When it comes to mastering your favorite instrument, it’s not as simple as just learning all of your favorite songs.
Basic music theory covering all of the different scales that are used will be far more important than you think.
Not only will it help you to master your favorite tunes quicker, but it will also help you to improve your overall guitar playing technique.
After all, you will be a much better guitarist if you can understand the basics behind the musical notation.
Learning how the different scales are composed in music will help you to see these scales in the pieces that you are trying to perform.
It will give you a better understanding of your instrument on the whole, and therefore improve your playing skills.
Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about the most commonly used guitar scales so that you can improve your skills.
We’re going to cover which scales are most commonly used with electric guitar as well as acoustic guitar.
This will show you how learning something as simple as guitar scales can improve your musician skills.
So let’s take a look at everything you need to know about playing guitar scales!
So What Even Are Guitar Scales, Anyway?
Before we get started, it’s important that we understand what guitar scales are.
Scales are the same regardless of what instrument you play them on, and there are scales in every single different key signature.
They usually start on the A note, then progress through the next consecutive 7 notes until you have played the whole octave.
The starting note of the scale will change depending on the key signature that you are playing in. For example, an A minor scale would start on an A, finishing on a G note.
Whereas the melodic major of this, C major, would start on the middle C note, and finish on the B note.
The scale basically covers all 7 notes in your chosen key signature.
If this is in a minor key, then the 7th note is always diminished, which means that it is either flattened or sharpened depending on the key signature.
Scales are incredibly important in all walks of music life, as they serve as the foundation for writing and playing different tunes.
It will be important for you to understand how scales work on the guitar so that you can easily work out which harmonies you will need to play.
If you are in a band situation, they can also help you to work out what chord to strum next so that it melodically works with the piece that you are trying to play.
Now that we have a better understanding of what scales are and how these also work for the guitar, we can take a look at the six most commonly used guitar scales.
Everything You Need To Know About The Six Popularly Used Guitar Scales
The below six scales are the ones that are most commonly used for playing guitar.
As long as you can master each and every one of these guitar scales, you will be able to improve your overall skills as a guitarist.
Minor Five Note Scales
First up is the minor five notes scale, otherwise known as the minor pentatonic scale. This comprises five notes which are in a minor key.
This is one of the easiest scales for beginners to master, because they are considered to be one of the easier scales in the world of music.
It’s also worth noting that there are major five note scales to learn, too.
To help you distinguish between the two, think of major pentatonic scales as happy sounding scales, and minor five note scales as sad sounding scales.
Because of their versatility, five note scales are typically used in the jazz, country, blues, and rock genres.
Leading on from the minor five note scale, the blues scale is another popular choice for many guitarists around the world.
The only difference between these two scales is the fact that the blues scales features a diminished fifth note.
It will be fairly easy to tell what a blues scale sounds like, because it will be recognizable in a range of famous blues songs.
That diminished fifth has given the blues scale a notoriety that immediately makes it recognizable.
This is arguably the most popular type of scale used for playing both guitar and bass guitar because of its versatility and how easy it is to master and apply to your guitar playing.
These scales are most often used in the blues genre as the name suggests, as well as in the rock and jazz genres.
Natural Minor Scales Or The Aeolian Mode
Next up is the natural minor scale, or as it is sometimes known, the aeolian mode. This is simply a diatonic scale, which then comprises 7 successive notes.
This is another wonderfully versatile scale that can be used in a wide variety of musical genres, including rock and pop.
If you want to try and improvise a guitar solo while the rest of the band is playing minor chords, then this is the ideal scale to base your solo around.
One of the most popular scales when it comes to guitar is of course the major scale. This can include a wide range of key signatures, with as many as 12 different major scales to learn.
These scales typically feature consecutive 7 notes, covering a whole octave.
This is one of the more versatile types of scales to use for playing guitar. You can break them down into chords, using certain notes to create a harmony.
In fact, major scales are often used to perform a range of chord progressions.
Major scales are often used when playing jazz solos, particularly making use of the major 7th as well as the significant 6th. These can be used to progress through key changes in different chords.
If you plan on playing lots of solos with your guitar, then the Dorian mode is something that you will need to become familiar with.
This is often used for solos as well as playing over certain minor chords, most notably in the jazz genre.
Now if you were to play through the modern Dorian mode, for example starting from D to the next D in the scale, you may notice that it has a similarity to the natural minor scales that we have covered above.
