right tool for the job. If possible, it’s best to learn a skill by practicing the skills and sub-skills that are actually used, especially when it involves muscle memory. Aki is really good for memory sports because there are skills, like quickly linking images together, that can’t be done until the images are known well.

It also helps to practice the modes. If you practice playing through the modes when you are playing your scales, you gain not only the skill of being able to practice all of those different patterns in different places on the neck board, but you learn the more advanced skill of knowing where notes within the same key are in relation to each other up and down the fretboard.

I might sound like a lot of extra information to learn, but if you’ve been playing every day since this post, you have probably seen how quickly the hands can get used to those patterns. It’s only mental work in the beginning.

I have been experimenting with Anki and guitar scales, too.

First, remember that Anki alone is not a complete learning system. It is very good at what it does, but it does not do everything. Your goal is not to memorize hundreds of scales, but to be able to use scales to create music. So, after you play the scale on the card, use it to invent phrases all over the fretboard. You don’t want to just be a robot absorbing information. You want to be an artist saying something compelling.

You could also create a card for each key. This will result in you rating the cards as “easy” faster and eventually you will have the scale in each key distributed throughout your deck.

A variation on this would be to make cards that each start the scale on a different tone and in a different key. For example:
Shape: E CAGE Major
Key: Bb
Start: XXXXX3
Direction: Decending

So you would be using the E CAGE shape to play an Eb major scale, starting on the third of the scale on the first string, descending. Play it in a loop from that starting point.

The benefits are that you learn the specific tone locations of each shape, rather than a route that always proceeds from lowest to highest and back.

You can also include sequences as variables. For example, “Ascending thirds”. After you practice that card, invent some phrases that incorporate ascending thirds.

I have a bad memory. I see the Anki algorithm as optimized for memorizing a single piece of information. A scale pattern for one scale has many notes. So, if I have just one card, I end up failing it a lot. That’s why I make several cards that approach the same information in different ways.

I will also write three goals for each session on a piece of paper. For example: hammer on; Robert Johnson lick; angry. So, I will try to create phases that use hammer ons, elements of a Robert Johnson, and sound angry–not necessarily all on the same lick. These are just concepts to keep me from falling into a rut. I choose them intuitively.

So those are some possible ideas. Let me know if any of them help you.

Things can get out of control if you try to create every variation for every shape in every key. So you have to be careful not to become obsessed with “completeness”. Don’t add a ton of variations on the same shape all at once. You can always add more later, when you are ready to explore new concepts. Do several variations and then move on to a new shape. You will ultimately learn to use the shapes musically by using them musically. Remember that learning any shape at the in a given position on the fretboard will help you play all shapes in that position. Everything overlaps and is interconnected.

Spend at least as much time making music as you do practicing with Anki.