Guitar scales

GuitarScale.org present scales by pictures and supplementary information. You can choose between scales for guitar and bass guitar.

The scales are presented on a diagram demonstrating a fingerboard and — if nothing else is mentioned — based on standard tuning.


Guitar scale graphics explained

Scales presented in an easy way

This site has set a goal to present scales in a way so that beginners could understand how to play them.

The goal is also to deliver additional information so that ambitious musicians can study scales and understand them on a deeper level. By clicking on the collapsible panels on the scales’ presentation pages, more information is available including scale degrees, related chords and theoretical explanation.

What is a scale?

A scale in music is constructed from a series of tones. Such series of tones will sound great played together and are often used as foundation for composing or improvisation. They can be played in any order, whereas playing them root to root is only when practicing.

A distinction could be made between rhythm and lead guitar. For example, in a rock band with two guitarists, one could play the rhythmic parts whereas the other guitarist plays the solo parts. A guitar solo is often based upon a scale.

In blues and jazz, it’s common with improvisations. Improvisations are often played “over” chords and is often based on scales that fit well together with the chords.

Why should you learn them?

So, why bother at all with this collection of tones that has a lot of strange names? There is actually good reason to invest time with scale and here are some of the reasons:

  1. You will develop your technique and finger flexibility. Playing through scale patterns involves different fingerings and shifting of hand positions, especially if you are playing lead guitar is this great training.
  2. You will train your ear. By playing trough major and minor scales, for example, you will develop your ability to hear if a song is played in major or minor, which is a powerful tool as a musician.
  3. You can easier learn songs because you get an understanding for keys and by knowing which key a song is played in, you will instantly be able to learn it faster. If you know the tones of a key, you will obviously know all the tones that can be used in a song and by that you are not starting from scratch when you memorize a new song, instead you can exclude all notes that you know don’t “fit in”.
  4. You get important tools for composing music, since you know which notes that “fits together” in general.
  5. You will establish devices for improvising and solo playing. Scales work like framework, or as a palette, for notes that you can use when you improvise to the music from other instruments. Scales are the key to learn how to play along with other musicians if you are the lead guitarist.

These are some of the reason that makes scales the most fundamental knowledge alongside chords for guitarists.

How to play a scale?

A scale can be used in many ways. Two major areas are for improvising and creating solos. But first, when you learn a new scale, it is common to just play it up and down to get it under your fingers. The animated diagram below shows how the scale in A major can be played ascending and descending over one octave. This is just one of many patterns for that specific scale, but it is a good starting point for training.

Scale animation one octave

When you practice on scales, it is important to use adequate fingerings. If three notes are included on one string, you should use three fingers and to avoid moving you hand to much you should also include the little finger when it makes the run over the fretboard more efficient.

While the piano lines up linear, the guitar is parallel. That means that the order of tones continues from string to string. From the bass tones on first frets of the lowest string (equivalent of the left side of the piano keyboard) via the middle strings to the last fret on the highest string (equivalent of the right side of the piano keyboard).

Learn and memorize scales

The first step is to study diagrams, such presented on this site, and exercise them (perhaps in conjunction with tabs or notes). Scales are often learned in parts of one or two octaves. The final goal, however, is to be able to play the scale over the whole fingerboard. The latter will be possible after the guitarist has been familiar with the scale and practice it in different positions.

The hard part is to memorize scales. Being able to visualize different scales all over the fretboard is not achieved in a short time. A tip is to take a shortcut, by learning the intervals. Here are the intervals for the Dorian scale: 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2. This means that whenever you start on a root note, you can go two steps up or down the fretboard on the same string. After that you can go another one step up or down. And after that, go can go two steps up or down three times in a row - still all on the same string. When, you can go one step in either direction and finally two steps in any direction to return to the root note. By this method you can move all over the fretboard with speed just minutes after you know the intervals of the scale!

Modes

In relationship to scale, modes can be seen as modifications of scales. Modes use the same notes, but the order is reorganized. Despite the fact that exactly the same notes are involved, the modes sound different. Why? This is because of the alternative order of the intervals. Although, they partly overlap, the overall interval pattern changes and that can result in a whole new character of sound. The most common modes in music are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. These goes back to the Ancient Greece, but are still used in music and are important knowledge than it comes to lead guitar playing (dependent of the music genre, some of them will be more relevant than others).

All the named modes as well as some of the less common are presented on this site.

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