Beginner Guitar Scales Made Easy
Quickly learn 5 essential scales on the guitar to improve your skills
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Last Updated: January 2023 | Article Details: 1430 words (8 – 10 minute read)
Article Table of Contents
1. Stuff You Need to Know
- 1.1 How to Read Scale Diagrams
- 1.2 Knowing Which Scale You’re Playing
- 1.3 How to Practice the Scales
2. The Beginner Scales You NEED to Know
- 2.1 Major Scale
- 2.2 Natural Minor Scale
- 2.3 Major Pentatonic Scale
- 2.4 Minor Pentatonic Scale/a>
- 2.5 Blues Scale
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If you’re a new player, learning guitar scales for beginners is an essential skill you can’t ignore.
In this post we’ll go over the 5 most important scales around.
You’ll learn exactly how to play these in every single key.
All About Scales
If you’re completely new to playing guitar, then the first thing you should do is read our complete beginner’s guide to learning guitar.
You’ll learn all the basics there. In addition to that, if you’re not familiar with what scales are, how they’re formed and what they do you need to brush up on basic music theory.
But since you’re here, a scale is a series of notes that sound like they all go together when played in a particular order. Songs are written with a specific scale (or “key”) in mind.
They are the basic building blocks to chords and songs.
How to Read the Diagrams
The guitar scale diagrams below show you the basic pattern each scale uses.
The red dots are the ROOT notes (1st note/tone) of each scale. The black dots are the rest of the notes within the scale.
Read the diagrams left to right, starting at the left-most RED DOT on the bottom line, moving upwards to the last red dot. The bottom line is the 6th string (thickest) and the top line is the 1st string (thinnest).
There are no note letters on any diagram. That means you can use that same pattern to play that scale in any key. For example, the C major scale uses the same pattern as the D# Major scale, it just starts in a different spot on the fret board.
The diagrams do not have any finger numbers on the dots, because depending on where you start on the fret board, different fingers may be easier to use than others. Play around until you find something you’re comfortable with.
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Knowing Which Scale You’re Playing
So how do you know which scale you’re on? You know your guitar strings right? The 6th string is the low E if you play it open (no fret). Every fret up the fret board raises that E note up a half step.
If you’re using the scale patterns below starting on the first fret you’re playing the F scale, because the F note is a half step above E. If you start on the second fret instead, you’re starting on F#/Gb, since that’s a half step above F.
The same goes for all the other strings.
Each scale below spans 2 octaves and starts/ends on the root note of the scale you’re playing.
Want even more scales to practice? Check out these guitar lessons that have some extremely comprehensive scale libraries.
How to Practice the Guitar Scales Below
It’s always a good idea to start slowly and make sure you’re hitting each note in the scale cleanly. Then start speeding up while keeping good form and sound.
Make sure you’re playing the skill up (ascending) and down (descending) each time.
Start with one type of scale, and try to play it on each of the 12 notes available to you.
Practice for 15-30 minutes every day. For more details, check out our guitar practice guide.
The Scales all Beginners NEED to Know
OK, now that that’s out of the way, here are 5 guitar scales for beginners you need to know.
Memorize these scale patterns, and you’ll be able to play the scale in any key on the guitar.
The Major Scale
The major scale in music is extremely popular and widely used. It, along with the minor scale, is something you’ll come across when playing music over and over again.
Beyond this, if you know the major scale, you’re half way to unlocking a number of other more advanced scales (more precisely, modes).
The Natural Minor Scale
This is another very popular music scale, and is used a lot in hip-hop and rock. It’s got a very melancholy, sad vibe to it.
But it doesn’t have to be a “sad” song. It can work great in a lot of different contexts.
Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic guitar scale may not be as popular as the major and minor scales, but it’s just as important to learn – especially for beginners.
It’s called pentatonic because it only contains 5 notes, but it’s known as the “grand master” of all scales.
Learn both this and the minor pentatonic below and you’ll be well on your way to being a great soloist.
Minor Pentatonic Scale
This is the minor version of the above scale we mentioned. Another essential one you should memorize the pattern of.
It’s a great scale for soloing and songwriting.
The Blues Scale
Finally, to round out our list of absolute “must-know” scales on the guitar in the infamous blues scale.
If you don’t know how to play blues, do you really know how to play guitar?
So many great songs were written using a blues scale, and when you learn it you’ll be channeling some of the greatest guitarists to ever do it.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to learn how to play music, create your own music or even just solo on a guitar, you need to learn scales. Scales on a guitar are various sets of notes that all sound good together. If you know these different combinations of notes, it really opens up your ability to play music that sounds good, improvise on the spot and make your own music. Scales are also the basis to chords, which are how you develop an emotional flow of a piece of music.
Guitar scale modes are basically slight variations to various guitar scales out there. One or more notes are altered from the original scale to form a new “mode” of playing that scale. The altered note in the scale which creates the “mode” adds more complexity to the emotion that’s created by the notes of that original scale. It’s a subtle, but significant change in mood. Modes can be used to make music that’s more unique/complex in terms of “vibe” or emotion.
Yes, guitar scales can often be played anywhere on the guitar. It all depends on the note you start on, and the pattern you use to get to the next note. But if you know the “pattern” that is used for a certain scale, you can transport it anywhere on the guitar (so long as you’re starting on the same “root” note) and it will play out properly.
Most people who learn music first start with the C Major scale. This is a fairly straightforward scale to learn, especially on instruments like the piano. Starting off your learning on the C Major scale is a good place to begin even if you’re on the guitar. Try it out!
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Thanks for checking out our complete guide on the most essential scales every student needs to know.
There are more scales out there, and some pretty scientific information on scales, but it’s important that you focus on these basic scales first and master them as much as you can.
Now that you’re done learning these, be sure to download our free Guitar Chord and Tab Cheat Sheets so you can speed up your progress when learning how to play guitar.
Thanks again for reading this guide on beginner guitar scales!
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