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I am learning guitar since a month. I like to learn and practise scales a lot(as I hear they are the building blocks of lead guitar and I want to play lead eventually), but there being a million videos on youtube and all information scattered, I am confused where to begin, what are different scales, why they are important, etc. Can somebody help me with an advice telling me about scales assuming no knowledge on my part and what to start learning? Even linking me to an organized source of information will be great! Thanks a lot! I really need this help. Ah by the way, I play left-handed.

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When I took my first classical guitar class, my teacher had me buy the Segovia scales. I highly recommend them. $5 on Amazon. amazon.com/Diatonic-Major-Scales-Andres-Segovia/dp/1598060597. –  Zack Aug 18 at 2:46
    
If you are just starting out, you do not know enough to figure out what you need to do, and everything you find online will only add to your confusion. Save yourself all this trouble and pay for some lessons with a guitar teacher at your local music store. Your teacher will demonstrate things to you, answer your questions, and set you on the right path. –  Wheat Williams Aug 19 at 10:35

9 Answers 9

As a beginner, I think 5 different sorts of scales will set you up for a good while.These are :- full major;full minor;pentatonic major;pentatonic minor and blues.

If you learn 2 octaves of each, not using open strings anywhere, you will be able to play in any key you need. Yes, it may be easier to use open strings initially, but as the guitar is a great instrument to transpose easily to all keys, make the effort.

Most of these scales (sets of notes) will fall under your 4 fretting fingers, so life is not too bad ! This means you can play (at least initially) without moving up or down.

The 2 pentatonics work well once you understand that ,for example, A minor has the same notes as C major, so the same 'box' works for both.

Actually, C major (full) has exactly the same notes as A natural minor, but you're best served by learning them as 2 distinct 'shapes'.Start and finish on the E strings, and you'll only need to leave the 'box' for one note, on the 3rd. string for the natural minor.

Once the pents are familiar, add the 'blue' note to the minor pent. That's a flat 5, which is found one fret lower than the fourth note you play in the min. pent. scale, in A blues, it'll be between the third and fourth notes from that min. pent. So that's the blues catered for.

One source if good info. is the RGT.,Registry of Guitar Tutors, which publishes exam syllabi and other guitar-related stuff.

You mention that you're left-handed. If this feels totally natural, carry on. However, there are many reasons for playing right-handed. On this site, several articles discuss this.

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Kindly link me to articles that discuss why people play right handed. Though I feel natural to play left handed –  Sameer Kulkarni Dec 4 '13 at 18:56
    
People play right handed because of the availability of guitars to borrow or buy. I would stay left if that is natural for you since I taught a lefty who tried right and it wasn't working. Go with what you feel is comfortable. –  r lo Dec 4 '13 at 19:41

The scale practice that works best for me is to simply pick a key and then go through all the modes, 2 octaves each.

Most commonly I begin with G major, then do a 2-octave major scale (G on low E string to G on high E string). Then, begin on A and play the 2-octave Dorian mode. It should be enharmonic (all the same notes, same key) aside from the fact that you are beginning and ending on different notes. Then move up to B and do 2-octave Phyrigian, continuing in this way through all modes, ending back on the Ionian (G major) at fret 15 rather than 3, where we started.

This should help you develop a solid grid in your mind of every note within a key, both horizontally and vertically. Once you're okay at it, try starting with a different note (F major? A major?) and translating this knowledge. You'll find that sometimes you have to begin your scales on the A string to avoid getting too high up the fretboard, but this is good as it will encourage you to learn some new voicings/octaves of the 2-octave scales.

I would also encourage you to learn pentatonic scales as they are common for "lead guitar solo" kindof stuff but they are pretty easily learned through muscle memory. Just study the basic forms, turn on a record, and start soloing.

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tl;dr: This is gonna be a lengthy one :-)

My suggestion

My suggestion would be to start with the pentatonic aeolean (minor) pattern over the whole fretboard - the most natural one on the guitar would be the A minor scale or E minor also aligns pretty nice with the tuning and the markers. My approach is to get used to the basic fret positions and then gradually combining the sections of the scale until you have gained the muscle memory to play the scale by heart. After this there are many other interesting scales that deviate somehow from the common pattern found in church modes (oriental scales with 1/4 steps come to mind or maybe if you're a freak like me you start looking into parallel galaxies).

