When you first learn a new instrument of any kind, you start by learning all the notes. You can memorize the musical alphabet, which encompasses the tones on the treble and bass clefs. You may remember, for instance, that the notes on the low side spell out the word F-A-C-E. This theory and all that encompasses it is the earliest start of learning to play guitar.
Once you learn about note order, you will move on to understanding better the chords and melodies that you can create. Scales encompass the latter concept. These will help you craft new songs, write guitar solos, and help your chord progressions move along effectively.
Ultimately, when you can play any of the seven scale types below, you will become a better guitar player, and your music will sound more professional. You will also have a longer list of skills that you can then use to teach others.
There are many benefits to learning guitar scales, some of which you will find in the information below. It is up to you to determine which of the seven types will work best for the specific songs you want to perform. You then must pour everything you have into practice to become the expert you want to be.
What is a Guitar Scale?
When you make an effort to understand guitar scales, you must start from the beginning. Consider the definition of this music concept so that you can better learn about them. Each melody uses a different set of notes to give any song a different feel and sound.
A guitar scale is a group of notes that work cohesively to write a piece of music. It will form the melody of the song, giving it its tune. The scale is what you recognize when you first hear a song on the radio and immediately pick up on the sound.
The definition used here is basic enough to give you a general understanding of guitar scales without confusing you. As a beginner, you do not need to be an expert on intervals and other complex concepts. Start small. You can use the notes in the scale to write a song in a specific key or create a guitar solo, as mentioned.
The seven guitar scales are Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, Major Pentatonic, Minor Pentatonic, Blues, and Modes of Major. Within each, there are 12 variations. The Mode of Major scale, however, has 12 variations for each of the seven subsets.
What are Guitar Scales Used for?
When you answer the question “What is guitar scale?” you better understand the definition behind the concept. You may now wonder, however, how you can use these. You may ask yourself what the point of the scales is. Guitar scales are the foundation for every piece of music that you will play on your instrument.
If you do not know any of the seven scales, you will be at a disadvantage when writing a song or guitar solo. Every piece of music that carries a tune has a melody. When you know about guitar scales, you can understand the notes that you can safely play together to create a beautiful sound.
You will, in the future, be able to pick out a few of the notes in a scale to use in a guitar solo. After you perform the riff, you will need to know the tones you need. A scale will help you quickly find the notes that flow nicely with the ones in the solo.
Any of the seven guitar scales also help you in the creation of chord progressions. The goal of this music concept is to combine chords to create a specific sound or vibe. Every chord starts with a root note. All of these, in turn, should be the tones that exist on the guitar scale.
Guitar Scales Explained
You must grasp a better understanding of all of the guitar scales to know how to use them. Read about the number of them that exist and in-depth explanations of each below.
How Many Guitar Scales are There?
You may ask yourself, “how many scales are there in guitar?” On this instrument, there are seven scales that each correlate with all 12 notes. You can even make them out of combinations, however, meaning there are countless options.
The most common scales include the major, minor, and both Pentatonic, however. These will be those that you use most. All seven scales that exist, however, are below
- Minor Pentatonic
- Major Pentatonic
- Modes of the Major
- Harmonic Minor
Different Types of Guitar Scales
The Major scale is the most academic and most used in music theory. It follows a specific pattern.
The Major scale starts with two whole notes, and then there is a half. After, there are three more whole and another half. It shows up as W-W-H-W-W-W-H. More specifically, this scale follows a step pattern as the interval will always be the same. Technically, this option is diatonic since it has five whole and two half steps.
There are seven different notes in the Major scale, though you will see an eighth when looking at a diagram. The last tone is a repetition of the first, however. It is the higher octave of the initial root note, giving a complete picture of the melody.
There is a Major scale available in every key that you can play on your guitar. It is also the foundation of the six other options ii that they would otherwise not exist. There are relative minors, for instance, for every Major scale that exists.
The Minor scale has two alternative names. These include natural minor and aeolian mode. Again, there are seven different notes in this type, with the eighth repeating the first.
The Minor scale also follows a pattern. It has semitones on three of the whole notes, however, making it differ from the Major. These are those on the third, sixth, and seventh steps.
The Minor scale is also a diatonic option since it follows a specific pattern as aforementioned. It has five whole steps and two half steps. These are in a different order than the Major scale. The list for this option is W-H-W-W-H-W-W. As you can see, the first half note occurs a step sooner.
