Learning guitar scales can be fun and enjoyable when you understand how they are constructed and why they work well together. Making music of scales is an important aspect for every beginner and can be great practice. Most beginners struggle to learn or remember scales, but this is part of the process and is normal.
Guitar scales are designed in such a way to help you write, improvise and understand music. Once you do understand them you will unlock an endless variety of notes, chords, and riffs that will keep the guitar interesting and fun to play.
Let’s dig deeper into understanding scales, root notes, how to use them in your playing, and 6 scales to learn and practice.
What are Guitar Scales?
A scale is a group of different notes that sound great together because they are of the same pitch. This group of notes is played in a descending or ascending order that is creatively used to create a melody. Scales are also the building blocks for chords and harmony.
There is not a set of particular rules for the notes or even the numbers of notes, and advanced guitarists can go a step further to create their scales. Every scale, whether it is minor, major, Lydian Dominant, dominant, pentatonic, harmonic minor, and so on, enables a player to construct different sets of chords. This is because of its structure which is the intervals between the notes of the scales.
When learning guitar scales or music theory in general, it’s important to understand the difference between half-steps and full-steps. The intervals between notes in a scale are also called a ‘step’. Moving your finger one fret in either direction along the neck is a half-step, while 2 frets is a full step.
Playing Note #1 and then #2 is to play notes that are a half-step apart
Playing Notes #1 and then #2 is to play notes that are a full-step apart
What is the Root Note of a Scale?
The root note is the note that a scale starts on. During practice, you’ll start on a root note when you are playing a scale. The root note of every scale is known to define the scale tonality. The root note is the place where you will get the name of the scale as well. For example, if you have a Minor Pentatonic scale (see below for specifics) and you start the scale by playing the 6th string played on the fifth fret, you will be playing the note A. Thus, your root note for this scale would be the A note.
Finding the name of the root note of any scale is generally easy since the root name is usually the scale that is named after. For example, the root note for C major is C, the root note for G minor is G, and the root note for D minor pentatonic is D.
Understanding the Key a Song is played in
The key of a song is the collection of notes that blend to give a good sound. In most songs, the keys are based on the major scales. When you notice a particular key signature in any piece of music, it usually refers to one core of the major twelve scales.
Any song that has a root note of C is also played in the key of C. The notes of this song will primarily fall on the scale of the C or a scale that is based on C. Once you know this, you’ll be able to learn guitar scales based on the root note of a song, or by knowing the key of it.
Why Pick a Specific Key for a Song?
1. The Range of your Singer
2. Loyalty to an original recording or performance
3. The ease of playing (G major or D major for a beginner)
4. The desire to produce a particular tone with certain instruments.
When should a Beginner Start Learning Guitar Scales?
Many people will advise you to start learning guitar scales as soon as you decide to start playing. Playing scales can teach you a lot as a beginner guitarist that will help out your overall playing and understanding:
- Scales are good for your fingers as your first physical exercise.
- They help your fingers to develop skills and strength.
- Scales give you the knowledge to improvise or create solos and help you understand how songs that you want to learn were written.
- Scales help you to understand the reason why guitarists play the notes in the order that they do.
- They assist you in understanding the relationship between the chords and single notes, hence making you a better music composer and songwriter.
- Scales help you to enhance your hand synchronization and finger techniques. Having these techniques increase your ability to be able to play different kinds of melodies and move quickly from chord to chord.
The First 3 Guitar Scales to Learn
When it comes to learning guitar scales some scales are used more than others and thus they are helpful to learn first. Some of these are easier to play than others. Start slowly by hitting the individual notes slowly (but in time). Speed comes with practice so don’t rush it!
The Major Scale
This may not be the easiest of scales to learn, but it has so many modes that are generated from it that you can expand your knowledge quickly once you understand it. The Natural Minor Scale, the Dorian Scale, and the Mixolydian mode are just a few that are based on the Major Scale
The Minor Pentatonic Scale
This is typically the first scale a beginner guitarist will learn as it only has 5 notes per octave. This is a nice scale to begin with because it is quick and easy to learn but can be the start of many progressions and more advanced techniques. This is generally the first scale I teach beginners so they can get a feel for scales without becoming overwhelmed.
The Blues Scale
The natural progression from the Minor Pentatonic scale, the Blues scale is only slightly more difficult as it adds a 5th note.
Is it Hard To Learn Guitar Scales?
Overall, guitar scales are not hard to learn. The first might take you a week or two to memorize, but after that, they are fairly simple because many of them follow the same patterns. In fact, if you can learn 3 patterns then you’ll know over 90% of the scale patterns that most guitarists will ever need or remember.
Scales are also a simple and easy way to start learning and understanding music theory. Once you understand which notes belong in any given scale, and why they belong there, you’ll have a firm grasp on a very important concept in theory!
How to Learn Guitar Scales Quickly
I’ve taught some people that picked up guitar scales within a few lessons and never had problems with them. Others have taken weeks or even months to learn to play a guitar scale smoothly and without looking for each note. Here are some tips that I have come up with over the years to help you learn guitar scales quickly:
- Study Songs You Like – Many songs you are learning will give you the opportunity to find and learn the scale they are based on. This will boost the speed of your learning since you are interested in these songs anyway
- Keep it Varied – Playing scales from the first note to the last can get boring. Practice scales backward, starting from different spots, skipping steps and other varieties to challenge yourself
- Change the Order – It is common to learn a scale by playing each note in the order they are listed. Start to switch it up and mess with different patterns of notes. This is how all the best come up with new arrangements for their songs!
- Work on What you Find Difficult – While it is more fun to play things you know and are good at, spend a portion of your practice time on things that challenge you!
The Final Note
Learning guitar scales is a key to learning to play music and with a variety of scales to learn, it is important for any beginner to start playing and understanding scales early on. That way you can easily relate and be able to compare any other new patterns. To learn more check out these articles at GuitarOrb and LearntoPlayMusic.
If you want more great guitar content please jump over to our page for the topic, or check out the related posts to the right!
A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!