Edit

Just to be clear: this is not a tutorial to become a good musician - see the other answers - but merely a guide to memorizing scales. So go now and take on music theory and play to your favorite songs to get a feeling for it. If you want to know how I learned the modes keep on reading.

Muscle memory

This is the process of how I trained my muscle memory to learn the minor modes:

Here is the pattern for A minor that neatly aligns with the fret markers - I'm right handed but you can mirror the pattern vertically to match your guitar:

     E || x |   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x |   | x |   || x |   |   | x | ...
     B ||   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   | x |   | O |   ||   | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | O |   |   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   || x |   | O |   | ...
     D || x |   | x |   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     A || O |   |   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   | x |   || O |   |   | x | ...
     E || x |   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x |   | x |   || x |   |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
Phase1                       -=============-
Phase2   -=============-                                   -=============-
Phase3               -=========-         -==================-
Phase4   -===============================================================-

Xs mark notes that belong to the scale; Os mark the root note of the scale (A in this case). Notice that the pattern repeats itself along the fretboard after 12 frets (half steps). If E minor suits you more you only need to shift the whole pattern down 5 frets (to the left).

The phases

When I began looking into scales I would find the root note at the 5th fret on the low E string and work my way up the strings in this fret position (frets 5 - 8, strings E - E). The next fret position to add is the 12th fret (or an octave lower starting with open low E). The final step for the pentatonic is connecting the known fret positions and practicing transitions all over the fretboard.

Going further

When you feel comfortable playing it, to the point where you just need the root note and the rest flows from the heart without looking too much or at all at the fretboard, you can begin to gradually add the missing 3-note-per-string notes. If you're into the blues this would also be a good place to explore the blue notes.

Here is the scale filled up with the missing notes (+) to make a full aeolean minor mode - note that the new notes are all 6 half steps (a diminished 5th) apart:

A aeolaen (minor):
     E || x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
     B || + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   || + | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   || x |   | O |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   || O |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..

Fun fact: if you take the inverse of the full scale (e.g. the notes not marked) its a pentatonic scale again namely D#/Eb - a wait-for-it diminished 5th lower than A brain-explode.

A aeolaen "inverse":
     E ||   |   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   | x |   | O ||   |   | x |   | ...
     B ||   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x |   | x |   | x ||   |   | x |   | ...
     G ||   | x |   | x |   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x ||   | x |   | x | ...
     D ||   | O |   |   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   | x ||   | O |   |   | ...
     A ||   | x |   |   | x |   | O |   |   | x |   | x ||   | x |   |   | ...
     E ||   |   | x |   | x |   | x |   |   | x |   | O ||   |   | x |   | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..

Modes, modes, modes

The good thing is that most of the conventional church modes derive from the same pattern only starting at a different note (there are some minor modifications with melodic minor, gypsy scales etc.). So I solely need to memorize one scale and can play all the others from that. Personally, I started too late with the other modes so the minor is pretty much engraved into my head and I still need to think too much to switch modes. So remember to practice all modes from the beginning.

Here are some diagrams for constructing the church modes out of the A minor scale. Note that the root note is wandering up the common scale pattern. If you wanted to play A phrygean you would need to shift the whole scale to get the root note to A (e.g. E|0 -> E|5 for phrygean) :

E phrygean:
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || O | + |   | x | ...
     B || + | x |   | x |   | O | + |   | x |   | x |   || + | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   | O | + |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     D || x |   | O | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   || x |   | O | + | ...
     A || x |   | + | x |   | x |   | O | + |   | x |   || x |   | + | x | ...
     E || O | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || O | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root    x

F lydian:
     E || x | O |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | O |   | x | ...
     B || + | x |   | x |   | x | O |   | x |   | x |   || + | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | O |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | O |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   || x |   | x | O | ...
     A || x |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | O |   | x |   || x |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | O |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | O |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root        x

G lydian:
     E || x | + |   | O |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | O | ...
     B || + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | O |   | x |   || + | x |   | x | ...
     G || O |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   || O |   | x |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | O |   | x |   | + | x |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || x |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | O |   || x |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | O |   | x |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | O | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                x

A aeolaen (minor):
     E || x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
     B || + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   || + | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   || x |   | O |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   || O |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                        x

B locrian:
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | O | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
     B || O | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   || O | x |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | x |   | O | x |   | x |   | x | + |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   | O | x |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || x |   | O | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   || x |   | O | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | O | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                                x
(Locrian mode seems not to be very common these days due to the missing perfect fith but I like it and I despise leaving things out so I learned it anyways)