As mentioned, every minor key that you create has a Major scale association. The two have different sounds though they are so similar. The only difference is that the two available scale options start at varying points and have varying intervals. You can find any relative minor of a Major scale by looking three half steps down.
The Harmonic Minor scale is almost the same as the Natural Minor. Its alternative name is Aeolian #7. The only difference is in the last scale degree, but the Harmonic Minor still has eight notes in total that you will play.
You must understand what a scale degree is to comprehend the Harmonic Minor option. Each note has a numbered label, and that is, essentially, its scale degree. It will go in numerical order. The first note you play, for instance, will have a scale degree of one and so on.
The last scale degree on the Harmonic Minor option has an increase of an entire halftone. This raise is on the pattern as “1 1/2.” The complete setup for the Harmonic Minor Scale is W-H-W-W-H-1 1/2-H. You may realize that the Harmonic Minor is not a diatonic option due to the lack of five whole notes. It does still have two half notes, however.
The Pentatonic scales are entirely different than the Major and Minor options. They only have five varying notes instead of seven. The fourth and seventh tones are those missing when you play either the Major or Minor Pentatonic scale. These are the two half steps found on both the Major and Minor editions listed above.
Pentatonic translates to “five-note scale.” The word “Penta” means “five,” and “tonic” means “note.” The definition of the title of the scale makes sense when you consider the broken-down components.
Due to the lack of traditional half steps, a Major Pentatonic scale is a disharmonious option. It does not have regular intervals, causing it to become disorganized in a way.
The Major Pentatonic is the rarer of the two options with five notes, but you will find it from time to time. You cannot ignore its existence for this reason, so it is also essential that you understand and learn it.
There is a complicated pattern that the Major Pentatonic follows, which is why you may try to master other scales first. It involves two complete steps that combine with half. You will play the Major Pentatonic scale in this order: W-W-W+H-W-W+H. Again, there are no half steps that exist on their own.
As mentioned throughout, the Minor Pentatonic scale is the easiest to learn. It is the most common so that you will have plenty of songs to practice. It also only uses five notes, and you only have to use three of your fingers to play the melody.
This scale comes from the Minor scale. The second and sixth notes are no longer present for you to play. Similar to the Minor scale again, the Minor Pentatonic has a relative Major Pentatonic option. The locations of the notes only shifted in the Pentatonic Minor.
Again, the Minor Pentatonic scale is not a diatonic option as it does not have two half steps. It is disharmonious, just like the Major Pentatonic, and there is no sense of regularity in the intervals that exist. The pattern that results is W+H-W-W-W+H=W.
You may note that the whole notes combined with half notes occur at different locations here than with a Major Pentatonic. Again, the same rules apply as those between Major and Minor scales. The note locations shift over, as mentioned. This process creates an entirely different sound from the relative Major Pentatonic.
The Blues scale is also unique in that it uses six notes instead of five or seven like the previous options. Though it has more tones, the Blues melody is very similar to the Minor Pentatonic. It adds a diminished fifth note, however. Some musical experts label this addition as the “blue note” since it is the Blues scale.
The Blues scale is a hexatonic option. It receives this label because the prefix “hex” means “six.” It makes sense because, as mentioned, the Blues scale has six tones that you can play through. The sound that results is one of the most recognizable in the music industry. It is in the blues, R&B, and jazz genres most commonly.
The Blues scale has a unique pattern that contains both half notes and whole notes. It also, however, has two combination tones like those mentioned in the Pentatonic options. You will follow this pattern when building a Blues scale: W+H-W-H-H-W+H-W.
The Blues scale is the one that may pair best with a chord progression. One with 12 notes is the “12 bar blues chord progression,” suitable for the matchup. With this combination, you can achieve the perfect sultry feel that you would expect from this genre of music.
Modes of the Major
The Modes of the Major scale is the most advanced and complicated. It has the same notes as are in the Major melodies, but you change the root options. You will start and stop in a completely different tone than what the original scale calls for you to do. The goal is to make strong relations between the chord progression and melody.
Some musicians add that the word “mode” is just an alternative to the use of the word “key.” When considering this statement, your goal is to change the pitch of every Major scale. Rather than doing it chord by chord, you will perform this task using the entire melody. All you have to change, as mentioned, however, is the root note.
