Basic Guitar Scales
Basic Guitar Scales – Guitar Scales are a defined group of notes played one at a time. The different scale groups are referred to as “modes.” There are a lot of different scale modes available – to learn every scale in every mode would take a very long time – so to keep it simple we will only cover the basics of guitar scales and review one of the most popular scales here (more than enough information to help get you started). If you are past the basics and looking for more advanced scale info – Click on the link below.
If you are just learning about guitar scales, you are on the right page… Here are the Basics!
Basic Guitar Scales – Notes:
* Scales are made up of the 7 notes from the musical alphabet A-B-C-D-E-F-G.* Most scales will utilize sharps or flats (depending on the key). Some scales will have only 5 notes, and some can have up to 12 notes.* Guitar Scales will have a “Root” note – a note that will designate which key you are in.
Guitar Scales vs. Chords – What’s the Difference?
Chords are defined as two or more notes being played at the same time, and scales are defined as a group of notes played one at a time. Scales are played over chord progressions (songs), and knowing which scales to play over which chords is very important. Scales (just like chords) can move up and down the fret board to different keys (same scale, but in a different position and key).
Basic Guitar Scales – Music Theory
Some guitarists never learn music theory, but are still proficient with playing guitar scales. But, the bottom line is this – if you take the time to learn music theory while you are learning scales – you will learn faster, but most of all it will give you a “head start” with your playing. Do you really have to learn music theory? No, but if you do learn music theory, it will help you improve your playing skills faster, and also help you be more creative with your lead playing. It would be very beneficial to review our Music Theory section before going any further –
Note: The information below will be much easier to understand once you’ve reviewed the music theory section.
Getting Started with a Basic Scale
Learning about guitar scales can be quite time consuming, so to get started, I am going to start with the easiest scale in the whole wide world to learn. I will not go into modes, or how scales are built for now, I just want to give the reader a basic idea of how a scale works over chords. I feel that if you (as a beginner) learn a basic scale (and how to use it) – it will keep your interest level high, and give you some incentive to learn a little more about scales.
The Basic Rock Scale – Minor Pentatonic Mode – The minor pentatonic scale (mode) is used in all styles of music, but it is mainly used in rock and roll styles. The minor pentatonic is the easiest scale to learn and to start using – so let’s start with this scale in the key of A (the scale will start on the 5th fret of the 6th string). There are 5 main patterns associated with the minor pentatonic scale – we will show pattern #1 here (pattern #1 is the easiest, and most popular scale for beginners to learn).
The “minor-pentatonic” scale – Position #1
Here is a Video Clip and Handout to help you learn the “Minor-Pentatonic” Scale – Position #1 easier…
Practicing the Scale – There’s no other way to practice basic guitar scales other than with “repetition and lots of practice” – the more time you practice (but practice correctly), the faster you develop your skills. Start slowly, speed comes with practice. Don’t make the mistake of trying to go too fast too soon, you will only develop bad habits (that will be hard to break later).
* How to practice this lead pattern:
Start with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 6th string (top string – fattest string), then your 4th finger on the 8th fret of the 6th string (top string).
Then move to the next string with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 5th string, then your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 5th string.
Then move to the next string with your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string, then your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 4th string, (and so on…).
Play all the strings until you get to the bottom string – then start at the bottom and play all the strings until you get back to the top string again. To start back up play the notes in reverse. Start with your 4th finger on the 8th fret of the 1st string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 1st string. Then move to the next string up with your 4th finger on the 8th fret of the 2nd string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string. Then move to the next string up with your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string, then your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 3rd string (and so on…). Get a good sound from each note as you play it.
The Picking Sequence – This scale will use a basic “Down / Up” picking sequence (which is very easy, but very important to learn). Use the proper picking sequence right from the beginning. Alternate picking down then up: The first note (5th fret of the 6th string) is picked down, then the second note (8th fret of the 6th string) is picked up, and so on… The Down / Up picking sequence is perfect for all 2-note per string scales like the minor pentatonic scales. This picking sequence should not be neglected!
Note: It is very important to practice this scale pattern until you are comfortable playing it – which means that you are playing the correct notes, you are using the down / up picking sequence, and you are getting a “clean” sound from each of the notes as you play them. If you can at least do this slowly, then go ahead and move on to chord progressions below…
Using Pattern #1 over a Chord Progression – Once you are comfortable with the minor pentatonic scale (pattern #1) it’s time to start using it – lets try it out over a chord progression. Chord progressions are great for learning to “improvise” (which means make up leads, create melodies, etc). Once you learn a scale, then you have to learn which chord progression (and which Key) to play it over. This may sound like it is pretty difficult, but it’s really not that hard to learn the basics.
How to start using the scale over a chord progression…
In order to start using a scale, you need to hear it played over a chord progression. It is very important to “listen” to the scale when you are playing it over chords – you need to hear which notes sound best, which notes to land on, which notes you can bend, etc. This will take time, but is relatively easy if you will take the time to simply “listen” to the scale. The reason why there are so many scales is because there are tons of chords – and there isn’t one miracle scale that you can play over every chord out there.
Here is a Video Clip of the Minor Pentatonic Scale Position #1 played slowly over a Chord Progression. Listen to the scale being played very slowly over the progression, you should hear how the notes of the scale fit over the chords…
Now it’s your turn…
Here is the chord progression without any lead playing – play the scale slowly at first, then start to experiment, try to go a little faster, etc. You have to start somewhere, don’t worry about speed, speed will come over time. Right now worry about landing on the right notes, practicing bends, etc. Have some fun with it!
More Chord Progressions
There are a bunch of chord progressions for guitar players on this website. Each progression is different, we try to use different keys, and try to use progressions in as many musical “genre’s” as possible. If you are a rock guitarist, it’s ok to try to practice a scale over a jazz progression, don’t limit yourself to one specific type of music. Each progression will have drums, bass, and rhythm guitar so you can practice scales and leads to them.
As with all basic guitar scales / modes – the minor pentatonic scale can easily be moved up and down the fret board to different positions / keys. The “Root Note” is very important to know in order to understand which “Key” you are playing in. The root note for the minor pentatonic scale pattern #1 is indicated by a “square” around a number. Pattern #1 in the Key of “A” (as shown in the video clips) is indicated by the root note being placed on the 5th fret of the 6th string. In order to move a scale it would be very beneficial to know the names of the notes on the “E” string (top, fattest string, 6th string), and the notes on the “A” string (5th string) before going any further. Once you learn the names of these notes – you will be able to easily move any scale pattern to a different key or position on the fret board (as long as you also know the root note of the scale). All you will need to do is place the root note of the scale on a different fret to change keys – as long as you know which note you are starting on, you will know which key you are in.
Now that you have learned some info about basic guitar scales, and have used it over a basic chord progression you are on your way to playing lead guitar. If you won’t have a lot of time to practice scales – it may be time to decide if you really want to play lead guitar, or just stick with rhythm guitar? Try not to make learning scales more difficult than it has to be. Even the basic guitar scales can be very complicated at first, but if you learn one mode at a time you will find that other modes will be simpler to learn (pretty much the same scales, just at different positions).
Scales are explained in more detail on our “Advanced Scales” Page