In this lesson I explain what guitar scales are and why you benefit from learning them. In today’s lesson I’ll give you 5 easy guitar scales you can learn and start using right now.
Each scale will also come with a short guitar lick based on its notes.
Keep in mind that, while learning scales on guitar has many benefits such as improving finger independence and dexterity, the ultimate purpose of scales is to be used as tools to create music.
Thus, the purpose of the licks given with each easy guitar scale is to show you how the scale you have just learned can be used in a musical situation.
What makes a guitar scale easy?
Some scales, such as the minor pentatonic, are easy to learn because they don’t require long stretches or awkward finger movements.
Other scales, such as the harmonic minor scale, are more difficult to learn because they require your fingers to move through patterns that feel less natural.
Having said that, no guitar scale is particularly difficult to learn.
Scales will not become more difficult as you progress.
For example, modes (which are also scales derived from other scales) should be learned after a firm understanding of scales, not because they are more difficult to learn. Learning the Dorian mode, for example, requires the same abilities as learning natural minor, one of the easy guitar scales given below.
What makes modes (and other types of scales, such as diminished scales and the melodic minor) more difficult than the ones we’ll be exploring here is knowing when and how to use them.
As a result, when selecting these 5 easy guitar scales, I kept both criteria in mind.
i. The ease with which the scale can be learned.
ii. How simple it is to use with a backing track or during a jam session.
The tonic note in all of the scale examples given here is A. (ex, if the scale is minor pentatonic, the given pattern will be that of A minor pentatonic). Remember that these scales are movable, so if you want to play the B minor pentatonic, simply play the same pattern starting two frets above, on the tonic note B.
Moving scale patterns like this give guitarists an advantage over pianists. You would need to learn a different scale pattern for each key if you were learning the piano. You only need to learn one scale pattern on the guitar and begin playing it from a different tonic note.
- Minor pentatonic scale
A minor pentatonic scale notes: A, C, D, E, G (A)
The minor pentatonic is the first guitar scale you should learn because it is easy to both learn and apply.
The pattern for the A minor pentatonic scale is as follows. Begin this pattern by placing your index finger on the fifth fret of the low E string.
Learning this scale pattern allows you to improvise music over any chord progression in a minor key.
If the key is A minor, simply use notes from this scale. If it’s in another minor key, find the tonic note on the guitar’s low E string and play the pattern from there.
The following guitar lick is composed of A minor pentatonic notes:
- Major pentatonic scale
A major pentatonic scale notes: A, B, C#, E, F#, (A)
The minor pentatonic allows you to play in all minor keys, while the major pentatonic allows you to play in all major keys.
The A major pentatonic scale pattern is shown below. Begin this pattern by placing your middle finger on the fifth fret of the low E string.
The following guitar lick is derived from notes of the A major pentatonic scale.
- Minor blues scale
A minor blues scale notes: A, C, D, D#, E, G, (A)
Despite being known as “the blues scale,” the minor blues scale is not the only scale used in blues, nor is it used exclusively in blues music.
It contains the same notes as the minor pentatonic scale, but with an additional augmented fourth interval from the tonic, transforming it into a hexatonic scale.
This extra note gives the scale its bluesy flavor, but it can be used in any genre of music, including Rock, Metal, and Jazz.
The following is a bluesy lick derived from the A minor blues scale.
- Natural minor scale
A natural minor scale notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G (A)
Because it has the same notes as the natural minor scale but two less (B and F), the minor pentatonic scale is easier to learn and use.
These two notes add dissonance to the scale. This means you have more melodic options (since resolving dissonance into consonance is an important factor in melody creation). It also implies that they must be used with greater caution, as unresolved dissonance does not sound good.
It is also more difficult to learn because increasing the number of notes from 5 to 7 requires more finger stretch. If you find this scale too difficult due to the stretch, try playing higher up the fretboard where the frets become narrower.
Although pentatonic scales are commonly regarded as beginner scales due to their ease of use, advanced players do not dismiss them. They have their own sound flavor and can be the scale of choice for a lick or a solo among players of all levels.
Note: If you hear someone referring to “the minor scale” he’s probably referring to the natural minor. The word “natural” is used to distinguish it from the harmonic or melodic minor scales, which involve alterations to this scale.
The following guitar lick is derived from the A minor natural scale.
- Major scale
A major scale notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, (A)
The major scale is related to the major pentatonic in the same way that the minor natural is related to the minor pentatonic.
That is, it contains two more notes (D, G#), which have a greater potential for dissonance with the other notes of the scale or the backing track.
The A major scale has the following pattern.
The following lick is derived from the A major scale.
Learning guitar scales: Where to go from here
If you’ve learned the five easy guitar scales given above, you should be able to play over most chord progressions (such as when playing with a backing track, or while jamming with your friends).
Use the minor pentatonic or natural minor scale if the chord progression is in a minor key.
Use the major pentatonic or major scale if the chord progression is in a major key.
And if you’re playing the blues or blues influenced music, you can add a bluesy flavor by using the minor blues scale.
Rather than adding more guitar scales to your repertoire, I would first:
1. Sequence these scales in order to learn them more thoroughly.
2. Combine guitar techniques (such as string bending, hammer ons, vibrato, and so on) that you know with the scales and sequences to create short melodies. Like the examples of guitar licks given above, though yours can be simpler.
3. Practice these scales in various fretboard positions. This will allow you to play licks, riffs, and solos all the way around the neck.
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