Beginner Guitar Lessons - What is a Guitar Scale

If you are a beginner guitar player (or intermediate) and would like to master your instrument, there are essentially two fundamental skills that you need to learn: playing chords and playing scales. Chords are a collection of multiple notes played at the same time and scales are a collection of notes that are played sequentially. Scales are the fundamental building blocks of musical phrases, licks, and solos. If you know how to play all of the guitar scales and chords and can play them well, then you will be good at playing guitar.

So what is a scale? A scale is essentially a pattern of notes that can be played in sequential order or out of order tastefully, which go well together in certain modes of music according to music theory, which is the study of the types of musical modes that comprise western music. There are many different scales you might attempt to learn, but this website focuses on teaching you the basic guitar scales. The basic guitar scales are the fretboard note map (all of the notes played in chromatic order), the major scale, the harmonic minor scale, the melodic minor scale, the blues scale, and the minor/major pentatonic scales.

Below is an image representing the notes comprising the most basic scale, the chromatic scale or fretboard note map:

How do I learn the scales?

Now once you learn all of the names of the notes (the fretboard note map) you can start learning scales and start learning to recognize patterns. If, for example, you wanted to play the "C major scale" you would just have to play only the natural notes (no sharps or flats) contained in the fretboard note map. However, you would want to start the scale on a C and end the scale on a C. The chart below visually represents one version of the C major scale:

Now it just so happens that the A minor scale is the natural minor associated with the C major scale. To know what this means you have to get into some deep theory. But what it translates to is the fact that if you want to learn the natural minor scale in the key of A, you just play the same exact notes as the C minor Major scale but you start on a different note. Instead of starting and ending on a 'C' note, you start and end on an 'A' note. The chart below visually represents the A natural minor scale:

You will notice if you played both of the scales on your guitar that even though they contain the same notes, they sound very different depending on the order that you play them in. This is because it is the relations between notes (the changes from one note to another in sequential order) that gives music a 'mode' or feel to it. Learning to play guitar scales is essentially learning the various different modes (ordered note sequences) that sound good together in various musical key signatures and learn how to navigate around the fretboard so that you can readily play the right notes during the right song. If, for example, you want to play a melodic phrase, lick or solo during a blues song in the key of A, you will have to know how to play the A blues scale. And so on.

So how do you learn all of the scales. Learning the scales basically just requires you to patiently practice them over and over again until playing the patterns becomes second nature. You can use visual tools such as the scale diagrams above to learn scales, or better yet, you can put these scale diagrams right on the fretboard of your guitar using instructional guitar stickers.
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