I am teaching myself guitar from the internet and am suffering from analysis paralysis. Different websites show different positions for scales. And then some positions start somewhere other than the root note.. so on what note do I start or stop? And then I learn about 3 note per string major scales and then I learn about modes. It's all very overwhelming. I understand the major scale formula and the theory behind it. All I want is a system for learning the scales that someone could explain to me.


2 Answers 2


As guitars can play exactly the same one note in many different places - strings and frets, there can't be definitive scale shapes.Perhaps 'definitive' isn't exactly the right word! There are scales that many people use, in the same positions as each other, but apart from that, yes, it's confusing. Have a look at the RGT grade books, which show very acceptable scale patterns, in many positions. For now,at least, scales when being learned should go from low root to high 'root' and back.It makes them sound cohesive, whether one octave or two. I suppose that's what makes them scales!

Work on scales that can be encompassed without moving the whole hand up or down, as in using fret 4-7 for A major, one finger per fret. The similar natural minor pattern needs one note on a fret lower, but it's nearly there, to be fair.

Work on major, natural minor, pent. maj. and min., and blues patterns, all of which can be moved up and down for different keys. Modes could come later, when you have that lot under your fingertips!

  • How would I know when I've "finished" a particular scale so I can move on to the next one. Is there a specific exercise I need to complete or some bpm to achieve on the metronome? Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 20:01
  • 1
    You'll never 'finish'! When you can play them outside in inside out, backwards, and hear a tune and play it back, immediately, you're close. This is not a mechanical exercise, there's no 'I've played it at 120 bpm so I know it'.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 20:42
  • I'm not suggesting I learn a scale and never return to it again. But I've heard that it is better to focus on one particular scale and master it before learning new scales, rather than learning many scales Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 21:30
  • @JohnKennel - If you try to learn a route from A to B, and you go several different ways, you're not going to learn any way properly. By all means learn one scale pattern at a time, but as soon as that is semi o.k. start another. I say pattern, as the guitar is patternistic, so by learning two octaves of A major, by moving up a fret (semitone), you already 'know' how to play Bb major. Also, importantly, use the same finger pattern every time with the same scale pattern - that's the muscle memory taken care of.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 7:18

I recommend always starting on the root, regardless if it's on the 6th string. For example, for C major in 1st position, I would start on the 3rd fret of the 'A' string. This will help to internalize the sound of what scale you're playing since you start and end with the "home" note.

As to the systems, you really have to use what works for you (i.e. what feels natural or easiest to play and experiment with). I was first taught the rigid "3 notes per string" positions. Later, I had a teacher who preferred the system (link below) where you minimize sliding fingers up or down the fret, which means sometimes you play only 2 notes before moving to the next string. I have adopted some scales from both systems. The more you can do the better. But it may be best to start simple, and I do recommend the 5 position system here:


Finally (and this is way underrated): spend time learning the fretboard. Regardless of how well you know the notes, you can always get sharper and quicker. Play scales linearly (one string at a time) while thinking of the notes. Try playing every "G" note on the guitar. One time, I even made online flashcards to drill me on visualizing each note. Being intimate with the note names will pay dividends to your scale playing and playing in general.

  • My goal is to learn all the scales (major, natural/harmonic minor, pentatonic, etc.) to help me read music, and especially to be able to improvise within different keys. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 21:07
  • I really don't think players think it terms of 'I'm on a G now and the next note is a Bb, so I'll play it there'. Brains don't work that fast or that way. Mine doesn't! As long as one has a known starting place, the rest should follow, if patterns are known.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 7:21
  • Surely you must keep the notes you are playing in mind to target chord tones, no? Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 7:20
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    @JohnKennel - of course. But it becomes intuitive after a while. The mental link between 'what chord am I playing over?' and 'so I need to play an X note' to 'where is that x note on whichever string?' must be surpassed, otherwise you'd only be able to play really slow tunes!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 7:56
  • I think we're all more or less agreeing on the principal of playing intuitively: that a player isn't necessarily thinking of each and every note they are playing, particularly on a fast line. However, I believe many beginner-intermediate players are handicapped/slowed-down because of poor fret-board knowledge. Certainly the guitar poses a unique challenge to note/interval recognition (compare to the linear piano) In this area as well as others: the fundamentals, in my opinion, can never be over-emphasized! Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:54

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