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Guitar Scales

What they are; Why play them; How to get started


As soon as you start playing guitar, someone will suggest that you learn guitar scales and practice them regularly. But what are scales? Which should you learn? What benefits will you reap by spending time learning them? How should you get started? Should you even bother?

I'll try to answer these questions and more in this series of articles.


The Key Question... Should you care?

Before we look closely at scales, I'd like you to consider the basic question: Why should you learn them?

If you spent some time researching this question by reading books, browsing web sites, checking Internet newsgroups, and asking experienced players or teachers you will discover a wide variety of opinions. Some insist scales are critical for your development as a player, and some insist you don't need to bother. Which is right?

It depends on why you play guitar.

If you prefer to strum chords and rarely play a melodic line, learning scales is purely for your academic enjoyment. If you have no interest in ever playing leads, or improvising, scales may be a waste of your time.

If you rarely play with others, or you enjoy noodling around for your own enjoyment and can figure out how to play what you hear, you may want to spend more time playing than working on scales.

However, if you play want to be a well-rounded musician, if you want to improvise, if you want to increase your playing speed, if you want to answer questions like: "what notes are you playing?" or "what key is that in?"... You should learn about guitar scales and practice them regularly.


Benefits... Of Playing Scales

There a many benefits for you when you play guitar scales. Consider this a partial list.

Spend time with guitar scales every day and you will discover your own specific benefits.


What is a scale?

A scale is a specific series of notes. The notes depend upon the type of scale. There are numerous types of scales, but most beginners learn chromatic scales first, then major scales and minor scales.

For example, a chromatic scale is any series of twelve successive half-steps. The article on Scale Theory discusses chromatic scales in more depth.

Most beginners learn about chromatic scales first, because that are the easiest guitar scales to learn. The easiest way to play a chromatic scale on guitar is to start at the first fret and play twelve notes in a row, on the same string, one fret at a time. Here's a TAB example of a C chromatic scale:



A Chromatic C-Scale includes the notes:
C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B



Other types of scales are covered on other pages (See the Related Articles at the bottom of this page).

As you become comfortable with each of the basic scale types (chromatic, major, minor), you should begin learning pentatonic scales, blues scales, or one of the other forms frequently used in your favorite style of music.


Tips For Learning Scales

The secrets to learning scales are to understand repeatable patterns, to practice them routinely, and to think about the note names as you play them.

All scales are derived from formula's, such as W-W-H-W-W-W-H for a major scale. These patterns create specific fingering patterns on your guitar. Once you learn the pattern, you can play a wide variety of guitar scales up and down the neck.


SIDEBAR: The one caveat to learning and applying scale patterns is the B-string. As you move from the G string to the B string, you must shift the pattern by one fret (away from the nut). This shift is required because B is tuned 1/2 step lower, in terms of its relative pitch, than the other strings. The A string is five 1/2 steps higher than low-E. The D string is five 1/2 steps higher than D, and so on, until you reach the G and B strings. B is only four 1/2 steps higher than G.


Anything that's worth learning requires repetition.

Adding scales regularly to your practice session helps you warm up, helps measure continued improvement, improved your strength and dexterity, and leads to better understand your fretboard (which translates into learning to use movable chord shapes).

Fretboard Layout Discoveries:
If you take the time to think about the name of each note, at least during one of your weekly practices, you will soon begin to see another set of patterns: where notes fall on the fretboard.

You'll notice, for example, that if you play a C on one string, there's another one two strings away (toward the higher notes) and up two frets! You'll also see that there's another one one string away (toward the lower notes) and up five frets. Next you'll start seeing where the fifths of each scale is located, and how it's immediately above your next root note! Noticing such patterns will help you quickly learn to jump to new chord forms, or play connected scales.


Other Articles In This Series:

As other articles are added to this series, they will be posted here.


Related Articles:

You may find the Music Theory articles, listed in the sidebar to the left, helpful. Specifically, the articles on Scale Theory, Minor Scales, Major Scales. In addition, you might benefit from reading about the 1st Position C Scale, and the 2nd Position C Scale.


Other Resources:

You can find information on guitar scales and much more at some of these sites: - Is a free resource that was once known as the Fender Player's Club. There you will find numerous PDF lesson files, MP3's and lists of related material for purchase. To find lessons on scales, use the home page Search box. Note: The first time you use the site, you may have to identify your home country.

The D'Addario Musician's Hub - Also known as The Stage. The fine folks at D'Addario want to provide you with top-quality guitar accessories and help you learn more about playing the instrument. Both lead to increased enjoyment! Take a look at the long list of video lessons, and pay particular attention to lessons such as the C Scale Guitar Lesson and Playing The Pentatonic Scale.

One of my favorite guitar books has a short, but very informative section, on playing scales. It's The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer. The self-proclaimed "unique source book for the guitar player - amateur or professional, acoustic or electric, rock, blues, jazz or folk". The revised edition is packed with knowledge. Just some of the topics covered are: The anatomy of acoustic and electric guitars, descriptions of classical, flamenco, and steel string acoustics. A survey of electric guitars, focusing on Fender, Gibson , Japanese and other Far East producers, plus instructional material geared toward beginners, rhythm guitar players, melodic and harmonic players, maintenance, and more.



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