The natural minor scale is commonly used by guitar players and is found in guitar riffs, licks and solos in most genres of music including Jazz, Blues, Rock and Heavy Metal.
In this lesson we’ll first go through a bit of theory on the natural minor scale.
Then I will give you 3 notes per string patterns so that you can play the natural minor scale in all positions of the guitar fretboard as well as a guitar lick that makes use of the notes in each pattern.
Finally, I’ll give you a short guitar solo that makes use of the minor scale in different places of the fretboard.
Formula for minor scale
The natural minor scale is a diatonic scale, which means it has seven notes with five whole step intervals (two frets on the guitar) and two half step intervals (one fret on the guitar) within one octave.
The interval formula for the natural minor scale is: WHWWHWW.
This would be the notes A B C D E F and G if we’re playing in the key of A minor.
The following is the A natural minor scale on guitar being played on the same string.
Though we don’t usually learn guitar scales on the same string, but use more convenient systems like 3 notes per string patterns, it helps show you this pattern of whole and half steps.
The natural minor scale is the default minor scale, the others being alterations of it.
The harmonic minor scale has the same notes except for the 7th, which is raised by a half step (one fret).
Thus the notes of the A harmonic minor scale would be: A B C D E F and G#.
The melodic minor scale has a raised 7th as well as a raised 6th giving us the notes A B C D E F# and G# if we’re in the key of A minor.
The minor pentatonic scale on the other hand, has the exact same notes as the natural minor without the 2nd and the 6th degree of the scale – A C D E and G.
The minor blues scale has the same notes as the minor pentatonic, as well as a raised 4th degree – A C D D# E G.
Natural minor guitar scale patterns and licks
In this section we’ll cover the five 3 note per string patterns that cover this scale over the entire guitar fretboard together with guitar licks that use notes from each pattern.
The first pattern starts on the 5th fret of the low E string.
The first example lick is made of the notes you find in this pattern and makes use of hammer ons, pull offs, a slide and vibrato technique.
While it is the scales that guide you towards what notes to use in your licks and solos, guitar techniques allow you to play the same notes in different ways giving you various options when making music.
This pattern starts on the 7th fret of the D string.
The following guitar lick makes use of a scale sequence on the A minor natural scale and finishes with a string bend.
String bending is another very important guitar technique you should have under your belt since it can literally make the guitar sing.
To play this pattern, put your small finger on the first note.
The next lick uses a new technique, string skipping, between the third and the fourth note of the second bar.
When improvising on the guitar beginners tend to only play notes from adjacent guitar strings. Being able to skip one or more strings fluently, gives you more options and helps you come up with more innovative compositions.
The next pattern starts covering the second half of the guitar fretboard. (That is, if we’re playing in the key of A. To play these patterns in any other key simply shift your fingers to the root note of that key).
The next lick uses techniques already mentioned above, namely string bending, vibrato, as well as string skipping between the last two notes.
To play this pattern, put your small finger on the 17th fret of the low E string.
Now, you may notice that there’s an area of the fretboard which we haven’t covered – the first four frets.
This will actually be covered by this pattern, since if you shift the whole pattern down an octave and start with your small finger on the 5th fret of the low E string, you will still be playing the A minor natural scale, just an octave lower.
The last guitar lick in this lesson uses notes derived from this scale pattern of the A minor natural.
While you should learn guitar scales a position at a time, it’s also important that you learn how to connect them to each other to prevent being restricted to playing in a box – that is, being restricted to the notes of the scale pattern you’re playing in.
This guitar solo uses notes from the A minor natural scale but is played across the fretboard, rather than being stuck in one pattern like the example guitar licks.
Learning this short solo will help you visualize how the scale patterns are connected and will also show you the benefits of going through the process of connecting scale patterns.
Using the minor scale on guitar
If you have memorized all the scale patterns given in this lesson, as well as learned the licks and the solo, the next step is to start using this scale to make your own music.
Start simple at first.
If you can play fast, but have never improvised or composed music before, I suggest that you leave the flashy runs for later since the most important thing at this point is creating melodic phrases and playing on time.
Once you’re confident with that, you can throw in your fast runs. Just make sure that you do so at the right places and allow the music to breathe when necessary.
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