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The Best Guitar Scales For Beginners To Learn

You may have heard the term 'guitar scale' get used but aren't sure exactly what it means. The answer is actually very straightforward - Guitar scales are a sequence of notes played through in ascending (low to high) or descending (high to low) order.

You can think of a guitar scale as a pattern or shape to help you learn the location of notes on the guitar fretboard and practicing guitar scales will also help you to develop your finger strength and dexterity as well as your musical ear.

If you're interested in learning the location of different scales around the fretboard, our Guitar Scale Finder app features over 200 different guitar scale and arpeggio patterns with detailed charts, tabs and scale diagrams for each scale, pattern and key.

School of McRock also features hundreds of hours of online guitar lessons for players of all levels, as well as dedicated support from professional guitarists to help you take your playing to the next level. You can even take a free 14-day trial for full, instant access.

What are guitar scales used for?

Guitar scales are used by guitarists in many different ways, from improvising solos and riffs to writing melody lines, chord progressions and entire songs.

Some scales are more common in certain genres of music, for example blues and rock guitarists will commonly use pentatonic guitar scales to improvise lead lines and solos, whilst the harmonic minor scale is often used in classical, jazz and metal music.

There are many different guitar scales that you could learn, but it's generally recommended that you should learn the Major Scale first, as this forms the basis for all of the other scales and modes in music theory. However, many guitarists will learn the pentatonic or blues scales first due to their straightforward shapes when laid out on the fretboard.

The easiest way to learn guitar scales

A useful technique that beginner guitarists can use to learn guitar scales is to memorise the interval patterns of the scale - which is the space between each note on the fretboard. The notes of most scales are usually a either a half-step (1 fret) or whole-step (2 frets) apart, so you could visualise the Major Scale as whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half (or W W h W W W h).

G Major Scale Notes

If you were to follow this sequence starting from the 3rd fret of the low E string (G), you'd play the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 12th, and 14th frets to form a complete G Major Scale.

You can move the starting position to any fret on any string, and as long as you follow the same scale pattern across a single string, you'll be able to play the Major Scale in any key.

If you want to learn more about this technique,check out this lesson on School of McRock or watch the preview below.

This technique makes it really simple to learn new guitar scales and it's an excellent way to improve your musical ear relating to how each scale sounds, but on it's own it isn't a very practical way to improvise or write songs on the guitar.

Guitar scale charts and patterns

A more common way to learn guitar scales is to memorise patterns and shapes that move from the low to high strings, usually by playing two or three notes on each string before moving your fingers to the next guitar string.

These patterns are often written down as guitar scale charts or guitar scale diagrams, where you can see a top-down view of the fretboard with markers for each individual note that you would play to form the full guitar scale.

G Major Scale Chart
G Major Scale Chart

The numbers on the above scale chart represent the fingers you should use to fret each individual note. Alternatively you might see notes labelled by their name (eg. C, D, Eb...) or the degree of the scale (eg. 1, 2, b3...).

You can find scale charts for over 200 different scale and arpeggio patterns in our Guitar Scale Finder app which also lets you toggle between note names, degrees and recommended fingering.

Major guitar scales

You can play the major scale in many different ways on a guitar. Each position of the major scale will contain the same notes arranged in the same order, the only difference is the fingering pattern you use to reach them.

The most popular approaches to learning the major scale in different locations around the fretboard are the CAGED system (5 positions) and 3-note-per-string system (7 positions).

The CAGED system may seem more straightforward to learn because there are fewer positions to remember, but the 3-note-per-string system can be easier to play - especially at fast speeds - since there are 3 notes played on each string you are always following the same picking pattern.

C Major Scale - CAGED G Position
CAGED - C Major Scale (G Position)
C Major Scale 3NPS Position 5
3NPS - C Major Scale (5th Position)

In the two scale charts above, all of the notes from C Major have been highlighted as well as the actual scale pattern, which makes it easy to see how both scales contain the same notes.

Ultimately there is no right and wrong method to learn, so you should choose the approach that makes the most sense to you.

Minor guitar scales

The minor scale is closely related to the major scale, but it contains several flat notes, e.g. instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, you have 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7. So, by playing a major scale but shifting the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes down by 1 fret you will transform it into a minor scale!

G Major vs G Minor Guitar Scale
G Major vs G Minor Guitar Scale

In the charts above you can see which notes have been moved to transform the major scale (left) into the minor scale (right). You will also notice that the scale pattern looks quite different on the G, B and high E strings. This is because after the notes have been moved, the fingering required to play the original scale pattern becomes more awkward to play. Since the same notes can be found on different frets and strings of the guitar, a simpler pattern has been formed using the same notes in alternative locations.

Major pentatonic scales

A pentatonic scale contains only five notes instead of the seven that most guitar scales commonly feature. The most popular type of pentatonic guitar scales are the Major Pentatonic Scale and Minor Pentatonic Scale.

Whilst the full Major Scale contains 7 notes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), the major pentaonic scale drops the 4th and 7th notes, leaving only 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 remaining.

This provides a different sound to the standard major scale and also simplifies the scale pattern, making it easier to remember and play:

C Major Pentatonic Guitar Scale
C Major Pentatonic Scale

Minor pentatonic scales

The minor pentatonic scale drops the 4th and 7th notes from the minor scale, leaving only 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b7 remaining.

A Minor Pentatonic Guitar Scale
A Minor Pentatonic Scale

Blues guitar scales

The blues guitar scale is a variation of the minor pentatonic scale that adds two extra notes back into the scale (b5 and b7). These notes are commonly referred to as "blues notes" and give the scale a distinctive bluesy sound.

A Minor Blues Guitar Scale
A Minor Blues Scale

What is the best way to learn guitar scales?

If you're not a member yet, sign up for a free 14-day trial of School of McRock to get instant access to hundreds of hours of online guitar lessons, as well as dedicated support from professional guitarists and access to a community of likeminded players.

If you're interested in learning the location of different scales around the fretboard, our Guitar Scale Finder app features over 200 different guitar scale and arpeggio patterns with detailed charts, tabs and scale diagrams for each scale, pattern and key.

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