However, the difference is that the Dorian mode also features a major 6th tone.
The last of the most common guitar scales to use in music is the dominant scale. This is also sometimes called the Mixolydian mode.
It is commonly called the dominant scale in modern music because of the fact that it starts on the 5th – or dominant – note on a major scale.
Even though it may appear to be similar to a major scale at first glance, the dominant scale or Mixolydian mode typically features a minor 7th.
The dominant scale is often used in fusion and jazz based music genres because of its unique sounding combinations.
The Common Scales Used For Acoustic Guitar
So now that we have covered the basics of the most common scales used for playing guitar, we can start to look at the guitar in more detail.
After all, no one guitar is the same. If you play acoustic guitar, you will find that there are certain types of scales that you are more likely to use than others.
If you master the scales that we have covered below when you next pick up your acoustic guitar, you will easily be able to improve your guitar skills.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common guitar scales for acoustic guitar below.
Minor Five Note Scales
One of the most satisfying scales to run through on your fretboard is undoubtedly the minor five note scale, otherwise known as the minor pentatonic scale.
The notes that you choose to play will differ depending on the key signature that you choose.
However, the majority of minor five note scales tends to cover the first note, the third note, the fourth note, the fifth note, and finishing on the seventh note on a standard scale.
So if you were to choose an A minor scale, you would play the A note, the C note, the D note, the E note, and finish on the G note.
So now that you have mastered the minor five note scale, you can start to stretch your skills by adding an additional note into the mix.
The standard blues scale tends to add a diminished fifth note so as to give it that signature blues sound.
Sticking with the A minor scale as an example, this means you would play an additional diminished fifth note as well as the other notes that we covered in the minor five note scale.
So you would start on the A note as your first note, progress to the C note, the D note, then play an E flat, a natural E, and finish on the G note.
This is one of the simplest scales to master, and creates an interesting effect in your music.
You can also opt to play a major blues scale if you so wish, sticking to the same diminished fifth as an additional note.
So now that we’ve covered things like the minor five note scale and the Blues scale, we can start to think about the whole 7 note scale such as the minor scale.
Whereas the minor pentatonic scale only covers 5 of these notes, in a natural minor scale, you would play all 7 notes so that you cover the whole octave.
We’ll stick with the A minor scale as an example, as this scale is one of the easiest to learn because of the lack of sharps and flats.
So you would start similarly to the minor five note scale, on the first note, the A note. However, you would play each note in succession rather than skip any out.
You will progress from the A note, to the B note, the C note, the D note, the E note, a natural F note, and finishing on the G note.
The natural F note is what makes this a minor key. As you move into different key signatures, you will have to add sharps and flats to get that signature diminished 7th.
The C Major Scale
Major scales are of course a very important thing to learn on any instrument. However, no major scale will be more important to learn than the C major scale.
This is one of the most popular scales used in a variety of musical genres.
The good news is that the C major scale is also the easiest to learn out of them all! This is because it doesn’t have any sharps or flats, so you won’t need to learn any complicated fingering to get it down.
To help make things even easier for you, this is the relative major to A minor.
You will start on the first note, the C note, then progress through the following successive notes.
The second note you will play is the D note, next the E note, then the F note, then the G note, then the A note, and finally the B note. This covers the whole octave.
Because C major and A minor are relative keys to one another, this will make it even easier to learn the second scale once you have mastered the first.
The Common Scales Used For Electric Guitar
Now that we have taken a closer look at the most popular scales used for playing acoustic guitar, we can take a closer look at which scales are most commonly used for playing the electric guitar.
Let’s see which scales you will be most likely to use on the electric guitar.
Learning your major scales will be crucial on any instrument, but even more so with the electric guitar.
As we have already covered in more detail above, there are as many as 12 different major scales for you to learn.
There will be accidentals such as flats or sharps added depending on the scale that you are trying to learn.
Using major scales on the electric guitar is more popular than you first think.
Several successful bands tend to use the major scales in their music, including Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, The Beatles, Queen, and Pink Floyd.
So if you want to learn a song by your favorite rock band, chances are that you will have to know how to master your major scales first.
The major scales that you will need to master include C major, G major, D major, A major, E major, B major, F♯ major, C♯ major, A♭ major, E♭ major, B♭ major, and F major.
Once you have mastered your major scales, you can then start to think about the relative minors.