Know that there are mode scales for each of the other types, including Minor Pentatonic, Minor, Harmonic Minor, and the others. There are seven specific modes of the Major Scale, however.
Some of the most popular songs from every genre that existed used the Modes of the Major scales. These include “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin and “Let It Be” by the Beatles. In modern times, “Army of Me” by Bjork is a popular option that uses this type of scale. It is a versatile consideration. Most who use the Modes of the Major varieties, however, are advanced guitar players.
What are All of the Scales Guitar?
A guitar scales chart can help you understand the variety of options that exist for the melody. Use the lists below to give you a headstart on learning this new information.
- C Major: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
- D Major: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D
- E Major: E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E
- F Major: F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F
- G Major: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G
- A Major: A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
- B Major: B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B
- F# Major: F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D#-E#-F#
- Gb Major: Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F-Gb
- Db Major: Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C-Db
- C# Major: C#-D#-E#-F#-G#-A#-B#-C#
- Ab Major: Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab
- Eb Major: Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb
- Bb Major: Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb
- C Minor: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
- G Minor: G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G
- D Minor: D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D
- A Minor: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
- E Minor: E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E
- B Minor: B-C#-D-E-F#-G-A-B
- F# Minor: F#-G#-A-B-C#-D-E-F#
- C# Minor: C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#
- G# Minor: G#-A#-B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#
- Eb Minor: Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb
- Bb Minor: Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb
- F Minor: F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F
Harmonic Minor Scales
- A Harmonic Minor: A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A
- E Harmonic Minor: E-F#-G-A-B-C-D#-E
- B Harmonic Minor: B-C#-D-E-F#-G-A#-B
- F# Harmonic Minor: F#-G#-A-B-C#-D-E#-F#
- C# Harmonic Minor: C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B#-C#
- Ab Harmonic Minor: Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-Fb-G-Ab
- Eb Harmonic Minor: Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-D-Eb
- Bb Harmonic Minor: Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-A-Bb
- F Harmonic Minor: F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-E-F
- C Harmonic Minor: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-B-C
- G Harmonic Minor: G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F#-G
- D Harmonic Minor: D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#-D
Major Pentatonic Scales
- C Major Pentatonic: C-D-E-G-A
- D Major Pentatonic: D-E-F#-A-B
- E Major Pentatonic: E-F#-G#-B-C#
- F Major Pentatonic: F-G-A-C-D
- G Major Pentatonic: G-A-B-D-E
- A Major Pentatonic: A-B-C#-E-F#
- B Major Pentatonic: B-C#-D#-F#-G#
- F# Major Pentatonic: F#-G#-A#-C#-D#
- Gb Major Pentatonic: Gb-Ab-Bb-Db-Eb
- Db Major Pentatonic: Db-Eb-F-Ab-Bb
- C# Major Pentatonic: C#-D#-E#-G#-A#
- Ab Major Pentatonic: Ab-Bb-C-Eb-F
- Eb Major Pentatonic: Eb-F-G-Bb-C
- Bb Major Pentatonic: Bb-C-D-F-G
Minor Pentatonic Scales
- C Minor Pentatonic: C-Eb-F-G-Bb
- G Minor Pentatonic: G-Bb-C-D-F
- D Minor Pentatonic: D-F-G-A-C
- A Minor Pentatonic: A-C-D-E-G
- E Minor Pentatonic: E-G-A-B-D
- B Minor Pentatonic: B-D-E-F#-A
- F# Minor Pentatonic: F#-A-B-C#-E
- C# Minor Pentatonic: C#-E-F#-G#-B
- G# Minor Pentatonic: G#-B-C#-D#-F#
- Eb Minor Pentatonic: Eb-Gb-Ab-Bb-Db
- Bb Minor Pentatonic: Bb-Db-Eb-F-Ab
- F Minor Pentatonic: F-Ab-Bb-C-Eb
- C Blues Scale: C-Eb-F-Gb-G-Bb-C
- G Blues Scale: G-Bb-C-Db-D-F-G
- D Blues Scale: D-F-G-Ab-A-C-D
- A Blues Scale: A-C-D-Eb-E-G-A
- E Blues Scale: E-G-A-Bb-B-D-E
- B Blues Scale: B-D-E-F-F#-A-B
- F# Blues Scale: F#-A-B-C-C#-E-F#
- Db Blues Scale: Db-E-Gb-G-Ab-B-Db
- Ab Blues Scale: Ab-B-Db-D-Eb-Gb-Ab
- Eb Blues Scale: Eb-Gb-Ab-A-Bb-Db-Eb
- Bb Blues Scale: Bb-Db-Eb-E-F-Ab-Bb
- F Blues Scale: F-Ab-Bb-B-C-Eb-F
Modes of the Major
There are seven modes of the major that allow you to change the root note to the pitch that you like. Other than the initial and closing tone, the rest are the same. All seven types of modes are in the list below. Each uses the same notes of the Major scales above.
