Learning guitar scales is one of the most effective and easy ways to develop your skills as a beginning guitarist. They will open your fingers and ears to the basic patterns of music, allow you to visualize new pathways on the guitar fretboard, and help you to enhance your musical and improvisational skills. Figuring out scales and patterns will also help you to develop solid technique in both hands. What more could you want?
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How to Learn Guitar Scales the Easy Way
There is a huge world of scales – so many in fact that you could spend years learning and developing them. Additionally, the design of the guitar fretboard presents us with some unique challenges. For every scale, there are at least three different ways we could play the scale – further adding to the time required to master the instrument, but also providing us with more possibilities for melodic expression.
Let’s learn three basic scales that will help provide some foundation for your knowledge and provide you with possible pathways for further exploration. We will first learn the minor pentatonic scale, then the major scale, and finally the natural minor scale. Grab your guitar and let’s get to work!
The Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale is often the first scale that beginning guitarists learn. The guitar is essentially a pentatonic instrument. The open strings in standard tuning spell a minor pentatonic scale and most of the major influential music on the electric guitar from the last century is pentatonic based.
The minor pentatonic scale is a five note scale that follows a particular pattern of intervals. Each scale is defined by the number of tones and the distance between those tones, or intervals.
The minor pentatonic scale follows the interval pattern of:
minor third, major second, major second, minor third, major second
From E, this scale is spelled E – G – A – B – D – E and looks like this starting from the open low E string:
And like this starting from the 12th fret on the low E string:
The Major Scale
The major scale is a foundational scale in Western music. If you have ever heard the syllables do – re – mi – fa – sol – la – ti – do, then you have heard the major scale. It is prominently featured in many styles of music and is the source of the modes, which we will explore in future posts.
The major scale follows the interval pattern of:
whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step
Every major scale follows this pattern – it is precisely what defines the major scale as opposed to the minor pentatonic scale or natural minor scale.
From C, the major scale is spelled C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C. The C major scale is a neutral starting point that we use for a lot of music theory work. It is to your advantage to memorize it and its construction! It looks like this starting from the eighth fret of the low E string:
The Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale is a cousin of the major scale. The two scales are related by a concept called relative minor/relative major. Basically, every major key has a relative minor key that you can pull melodies and chords from and vice versa.
The relative minor of any major key is always found on the sixth scale degree of the major scale. All this means is you need to count up six tones from the root note to find the relative minor.
If we count up from C, we get C – D – E – F – G – A. A minor is the relative minor of C major. This means we will build the natural minor scale from A.
The notes of the relative minor and major scales are actually the same. However, since we start on a different root note, the interval pattern is actually slightly different.
The interval pattern for the natural minor scale is:
whole step, half step, whole step
whole step, whole step, half step, whole step
From A on the fifth fret of the low E string, the scale looks like this:
There are hundreds of guitar scales to learn. Study and master the basics and you will be able to explore beyond. Look for more posts diving into patterns and exercises with these scales and more.