Minor scales are just as popular in modern music as major scales are, so are well worth mastering on your electric guitar.
Whereas major scales are recognizable from their happy sound, the minor sounds have a sad sound to them. This is typically from the diminished 7th note in the scale.
There are 12 relative minor scales that you will need to master if you want to improve your guitar skills.
These include A minor, E minor, B minor, F♯ minor, C♯ minor, G♯ minor, E♭ minor, B♭ minor, F minor, C minor, G minor, and D minor.
There are 3 different types of minor scales, but we’ve mostly covered the natural minors to make things easier.
The relative minors are the most common scales that you will have to use for the vast majority of instruments, including the electric guitar.
Minor Five Note Scales
Just as the minor five note scale is important for acoustic guitars, it plays just as important a role for electric guitars.
These scales can be used in a wide range of music styles, including rock, country, jazz, and blues.
If you are new to performing guitar solos on your electric guitar, then the minor pentatonic scale is the perfect place for you to start.
When it comes to choosing which minor five note scale to start with, you can think in terms of minor scales.
This should give you an excellent place to start off your practice.
So you can start with A minor, E minor, B minor, F♯ minor, C♯ minor, G♯ minor, E♭ minor, B♭ minor, F minor, C minor, G minor, or D minor fingering positions to get you started.
Remember that you will only need to play five notes, starting on the first note, the third note, the fourth note, the fifth note, and the diminished seventh note.
Major Five Note Scales
Once you’ve mastered the minor five note scale, you can then turn your attention to the major five note scale.
As we have already covered at several points above, the difference will be in how the two versions of scales sound.
Whereas a minor five point scale will have a sad sound because of that diminished 7th, a major scale will have a much happier sound. This should make it easier to distinguish between the two.
These scales are very popular in several different music genres and playing styles. They are particularly notable in rock, country, bluegrass, and jazz genres.
You can start similarly to how you would approach a full major scale. Just remember that you will only need to play the first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh notes.
The keys that you can work through include C major, G major, D major, A major, E major, B major, F♯ major, C♯ major, A♭ major, E♭ major, B♭ major, and F major.
Why Is It Important To Learn Your Guitar Scales?
If you’re a keen guitarist and just want to learn how to play your favorite tunes, it may be easy to dismiss why you would need to learn some of the more basic theory such as scales on your guitar.
However, it’s important to know the basics so that you can improve your skills as a guitarist.
Once you have the basics down, such as your guitar scales, you will have a better understanding of how that favorite piece of music gets put together.
Something as humble as the guitar scale will show you how everything fits together, as it will give you the building blocks that you need to understand this.
You will need to understand your guitar scales if you want to write your own music, as it will give you a better understanding of which keys work with which notes.
You can also use repetition of scale practice for improving your finger work and control of the fretboard.
So if you don’t put in the time to understand your guitar scales, you won’t further your skills as a guitarist and musician in general.
Top Tips For Mastering Your Guitar Scales
Now that we’ve covered the 6 most common scales used for playing guitar, we’re also going to cover some of our top tips for helping you to master them.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to master your guitar scales so as to improve your skills as a musician.
Avoid Trying To Learn Random Scales
We would suggest against trying to learn random scales.
If you start with one of the more complicated scales that includes lots of sharps and flats, this can make things way more complicated than it needs to be.
You should start off with some of the simpler scales, such as C major and its relative minor, A, so that you can work out your fingering techniques first.
You can then work your way up to some of the more complicated scales such as B♭ major and F major.
It will also be worth considering which scales you are more likely to make use of in your guitar playing.
There’s no point in wasting time learning every scale under the sun if you’re not going to use them when you next pick up your instrument. Certain scales are better suited for certain styles of music.
This rule will also apply in terms of learning blues scales and pentatonic scales.
Study How Different Guitarists Make Use Of Guitar Scales In Their Solos
Another top tip is to learn from the experts. If you have a particular favorite soloist such as Brian May for example, you can learn from watching videos on YouTube of him playing the Red Special.
So you should spend a couple of hours each day watching your favorite guitarists play their solos from videos that you can discover on the internet.
This should help you to see how they make use of the scales that we have covered in more detail above.
It should make it much easier to notice how these scales are important for structuring a guitar solo that is pleasing to the ear rather than a discordant mess.