What are the 3 Major Scales?
Three new Major scales are essential for your guitar playing needs. You should already have a basic understanding of C, D, G, and F Major before you should comprehend these. You can reference the list of all guitar scales above if you need a reminder.
The three Major scales that are new are A, Bb, and Eb. These are as common as the four aforementioned. For re-emphasis, you can see each in the list below.
- A Major: A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
- Bb Major: Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb
- Eb Major: Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb
As mentioned, the Major scale is one of the most traditionally used in music theory. It exists in songs of every genre. If you want to get technical, however, classical music will use it the most. Once you can memorize the Minor Pentatonic and Blues scale, challenge yourself to remember the Major scales too.
If you want an easy place to start learning about them, consider the seven listed here. These are some of the most common and make the most sense for beginners. After mastering these, move on to the other five Major scales that you can play.
Should I Learn Guitar Scales?
The information above should answer “how do guitar scales work?” for you. It should also help you understand why learning these music concepts are essential to your future as a musician. You can write chord progressions, melodies, and guitar riffs from them. All three of these options are necessary when creating or covering songs.
There are two ways that you can more easily learn any of the guitar scales above. First, you can memorize the notes that are on each one. Remember, however, there are 12 variations of each type of scale, so that is a lot that you will have to remember.
Another method is to develop your muscle memory. This concept involves allowing your fingers to remember what to play when performing a song that uses a specific scale. You can build your muscle memory by practicing just the notes on a scale in order, over and over again.
Many guitar players choose to use both of the learning methods above. If their muscle memory fails them or if they cannot remember one specific not, for instance, they can fall back on the other. With a well-rounded comprehension, you will become a much better musician in no time and will always appear confident.
A guitar scale is a group of notes that sound good together and create a specific melody for a song or guitar solo. They also help many musicians form chord progressions. Reference the list of all guitar scales above to see all 12 variations of each of the seven scale types.
You do not have to feel overwhelmed when learning guitar scales for the first time. There are many ways to practice, and you can always refer back to your notes until you have a clear memory. The more songs you play, the easier these scales will come to you.
Remember, guitar scales are necessary if you want to write songs or perform cover music of any kind. They help you understand note placement and use so that you can make the melody sound beautiful. You need a Major or Minor Pentatonic in your song, for instance, to avoid pitchiness and disjointedness.
Start practicing any of the seven scales above today. Try running through them, going up and down over and over until you have muscle memory. Explore all of the notes in the scales by playing them individually and seeing which ones sound best together. When you perform these tasks regularly, you will feel more confident about your newfound knowledge. When understanding guitar scales, you will play them with ease.
What Guitar Scales To Learn First
The most uncomplicated scale you can learn is the minor Pentatonic. It is one of the most commonly used in songwriting and only contains five notes. The simplicity of the minor Pentatonic scales makes it easy to memorize, meaning you can play it without hesitation when necessary.
The Blues scale is almost the same as the minor Pentatonic. It only adds one more note but allows for more opportunities when you want to make music. With such a simple addition, you can learn and memorize the Blues scale quickly too.
The most important scale you can learn is the Major scale, and remember there are several variations. It is one of the first things teachers will help you understand when taking a music theory class. If you can memorize just one of the major scales, you can catch on quickly to the others.
The Major Pentatonic scale, however, also only has five notes, making it easy to memorize. It is not as common as the Minor Pentatonic, however. This reason is why many say to wait to learn this option. If you want to start simple, it is a valuable option.
What Scales to Learn on Guitar in Order
It is difficult to make one generalized statement about the scales you should learn first. Every musician is different and comes with their own prior experiences with the instrument. If someone has a diverse understanding of how guitar scales work, they may want to start with a complicated option like the Modes of the Major.
