How To Play Scales On Guitar

Scales involve the arrangement of musical notes following a frequency or pitch order. To explain this better, when it comes to western music, we have 12 notes. These 12 notes form the foundation of several other guitar scales. 

What scales do is to arrange these 12 notes according to frequency or pitch. Also, scales help to form the foundation when it comes to building chords.

In this article, we are going to identify different types of scales, their subtypes and explain how to play them.

Types Of Guitar Scales

Here is a list of guitar scales any guitarist should be familiar with in order to improve your playing skills.

  • Major scale
  • The minor scales (natural, harmonic and melodic scales)
  • Pentatonic scales (major and minor pentatonic scales)
  • The Church modes
  • The Blues scale

How To Play Scales On Guitar

Playing The Major Scales

Major scales are the most commonly used scales in the guitar world. When learning how to play the guitar, these are the scales you are bound to encounter first. 

We have 12 major scales, each is root notes representing every note on the chromatic scale. The root notes on the major scale include C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, And B. Now let’s explain how to play some of the major scales we have. 

G Major Scale

This is usually the first scale learned by beginners due to its regular use in a lot of popular or most songs. The g major scale is made up of seven notes which are important for you to know if you want to get the playing right. They are G, A, B, C, D, E, F#. Another important thing to point out is that G major scale is played in different scale positions.

  • Playing G Major In An Open Position

To play the g major scale in the open position, place your index finger on the low E string (sixth string on the guitar), at the 3rd fret. Follow this by placing your thumb on the 5th string at the 2nd fret. 

For the final finger positioning, place your middle finger on the high E string (first string on the guitar) at the 3rd fret. While maintaining this finger placements, play all the strings on your guitar and you should produce an open G major.

Other positions in which the G major can be played include the second position, third, fifth, ninth, and twelfth positions. The only tip to learning how to play this major scale, and other guitar scales, is to keep rehearsing until you get the hang of it. To help with your finger placements, you can use a guitar major scale diagram.

Buy on Amazon

Playing The Minor Scales

Using music theory, a minor scale describes any scale that has three scale degrees or patterns. The minor scale is subdivided into three scales. They include the harmonic, melodic, and natural minor scales.

Natural Minor Scale

Natural minor which is also known as the Aeolian mode can be played easily if you are familiar with major scales. To be able to play the natural minor scale, ensure that you know its scale interval pattern which often goes like this, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step (W, H, W, W, H, W, W). Now let’s explain how to play some natural minor scale notes.

  • Playing A Natural Minor Scale

This follows A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A pattern. To play this, you have to follow the interval pattern above. From the A, the whole step is taken down to B. From here, a half step will be taken down to C. Followed by a whole step from C down to D. A single step (whole) from D to E. A half step is taken from E down to F. 

This is followed by a whole step to G and finally, a whole step from G back to A. From this description, you can see that the natural minor scale has to be played in descending order. Also, this interval pattern is used in playing every scale note in the natural minor scale, the only thing that differs is the strumming pattern for each note. For instance, a C natural minor scale follows a C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb pattern.

  • Harmonic Minor Scale

This is a variation of the natural minor scale. The only difference is that while playing the harmonic minor scale, the pattern is changed as the seventh note and is raised by a semitone (a half step). 

For example, the C natural minor scale has this pattern, C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb. However, when it is played as a c harmonic minor scale, the scale notes follow this strumming pattern, C D Eb F G Ab B C. 

From a natural minor scale, it becomes a harmonic minor scale by raising the seventh note, Bb, a semitone to B. This makes its interval sequence to be, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half, whole and half step (augmented second), half step.

  • Melodic Minor Scale

This is another minor scale derived from the natural minor scale but with a few changes. While it follows the natural minor form, the melodic minor scale will be played by altering the 6th and 7th scale notes. 

You play the melodic minor scale in the ascending form by raising the 6th scale note up a semitone. In descending order, the melodic minor scale is produced by lowering the 7th scale down a semitone.

The Pentatonic Scale

This is a scale that is most favored in rock, blues and pop music. As its name implies, it is made up of five notes. The pentatonic scale is divided into two types, the major pentatonic scale, and the minor pentatonic scale. 

  • Playing Minor Pentatonic Scale

For the minor pentatonic scale, use the natural minor scale form as an aid as they share few similarities. For instance, the e natural minor scale notes have an E, F#, G, A, B, C, D. Pattern. To get a minor pentatonic scale from this, you simply have to skip two notes while playing. An e pentatonic scale note pattern should go like this, E, G, A, B and D.  

  • Playing Major Pentatonic Scale

This can be played using the major scale form. You simply play all the scale notes in a major scale except for the fourth and seven notes. For instance, the g major scale has seven notes, g, a, b, c, d, e, f#. When this is turned into a major pentatonic scale, it becomes, G, A, B, D, and E (1, 2, 3, 5, 6 ). Using the sofa syllables as an example, instead of the usual do, re, mi, fa, so la, ti, do, it becomes do, re, mi, so, la, do.

Buy on Amazon

The Blues Scale

This is the most used scale by guitar students learning to play the lead guitar, along with the pentatonic scales. Not just that, but it is also used a lot in most modern music that we have today. 

The trick to learning how to play minor and major blues scale fast on the lead guitar is in being able to play the major and minor pentatonic scales. This is because a typical blues scale consists of six scale notes, one chromatic note, and 5 notes derived from the pentatonic scale. 

To produce a minor blues scale, just add its blues note, b5, to the minor pentatonic scale. This will produce a 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 pattern.

The same process applies to the major blues scale. With the addition of its blues note, b3, to a major pentatonic scale, you will create a major blues scale. The pattern will be like this 1 2 b3 3 5 6.

The b3 and b5 notes are referred to as blues notes because they produce melodious bluesy sounds when added to the pentatonic scales.

Another form of guitar scales you can attempt to learn and play is the church mode. The church modes consist of equally important guitar scales that include Mixolydian, Ionian, Locrian, Lydian, Dorian, and Phrygian modes.

Conclusion

When it comes to learning how to play guitar scales, what is required is a lot of practice. Keep practicing until you can play each scale perfectly. 

This might take you a few years to master but it is definitely worth it. While it is good to watch instructional videos online, you can also enlist the help of a guitar teacher to help you through the process. Nothing beats one on one teaching. 

Also, you should try to pace yourself. Don’t rush the learning process. Take your time, let your hands and fingers get used to forming the various scales shapes.

Another thing that can aid your learning process is to know your finger placements. If you are still confused about the right finger placement for strumming and fretting chords on your guitar, you will encounter problems when it comes to playing scales. You should try making use of guitar scale diagrams to help with your finger placements.

For more on how to play scales on the guitar, please click on the link below.