Become An Expert In Your Guitar’s Fretboard
In order to master your guitar scales, you will need to become intimately familiar with your fretboard.
This will allow you to know which note sits where on which fret, so you can effortlessly work through all of the different scales as needed.
Don’t be afraid to branch out from one particular area of your fretboard. It will push your skills to learn how to play different scales on different strings.
If you can play your scales on one section of the fretboard and again at another point of the fretboard, this will make you a better musician overall.
This is because it will give you a better understanding of your instrument and how all the theory gets put together.
Don’t Press Down Too Hard On Your Strings
Of course you will want to ensure that you hit every note of the scale that you are trying to play.
However this can sometimes mean that you are applying more pressure than is necessary, and therefore tire your fingers out.
This will then make it harder to work through your exercises. It is a particular habit of beginners who are first getting to grips with their instrument.
In order to move quicker through the notes that you are trying to play, you will need to avoid pressing down too hard on your strings.
Make sure you notice how much weight you apply to your strings, so that you can adjust it accordingly. You will then find that you are able to move through your scales quicker.
The Best Methods For Playing Guitar Scales
So we now know more about the commonly used guitar scales, as well as our top tips for mastering them.
Let’s take a look at the best methods to use for playing guitar scales so that you can put your musical knowledge to the test and ensure that you know your guitar scales inside and out.
Perform Warm Up Exercises Going Up And Down The Scales You Are Trying To Learn
So the very first thing you should do when practicing guitar scales, is of course to work up and down the scale so that you can become intimately familiar with them.
This will mean working up from the first note through to the seventh note, and then working back down the scale until you play the first note again.
This can be used as a warm up exercise. You can start to increase the speed at which you move through your scales until you know them backwards and forwards.
If you want to gradually increase your playing speed, you can use a metronome to help you.
Learn Which Strings You Can Skip
Once you’ve mastered your scales, you can then put your knowledge to the test. Let’s try skipping certain strings so that you can work out your scales in more detail.
For example, let’s examine playing an E major scale. You can start by playing your first note on the sixth string.
Try and skip the fifth string on your instrument and head to the fourth string to continue the scale.
For your third note, move back to the fifth string, then for the fourth note, skip the fourth string and head to the third string.
For your fifth note, move backwards to the fourth string. For the sixth note, skip the third string and play it on the second string. You can then finish the scale on the third string with the seventh note.
This skipping of strings method can help you to better understand what notes are where on your fretboard, as well as on which string and at which playing position they can be located.
Master The Art Of Speed Bursting
Not one for the faint hearted, speed bursting can be used to play through certain notes in a fairly quick succession.
So you will start playing your first note as normal, and then proceed to play the next three notes very quickly. You can then play the second note, followed by a further three notes in quick succession.
This is an excellent way to master your finger technique and get your hand moving quickly across the fretboard and strings.
You can then use this technique by speed bursting your scales backward as well to get you better acquainted with the scales.
Test Yourself By Skipping Notes
Once you have mastered your scales, you can then test yourself by missing out certain notes from the scale.
This can show you how well you know your scales, and which scales need a little more work. It will take a lot of concentration for you to master this art.
Start by playing the first note in your scale, then skip the second note. Play the third note, skip the fourth note, then play the fifth note and so on.
You can then do this while playing the descending scale, making sure to miss out those notes.
If you are able to do this successfully, it shows that you truly know your stuff when it comes to scales.
Play The Scale Notes In A Random Order
The last trick is to then play your scale notes in a completely random order.
Try switching up which notes you play, and avoid playing them in the same successive order that you would if you were just running through an ascending or descending scale.
This method can show you how well you know your stuff when it comes to the scales that you have spent so much time mastering.
So there you have it! You now know everything there is to know about the six most popular scales that are used by every guitarist around the world.
As long as you can master each and every one of these scales, you will be able to master your instrument in no time at all.
It will also be worth considering which type of guitar you wish to learn – acoustic or electric – as this may influence which scales you use the most.
All of the scales that we have covered above are used in popular music, so can help you to improve your guitar scales.
The key will be in practicing them so that you can master each style of music that you wish to play. Once you’ve mastered this music theory, there’ll be no stopping your skills with a guitar.
Now that you are armed with everything you need to know about the most common guitar scales, why not pick up your instrument and master these basic scales so that you can improve your skills?
You may even surprise yourself with how much these help you to play your instrument like a virtuoso!