For this article, the below list will encompass what beginners may need to learn first. It is best if they start with the most uncomplicated and needed and work their way up. See the list of guitar scales below to know a possible order for your needs.
- Minor Pentatonic Scale
- Blues Scale
- Major Scale
- Minor Scale
- Major Pentatonic Scale
- Modes of the Major Scale
- Harmonic Minor
As mentioned, the Minor Pentatonic and Blues scales are easy to learn as they contain only a few notes. Move on to the most traditional and practical, the Major scale, when you completely understand these. The last three on the list are the most complicated and least used.
What is the Easiest Scale on Guitar?
The most uncomplicated scale to learn is the Minor Pentatonic. Musicians use it in every genre, with it being popular in rock and the blues. There are only five notes to memorize, as mentioned, so you have nothing to lose.
The Minor Pentatonic scale is also easy on your hands. You only have to use three fingers, placing your index finger on the root note, which is the first one on the Minor Pentatonic. You will need to incorporate the ring and pinky fingers here also. Only two are your primary, however, as shown in the list below.
- Low E: Index and pinky fingers
- A: Index and ring fingers
- D: Index and ring fingers
- G: Index and ring fingers
- B: Index and pinky fingers
- High E: Index and pinky fingers
Many beginners start with an open string setup with the Minor Pentatonix scale. This method is to help your pinky and ring fingers become stronger. You will use your index and middle fingers until you get used to the scale. Eventually, add in the other two as listed above, allowing them to become stronger, especially important when you move away from the Minor Pentatonic.
Is it Better to Learn Scales or Chords First?
Many musicians choose to learn chords first. They are simpler to understand and easier to create. Scales are essential, however, if you want to learn melodies that are necessary when writing songs and performing covers of any genre.
Most guitar teachers advise that you learn scales and chords together. As mentioned, the former creates the melodies that exist in a song. Chords, on the other hand, make up the harmonic components. When you play the two together, you will have a well-rounded piece of music. It will cover all parts that you need to perform.
If you want to become a rhythm guitar player, you would just learn the chords. This factor of music encompasses the harmonies aforementioned. They provide a sense of depth to your song and are the parts that alto and bass vocalists typically sing in a choir.
As a lead guitarist, however, or a solo act, you will have to play both. Determining when you need to use either a chord or scale will depend on the song you play. Each songwriter uses different methods when creating the music they want to present to the rest of the world.
When practicing, you must take into consideration both the chords and the scales. Take time to use the below methods when learning the melodies. Practice your chords by considering the root notes that exist in those that you want to practice. As mentioned, you need a combination of these components to make music.
How Do You Practice Guitar Scales Effectively?
Practicing your guitar scales is one of the best choices you can make. When you gain a better understanding of this concept, you grow your skills as a better musician. You will also be more dexterous when playing chords as you will immediately know where to place your fingers.
One of the best ways to practice scales is to use the five-stage method. This technique helps you memorize the notes so that you can more quickly become a confident guitar player. Use the steps provided below to start practicing.
1. Play the Scale Up and Down
First, you want to play the scale over and over again, doing it both up and down. Practice the notes as many times as you can without stopping. Keep consistency key when playing the scales so that you get used to a sense of control with volume and length. Move on to to the next step when you do not make any mistakes four times in a row.
2. Randomly Change Directions
After you play the scales perfectly, start changing the direction you play them at a random moment in time. If you move up the scale, for instance, switch to down at any given note. Only play notes in consecutive order, however, so you do not confuse yourself with the order. You should complete this step without stopping too.
3. Play Any Note on the Scale
Play any note on the scale to gain a better understanding of the many sounds that exist. Scales typically contain seven, five, or six tones. Do not be afraid to play the lowest followed by the highest, for instance. Ensure that you do not play any note that is not on the scale you want to practice.
4. Add Chords
You can make a chord out of any note that exists on the scale. The one you use will become the root tone, letting you add two additional pitches above it. In creating chords, you will add melody to the scale, giving you expertise in performing covers and writing songs.
5. Go Up Four
Rather than play the whole scale up and down, go in patterns of four. Start with the first note, and play the four above it. Continue doing this with every other tone that exists on the scale to help yourself learn the pattern.
6. Find Uses of the Scale
Finally, to ensure you are confident in your knowledge of the scale, find uses of it. Look for songs that incorporate it and play them. Start writing your music and incorporate your newly found understanding of a specific scale.