How to Use Guitar Scales and Create Melodies

Learning guitar scales can either be the most tedious aspect of your musical journey or a fun aspect you can never get enough of. This all depends on how you learn guitar scales, when you learn them, and whether you use them to create music.

Before I show you how to learn scales, I’ll explain how not to learn guitar scales.

This is how I learned guitar scales, and it is how most guitar students learn them today. While it works – you do end up knowing the scales – it takes a long time, a lot of frustration, and you miss the point of why guitar scales should be learned at all.

It goes like this:

You buy a book that has a lot of guitar scales in it and start learning them all, in all positions, using the suggested system of the book.

What happened when I did this, I realize in hindsight, was that guitar players I thought were way better than me, actually knew fewer scales.

However, unlike me, they did not learn guitar scales and had them stored in their memory but used guitar scales frequently to create music.

While I was focusing on quantity, thinking that learning all the scales in the book would make me a really good guitar player, they were learning a scale at a time and milking it.

This is how you should practice anything on the guitar since what matters is not how many things you know, but how many you can use.

The following is a method for learning guitar scales thoroughly and turning them into a useful musical tool.

Step 1: Learn your first guitar scale: the A minor pentatonic

For reasons that will be explained later on in this lesson, the first guitar scale you should learn is the A minor pentatonic:

how to learn and use guitar scales
Tabs created with Guitar Pro

Step 2: Play guitar scale sequences

After you play the scale pattern above up and down a few times to memorize it, start playing sequences on it.

The following is an example of a guitar scale sequence:

how to learn and use guitar scales

When playing guitar scale sequences, you’re still playing the same notes, but the order is altered systematically.

The reason you should learn guitar scale sequences extends beyond simply memorizing the scale. Sequences will be useful when you first start playing licks and solos because they provide you with a lot of ideas while also training your ear.

It’s much easier to improvise a riff, lick, or solo when you can hear how a note will sound before you play it.

Read this article to learn more about getting creative with guitar scale sequences.

Step 3: Understand what scales are used for.

Why should you learn guitar scales in the first place?

Simply put, scales are paths that great musicians have tried and tested before us.

When you know how to play a scale on the guitar, and want to improvise a lick or a solo, you have a path you can follow.

If you only play notes from the A minor pentatonic scale above, they will sound good with any backing music that’s being played in the key of A minor.

This does not mean that if the backing music is in A minor, you can only use notes from the A minor pentatonic, but if you stick to just those notes, you have a guarantee that the notes you’ll be playing will sound good.

Step 4: Memorize the name of every guitar note on the low E string.

Let’s say the backing track you’re playing is not in the key of A minor, but B minor.

Do you have to memorize the pattern of B minor pentatonic to be able to play with the backing track?

Fortunately for us guitar players, you don’t. You only need to know where the note B is on the low E string and follow the same pattern as the A minor pentatonic, but start from the note B.

The following are the names of each note of the first 12 frets of the low E string.

how to learn and use guitar scales

The only thing you have to do to learn any minor pentatonic scale is to find the right note and play the same pattern as the A minor pentatonic from there.

That said, while memorizing  the notes of the low E string alone serves this particular purpose, it’s also a good idea to memorize the notes on the whole guitar fretboard and explore how this knowledge can be applied to learning guitar scales, chords, as well as anything you learn in music theory and want to apply to your guitar playing

Step 5: Learn the A major pentatonic scale.

The absolute majority of music is played in either a major or a minor key. While knowing the pattern of the minor pentatonic enables you to improvise with any kind of music written in a minor key, the major pentatonic enables you to play with any backing music written in the major key.

The following is the pattern for the A major pentatonic.

how to learn and use guitar scales

As you did with the minor pentatonic scale you can play the major pentatonic in any key by starting on the desired note.

Also, apply the same scale sequences as you did to the minor pentatonic to the major pentatonic.

Step 6: Create your first melodies.

Now is the time to start working on your creative juices.

Choose one scale and, rather than playing all the notes up and down, or in a scale sequence, try to use them to create a simple melody.

It doesn’t matter how simple it is because the idea is to get started thinking in terms of melodies.

Here is an example of a simple melody in the A minor pentatonic.

how to learn and use guitar scales

Come up with as many melodies as you can before you move on to the next step.

Step 7: Learn guitar phrasing techniques

Though phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato have nothing to do with the subject of scales, when you add these techniques to the melodies you’re creating from your guitar scales, your melodies will start sounding more exciting than the one I gave you in the example above, and, probably, the ones you’re coming up with right now.

This lesson shows you how to apply phrasing techniques to your licks and solos to make them stand out.

Where to go from here?

If you started learning a guitar scale after each other from a book, like I did, instead of using this method, you would have memorized more scales than just two by now.

However, if you execute every step above, you don’t just know these two scales, you also know how to use scales to create music.

In order to widen your options, the next things you should be learning as regards to scales are:

1. Learn more scales on the guitar.

The major and minor pentatonic scales are easier to use than the major and minor scales, though not necessarily less effective. The reason for this will be understood if you pursue the study of music theory.

That said, you don’t need to learn all the guitar scales you find at random. Be strategic in your choices.

2. Play the same guitar scales in different positions.

The major and minor pentatonic scales you’ve learned in this lesson can actually be played in 5 different positions. While the major and minor scales can be played in as many as 7 positions.

Learning how to play scales in different positions, enables you to play up and down the neck rather than be restricted to those few notes in one pattern.

3. Connect different scale positions

To truly be able to move up and down the guitar neck while improvising licks and solos, you must not only learn guitar scales in various positions but also connect them together.

If you have understood the rest of this lesson, you may want to learn how to do this in this lesson on connecting guitar scales

If you’re learning guitar scales, you probably know some chords already.

Did you know that using a few chords to write songs is something you can start working on now?

Follow this step by step process to writing a song on guitar and if you keep working not only on your guitar skills but also on music theory and creativity (actually writing songs), you can become a songwriter as well as a guitar player!

You may consider giving a donation, by which you will be helping a songwriter achieve his dreams. Each contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference.

3 thoughts on “How to Use Guitar Scales and Create Melodies”

  1. Pingback: Melodic Minor Scale -

  2. I am follower of you blog since time and you the one who always provide great guitar-educational stuff your The clock is ticking…time is running out is the one of the favorite article of mine. thanks for sharing a beautiful information about music and music instruments can you please some words on best acoustic guitar brands

    1. Thanks for your kind words!

      Unfortunately, gear is not my area of expertise yet and I don’t feel comfortable writing an article on something I don’t feel completely confident in.

      It’s me!

      However, if there is any topic related to playing the guitar, music theory (and applying it to guitar playing) and songwriting, that you would like me to write about, I will really appreciate your suggestions.

      I’m actually fishing for ideas at the moment!

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