Best Method for Learning Guitar Scales

Playing Guitar

Learning to play guitar scales is no easy feat. It takes time, patience and a positive attitude. Scales are not as exciting as playing popular songs, but they are essential to the learning process. Use the following method as the best way to learn a variety of scales.

First, Find a Great Instructor

One of the most important aspects of playing guitar is the knowledge of scales and the ability to play them. Scales are the basic building blocks of songs from every music genre. The best way for a student to learn how to play guitar scales is to find an instructor who:

  • Can offer individualized lessons.
  • Take the time to analyze the individual student's learning needs
  • Use that knowledge to develop a strategy to make the lessons both fun and productive

For example, an innovative instructor could show the student how a guitar scale may become a rock solo or the foundation of a blues song. In this way, the instructor brings a level of excitement and interest back into the lesson. Without this guidance, many students lose interest in playing the instrument entirely.

Commonly Used Guitar Scales

Each scale is derived from repetitive progression of intervals; therefore, once you learn one scale, you have, in some ways, learned them all. There are many different types of scales, and the skilled guitarist is able to differentiate them. To effectively learn a new scale, start slow. Break it into pieces and add on as you feel comfortable. Work up to playing the first half, the ascending portion, with ease. Once you find yourself flowing from note to note, add the second half, or descending portion, of the scale. Before you know it, you're playing scales.

Major Scales

All major scales follow a basic pattern of W-W-H-W-W-W-H. The W represents a whole step, or two frets. The H represents a half step, or one fret.

The following example is of the G-major scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. The second example shows the descending portion of the scale. This descending portion is simply an exact reversal of the first half of the scale. The notes played here are G-F#-E-D-C-B-A-G-F#-E-D-C-B-A-G.

 e-|---------------------------2-3-| e-|-3-2---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-5-----| B-|-----5-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-4-5---------| G-|---------5-4-2-----------------|
D-|-----------2-4-5---------------| D-|---------------5-4-2-----------|
A-|-----2-3-5---------------------| A-|---------------------5-3-2-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------| E-|---------------------------5-3-|
W W H W W W H W W H W W W H H W W W H W W H W W W H W W 

The complete G-major scale:

 e-|---------------------------2-3-|-3-2---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-5-----|-----5-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-4-5---------|---------5-4-2-----------------|
D-|-----------2-4-5---------------|---------------5-4-2-----------|
A-|-----2-3-5---------------------|---------------------5-3-2-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------|---------------------------5-3-| 

Minor Scales

There are three primary types of minor scales: natural, harmonic and melodic.

Natural Minor Scales

The natural minor scales are created by dropping the third, sixth and seventh notes by a half-step. They follow a basic pattern of W-H-W-W-H-W-W.

The following example is of the G-minor scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G. The second example shows the descending portion of the scale. This descending portion is simply an exact reversal of the first half of the scale. The notes played here are G-F-Eb-D-C-Bb-A-G-F-Eb-D-C-Bb-A-G.

 e-|---------------------------1-3-| e-|-3-1---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-4-----| B-|-----4-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-3-5---------| G-|---------5-3-2-----------------|
D-|-----------1-3-5---------------| D-|---------------5-3-1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5---------------------| A-|---------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------| E-|---------------------------5-3-|
W H W W H W W W H W W H W W W W H W W H W W W H W W H W 

The complete natural G-minor scale:

 e-|---------------------------1-3-|-3-1---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-4-----|-----4-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-3-5---------|---------5-3-2-----------------|
D-|-----------1-3-5---------------|---------------5-3-1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5---------------------|---------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------|---------------------------5-3-| 

Harmonic Minor Scales

The harmonic minor scales are created by raising seventh note of the natural minor scale by a half-step as you ascend and descend the scale. They follow a basic pattern of W-H-W-W-H-WH-H. WH represents one and a half steps, or three frets.

The following example is of the harmonic G-minor scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F#-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F#-G. The second example shows the descending portion of the scale. This descending portion is simply an exact reversal of the first half of the scale. The notes played here are G-F#-Eb-D-C-Bb-A-G-F#-Eb-D-C-Bb-A-G.

 e-|-----------------------------2-3-| e-|-3-2-----------------------------|
B-|------------------------3-4------| B-|------4-3------------------------|
G-|------------------2-3-5----------| G-|----------5-3-2------------------|
D-|-----------1--4-5----------------| D-|----------------5-4--1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5-----------------------| A-|-----------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5-----------------------------| E-|-----------------------------5-3-|
W H W W H WH H W H W W H WH H H WH H W W H W H WH H W W H W 

The complete harmonic G-minor scale:

 e-|-----------------------------2-3-|-3-2-----------------------------|
B-|------------------------3-4------|------4-3------------------------|
G-|------------------2-3-5----------|----------5-3-2------------------|
D-|-----------1--4-5----------------|----------------5-4--1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5-----------------------|-----------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5-----------------------------|-----------------------------5-3-| 

Melodic Minor Scales

The melodic minor scales follow a slightly different format. To create this scale, you raise the sixth and seventh notes by a half-step as you ascend the scale. As you descend the scale, the notes return to the natural minor. The melodic minor scales follow a W-H-W-W-W-W-H pattern as you go up, and return to the W-H-W-W-H-W-W pattern as you go back down.