C ionian (major):
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | O |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
     B || + | O |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   || + | O |   | x | ...
     G || x |   | x |   | + | O |   | x |   | x | + |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | O |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || x |   | + | O |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   || x |   | + | O | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | O |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                                    x

D dorian:
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | O |   || x | + |   | x | ...
     B || + | x |   | O |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   || + | x |   | O | ...
     G || x |   | x |   | + | x |   | O |   | x | + |   || x |   | x |   | ...
     D || O |   | x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   || O |   | x | + | ...
     A || x |   | + | x |   | O |   | x | + |   | x |   || x |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | x |   | + | x |   | O |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                                            x

Like I said that's the way I learned the scales but I hope this helps anyone to get started.

Just one more ...

As a side note: if one day you wish to play an instrument that has more than the default 6 strings the pattern above gets more complicated but this is only due to the standard tuning - with the odd major third between G and B to make playing chords easy I guess. If you look at the pattern in all perfect fourths tuning (raising B->C and high E->F) you'll see that it's the same thing over and over again to infinity so adding new strings is a almost a no brainer :-). So for soloing the following tuning could come in very handy as it does for me at the time of writing:

A aeolaen (minor):
     F || + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x || + |   | x |   | ...
     C || x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + || x |   | x |   | ...
     G || x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   || x |   | O |   | ...
     D || x |   | x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   || x |   | x | + | ...
     A || O |   | + | x |   | x |   | x | + |   | x |   || O |   | + | x | ...
     E || x | + |   | x |   | O |   | + | x |   | x |   || x | + |   | x | ...
  Fret    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       12
   Dot        .       .       .       .       .            ..
  Root                        x

Look how regular and beautiful this is :-)

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Learning scales on guitar are a series of straight forward rote exercises that you could, and probably will, spend the rest of your life working on. There are numerous places online and books that will give you lists of scales and how to play them, although not necessarily the best ways to practice them.

I suggest learning a few scales as other's have suggested, major/minor, on guitar but only to get a grasps of the actual notes on the fret board. At this point in time, memorizing scales and positions will be helpful but ultimately pointless if you don't have a grasps on why and how they work. Getting a handle on music theory to supplement your guitar practice will be much more helpful than memorization exercises that can be rather dull.

The best thing you can do is find a teacher. Probably a lot of the people here can give you a breakdown on the basics of music theory but it's a rather involved subject that takes time and practice. A good teacher can help you get a good grasps on theory and how it relates directly to guitar. They'll also be more readily available and once they get to know you better will be able to answer your questions, hopefully if they're a good teacher, in a way you can better understand. It can be costly but in the long run it's the best way to go and will be a much better use of your time than trying to scour the internet.

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From a musical standpoint, learning the 5 pentatonic patterns will yield the most benefit for rock/blues music since the notes in those scales sound good over any chord in that key. They are simple, fun to play, and very versatile, as they can sound cool played both slow and fast. They are the foundation of many, if not most, famous rock solos.

From a technique standpoint (and secondarily, musical), learn the 3-note per string scales. These are structured the same for both major and minor keys, but just starting on different root notes. These scales are used a lot in modern rock/metal because their fingerings allows one to play them fast.

My advice to you is this. Learn a single pentatonic pattern very well first before trying the others. Learning one very well will make it much easier to assimilate the others. Same for the 3-note-per string scales. Learn a single one well and you will get the others much more quickly. If you learn just one of each and learn it well so that you can play it in a musical context (improvising over a song), you'll be way ahead of those who know tons of scales but can only play each of them mediocre-ly (is that a word?). Much better to be able to know only one scale and to be able to shred it than to suck at lots of them.

Finally, consider this. There are only 3 fingerings you need for all 3-note-per-string scales. 1-2-4, 1-3-4, and 1-3-5 (use your second finger for the "3" note in the last fingering). This means that if you learn each of those fingerings cold and get them accurate, you will have learned the fingerings for all 7 3-note-per-string scales.

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Your best return on investment will come from learning the pentatonic scales (one scale, 2 different starting points/focus (tonal centre)). Plus, the so-called blues scale and major and minor scales and mode are kind of supersets of them, so you'll capitalize on that as well. So know what these look like, know what they sound like, and above all enjoy it.

