I am a beginner with guitars. I watched the video lessons from Coursera - Introduction to Guitar

In that, the instructor explains about the fundamentals of guitars like strumming, position playing, chords, scales, etc. So what I understood from those videos was :

1). Chromatic scale is the primary scale which gives you the arrangement of all primary notes on the fretboard and from which other scales(major, pentatonic, etc) are derived. 2). Chords(major, minor, barre, power) are built using scales. 3). All songs are a combination of chords and solos and all solos must follow some scale.

Am I correct? If yes, then how do I figure what scale a solo follows? Solos from songs like She's Got You High - Mumm-Ra, From The Sky - Gojira, 5:32-6:29 of The Unforgiven III - Metallica and the part that comes after 1:22 in this movie soundtrack.

If what I perceived was wrong, please tell me where I'd gone wrong! Thank you.

  • 3
    Take a half hour and have a look at these videos: youtube.com/watch?v=UGTT_VK2kVY and youtube.com/watch?v=EWtUCAYV3so . They are part 1 and 2 of Bernstein's lecture on modal scales. Don't be put off by the "young people's" moniker; they are probably the best explanation of modes I've found anywhere.
    – BobRodes
    Mar 18, 2014 at 3:39
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    There are two more parts it turns out, making the whole lecture an hour. My mother stuck me in front of the TV when I was 9 years old and had me watch it, and I was able to put the information to good use when studying music theory in college. The lecture will answer many of your questions about scales in a very entertaining way, giving examples from all different types of music. ("Along Comes Mary" for Dorian mode is fun.)
    – BobRodes
    Mar 18, 2014 at 4:02

3 Answers 3


Let's go through in order.

  1. Chromatic scale uses all notes generally in use in Western music.They are in no particular order, except that they go up or down in semitone steps.I say no particular order, as keys and scales are taken from the chromatic to become more usable, manageable.Many scales are derived from these notes, and the spacings between the chosen notes will define which scales or modes they are. Some have 5 notes (pents) some 6 (blues), some 7 (maj.,min.) and all will give a different 'flavour' to the music they're used in.

2.Chords are indeed built from the notes of particular scales, often using notes that are spaced using for example, 1-3-5, or 2-4-6, etc. Whilst maj. and min. are sorts of chords, a barre chord is a particular method of playing almost any chord on a guitar. You can't play a barre chord on a piano !Chords traditionally have 3 notes as a start point, then extra notes are added, often from the same scale, but not necessarily.

3 Songs are generally a melody line under which chords can be played. The notes in any particular part of the melody are usually, but not always, found within the underlying chord. That way, the two tend to gel.The melody line often uses notes from the particular key that the song is written in, as most of us have become accustomed to the fact that this concept works well. Tunes that do not follow this idea can work well, but for a lot of folks it sounds like it's odd.

Once you've established what key a piece is in, the next thing is to find out what the scale used is. It will begin from the main note of chord one, often the first main chord, usually the last chord. The 'home chord', if you like.It could be one of many, so there's some homework for you to do. Bear in mind that none of this is etched in stone, and liberties are often taken, particularly in pop, blues and jazz !

  • Thanks. But does these scales apply to only a few genres like pop, blues and jazz? I mean what kind of scales or what exactly should I learn if I want to understand music like those I mentioned in my question (especially the song From The Sky by Gojira)? Of course I can read tabs and play 'em but still, I want to know how they are composed! Please help! Mar 17, 2014 at 13:56
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    Gojira only goes to 5:45 and my sound is 'pixilating. Sorry. You really need to understand all scales, maj., min., pent., modes, dim.,etc. All of these and more. Although the first few can be adapted by changing occasional notes to suit the new environment.They are probably composed by trial and error for some of this sort of music, as in - 'that sounds good, let's use it', rather than 'let's use the lydian dominant'.
    – Tim
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:01

Chords are built using scales. All solos do not follow scale(s), but the majority are.

Before trying to figure out advanced solos, it's probably a good idea to get familiar with basic theory, get a feeling for how the major, minor, pentatonic etc. scales sound. Then try to get the chords that the solo is played over down. But even if that is done, it's not as simple as saying "that's a minor chord, so this minor scale is used". There are many choices of scales for each type of chord, chromatic tones (not in the scale currently used) are often applied for effect and so on.

The best approach is likely to try to get the solo down by ear. If you want to know what scales are used for particular music styles, there is learning material for this.

  • "..what scales are used for particular music styles"? - Yeah, I could really use some pointers on that? Mar 17, 2014 at 13:15
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    It's hard to give recommendations without having tried the material. If you seek for "lead guitar" on e.g. Amazon, a lot of material will show up. Maybe your library has this type of books/DVD:s, that's a great way to try things out. Mar 17, 2014 at 22:58

1). Chromatic scale is the primary scale which gives you the arrangement of all primary notes on the fretboard and from which other scales(major, pentatonic, etc) are derived.

Not sure what you mean by "primary" here. The chromatic scale is all the possible notes. The derivation of scales is a different thing. But, okay.

Am I correct? If yes, then how do I figure what scale a solo follows?

You start with the chords. A song with three chords, G C D, would likely be in G major (or, if blues, G pentatonic minor). That would be where to start figuring out the notes.

Digression on keys and scales and such: There's a song that comes across my playlists a lot that is marked as D, but the chords are D Am C G, which points to G. The song centers on D, though, so it is best thought of as D Mixolydian, which points us to modes.

And sometimes, though, the solo section is in a different key. Consider ZZ Top's "La Grange", which is in A for the verses but in D for the lead play.

You can go the other way, starting from the notes and eventually saying "C D E F A -- yeah, this looks like C major". There are tools that allow you to slow down audio without changing pitch, which allows you to discern notes more easily.

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