The following example is of the melodic G-minor scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F#-G. The second example shows the descending portion of the scale. The notes played here are G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G.

 e-|---------------------------2-3-| e-|-3-1---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-5-----| B-|-----4-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-3-5---------| G-|---------5-3-2-----------------|
D-|-----------2-4-5---------------| D-|---------------5-3-1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5---------------------| A-|---------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------| E-|---------------------------5-3-|
W H W W W W H W H W W W W H W W H W W H W W W H W W H W 

The complete melodic G-minor scale:

 e-|---------------------------2-3-|-3-1---------------------------|
B-|-----------------------3-5-----|-----4-3-----------------------|
G-|-----------------2-3-5---------|---------5-3-2-----------------|
D-|-----------2-4-5---------------|---------------5-3-1-----------|
A-|-----1-3-5---------------------|---------------------5-3-1-----|
E-|-3-5---------------------------|---------------------------5-3-| 

Pentatonic Scales

The pentatonic scales are usually the easiest scales to learn on guitars. They are also used commonly in all genres of music, making them essential to learn.

Major Pentatonic Scales

All major pentatonic scales are derived by skipping the fourth and seventh notes in the corresponding major scale. Rather than 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, the major pentatonic scale is 1-2-3-5-6.

The following example is of the G-major pentatonic scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-A-B-D-E-G-A-B-D-E-G. The second example shows the descending portion of the scale. The notes played here are G-E-D-B-A-G-E-D-B-A-G. If you compare the following scale to the previously discussed G-major scale,you will find the C and F# notes are no longer present.

 e-|---------------------3-| e-|-3---------------------|
B-|-----------------3-5---| B-|---5-3-----------------|
G-|-------------2-5-------| G-|-------5-2-------------|
D-|---------2-5-----------| D-|-----------5-2---------|
A-|-----3-5---------------| A-|---------------5-3-----|
E-|-3-5-------------------| E-|-------------------5-3-| 

The complete G-major pentatonic scale:

 e-|---------------------3-|-3---------------------|
B-|-----------------3-5---|---5-3-----------------|
G-|-------------2-5-------|-------5-2-------------|
D-|---------2-5-----------|-----------5-2---------|
A-|-----3-5---------------|---------------5-3-----|
E-|-3-5-------------------|-------------------5-3-| 

Minor Pentatonic Scales

The minor pentatonic scale is the most popular scare in rock and blues music. All minor pentatonic scales are derived by skipping the second and sixth notes of the natural minor scale. Rather than 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, the minor pentatonic scale is 1-3-4-5-7.

The following example is of the G-minor pentatonic scale. The first example shows the ascending portion of the scale. The notes played are G-Bb-C-D-F-G-Bb-C-D-F-G. the second example shows the descending portion of the scale. The notes played here are G-F-D-C-Bb-G-F-D-C-Bb-G. If you compare the following scale to the previously discussed G-minor scale, you will find the A and Eb notes are no longer present.

 e-|---------------------3-| e-|-3---------------------|
B-|-----------------3-6---| B-|---6-3-----------------|
G-|-------------3-5-------| G-|-------5-3-------------|
D-|---------3-5-----------| D-|-----------5-3---------|
A-|-----3-5---------------| A-|---------------5-3-----|
E-|-3-6-------------------| E-|-------------------6-3-| 

The complete natural G-minor scale:

 e-|---------------------3-|-3---------------------|
B-|-----------------3-6---|---6-3-----------------|
G-|-------------3-5-------|-------5-3-------------|
D-|---------3-5-----------|-----------5-3---------|
A-|-----3-5---------------|---------------5-3-----|
E-|-3-6-------------------|-------------------6-3-| 

Practice Makes Perfect

It takes time and dedication to learn how to play the guitar. A student who only spends one or two hours a week is going to progress slowly and may lose interest altogether. On the other hand, a student who takes the time to practice daily is more likely to progress faster and eventually succeed. Students who have to report back to instructors regularly are more likely to dedicate time to practicing.

Scales Become Music

Once you have a solid understanding of and feel for the guitar scales, you will find yourself playing songs with greater ease. Your ability to flow from note to note will increase with each scale you practice. With practice and experience, you can use this newfound knowledge to compose your own musical masterpieces.

Best Method for Learning Guitar Scales