As for resources, you'll find pentatonic charts just about everywhere. I'd advise you to try the Guitar Techniques magazine (available in digital formats) or look at samples from Stevie Snacks/ Texas Blues Alley on the Youtubes, or some Robbie Calvo videos on True Fire (Sweet Notes and The Power of 5, namely), but it's more intermediate than beginner. I got my pentatonic start from a crappy chart book and Hendrix transcriptions, I suppose every road leads to Rome in that respect.

But really, really, please, for the love of Govan, don't just learn to "play scales". Train your ear, learn intervals, pick up melodies you know, look at transcript or use trial and error, look for the scales that contain melodies or play melodies from a scale. Scales don't hold the secret to music, they are just a tool and focusing too much on them can give you an illusion of progress in musicality, but ultimately wear down the fun and passion. The building blocks of lead guitar are phrasing and licks more than scales, I would say. Scales can be more predominant if you're going for the whole Petrucci, but they will always follow the music. Yes, I know, finger muscles are learning patterns faster than you are soaking in the music and the theory and it's rewarding that way.

That caveat said, congratulations and enjoy your time with the instrument.

[Edit Not only because I'm a massive fan of his : maybe one of the best books to quench your thirst for knowledge and practice tips while guiding you would be Guthrie Govan's Creative Guitare Volume 1. I wish I had such a book back then]

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Start doing theory. It teaches you want a scale is and how they should be played. If you can learn what semi tones and whole tones are you can learn just about every scale imaginable. Scales are merely a pattern of notes set a certain amount of semi tones away from each other. Even the modes are not hard to learn if you can just get your head around what semitones and wholetones are.

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I have been playing guitar for two years now (played piano as a kid for seven years, but I don't think I got anything musical from it). My teacher at the time started me on learning songs typically for the chord changes with what I thought as very challenging fills (hammer ons etc.). I am fairly logically minded and wanted some understanding of what I was doing, but he felt that mechanics and feeling were more important at the time. I personally had very little interest in just copying a vast array of songs.

About a year ago, I learned the minor (and then major - it's pretty much the same) scale. Pentatonic came quickly out of that. I spent and recommend taking the time to get them under your fingers mechanically, but what is really cool for me was to just mess around with the scale on my own - not to copy what Neal Young does (which is amazing) but to get a feel for what sounds good to me.

I may have made a mistake in focusing on the pentatonic too much, but it simplifies things enough to be able to create stuff. I still can't get cool things in the full major and minor scales, but sometimes I do find a note that was "missing".

I am currently discovering the ways to "stretch" from the box of the pentatonic shapes - for example in the A pentatonic 5 fret on the low E there are the 3 fret on the E and A strings. Same goes for 8th fret on the high E and B and 7th on the G. All of a sudden, the solos I could never remember "fell" into the shapes that my fingers knew. Now, I recognize alot of the riffs as groups from the scales that I know. Makes it easier to learn and improvise over. If a song is too hard, I can ignore parts and just strum chord or simplify the lick. I also notice that the same tune can be played differently. I take liberties in that regard. I think it is okay, but others may say that I am holding myself back.

A fun exercise to connect the positions on the neck is to solo on one string - it really forces me to notice where the "good" notes are.

Anyway, that is my experience. Still a work in progress :). Online resources that I have found conducive to my mentality include justinguitar and guitarjamz. I have found them to be good on the basics and approach and to give motivation for exploring and personal expression, which is the point of this exercise, no?

At the same time, I am still on the lookout for a good teacher. Preferably one who provides guidance based on where I am now. I'd recommend the same.

Have fun!

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This is exactly the order you should go in: A Minor Pentatonic, A Major, A Minor, A Harmonic Minor. Spend about a month on each one, practicing 10-15 minutes per day. Look them up online, and then draw the positions out yourself on regular lined paper. Play the scale slowly, up and down one position at a time, using a metronome set at 60 BPM. Use downpicks only, and focus on keeping the motions as relaxed and consistent as possible.

Don't worry about any other scales or modes yet, you aren't there yet. Begin working on the modes only after you have memorized the sound of each of the above scales, as well as how to play them.

There are a lot of really long answers on this thread, and all of them are worth studying. But I just wanted to give you some definite direction, so you don't get any more confused. Please consider following my answer, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to order and direction for your practice. Don't over think things, I've spent many hours organizing and creating practice plans, just follow exactly what I described above.

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