Learning Guitar Scales

Welcome to Guitar Music Theory Day Two: Guitar Scales

Ok so you’ve now heard about or discovered the value in learning guitar scales.To do this you need to know a few things that some teachers may take for granted like, what is a scale? How do I know where to put my fingers and which fingers to use when? How do I read scale diagrams? Do I need to learn to read music notation or tablature? How should I practice them? Which ones do I need to know? Before you go any further on this page, if you haven't already, go to the Fretboard Orientation Video for chord diagrams on Guitar Music Theory Day One to get..well...oriented first. Then look at the scale diagram video

Take me straight to the Easy Guitar Scales Video Lessons page

What Are Guitar Scales?

When we talk about learning guitar scales we are really just referring to any type of musical scales. Then once when we begin apply these to the guitar we start calling them guitar scales. We do this only because of the unique physical techniques of fingering and some mechanical considerations such as size and scale length, string gauge and tuning and so forth that come into consideration. Guitar scales themselves are not any different musically from musical scales played on any other instruments. The terms; guitar scales, violin scales, piano scales etc, only serve to distinguish in a pedagogical sense the most advantageous, sensible or suitable way to apply them to your chosen instrument.

What Is a Musical Scale ?

In musical terms a scale is any set of single notes arranged in order of the frequency of its pitch. From lowest to highest ascending and highest to lowest descending. There are many, many types of musical scales. Scales can have any number of notes or degrees from just a few up to into the double digits. Most western scales do not go beyond one octave. The relationship between the notes contained within them produces a characteristic sound that makes the melodic signature of the scale recognizable. Much like you would recognize a song or even the familiar sound of a squeaky swing set in the back garden!

What Guitar Scales Should I Learn?

Regardless of what the style of music you are pursuing there is arguably the two real "biggies" of the guitar world that you should try to get your head and your fingers around.

The Major (Ionian) Scale and the Pentatonic Scale


Learning Guitar Scales

So here's the bottom line. Learn the two "biggie" scales mentioned above first. We are all different and after teaching for so many years I know that one size won't fit all. There are several ways to learn guitar scales. You can use one, some or all methods and techniques to suit your own brain chemistry and personality. Here are some main options:

By Ear Training  (try this basic ear training exercise)

By Scale Diagrams (here is a simple diagram in action)

By Tablature (have a look at the G Major Scale tablature video)

By  Standard Notation (here's the G Major Scale notation video)

By Both Notes and Tab (this is a combined or hybrid stave video)

By Finger Order (PDF) (you can download the PDF image seen below)


By Demonstration

(watch a video of probably the two most important scales to learn)


ByGrasping the Theory Behind it (go to the part two major scale video)


By a Combination of All Methods Known to Humankind



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How To Practice When Learning Guitar Scales

Jump straight to guitar scale lesson videos

1.   Use any method above to memorise the notes of a chosen scale on your fingerboard.

2.   Play using all down picks or "p" or "i" or "m" (thumb or index or middle finger) slow enough to make a decision about each note and left hand finger and play the right ones for your chosen scale and fingering. Speed and pulse/rhythm/timing are UNIMPORTANT at this stage.

3.   Add Pulse/meter (metronome or click track optional at first) Speed is still unimportant. Here is where we create a measured "thinking gap". 

4.   Add Tempo limitation one click per note and make it playable. Develop a comfort zone and keep it playable. 

5.  Add Alternation or compound picking (down/up) or fingering (i/m) start with the Root on downbeat with a down pick (or chosen downbeat action) Play one Octave

Add or subtract one note to make a symmetrical picking pattern that starts and finishes on the chosen down beat action.

6.   STOP and reset at a higher stepped pace (do not be an indiscriminate tempo changer). Do not indiscriminately speed up in a curve like way.

7.   Aim for a goal of 60bpm with two notes per beat. These are 8th notes. Playing 8th notes will result in 120 attacks per minute at 60bpm.

8. Expand to two octaves. Keep the Right Hand symmetrical

9) Play 2 octaves ascending and descending. Without breaking time or  “glitching”, start again 1/2 step higher with the root on the upbeat up pick (or chosen reciprocal upbeat action). Note:This step is really the ultimate goal at this stage.

10.  At 60 bpm practise ascending the fret board in this way for 3  minutes. Rest and practise descending the fret board for 3 minutes with no mistakes. Learning guitar scales is really about finger programming.

11.  If you make a mistake correct it by playing the offending phrase/section at least five (5) to 20 (twenty) times in a row perfectly.

12. Stick to the Rules! Once you get the hang of the process you may want to go straight to two Octave patterns as early as possible. Remember: Learning guitar scales is really about finger programming.

for the learning guitar scales video demonstrations of these rules click here


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If you are local to the United Kingdom West Midlands Coventry Kenilworth Leamington Warwick Rugby Stoneleigh  CV8 Post Code area and are interested in tuition feel free to arrange a “First session Free” Guitar or Theory Lesson. Perhaps you just want to chat over a cuppa about the options for your children’s music education.

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