I'm very new to music; i've played a guitar before but without a real direction in my practice. I'd like to learn to play the guitar properly, but before that can happen I need a clarification regarding a few things, namely:

If I'm most interested in the ability to create progressions of notes that will sound "well", I should focus on learning scales, right? How important are scales in finding the right follow up sounds? Do artists mix scales in the same part of a song or do they come in order, as in one part is written using notes from one particular scale and the next part using notes from one another particular scale? Is there something else to learn from music theory that would help me know what notes i could play next? Thank you in advice!

  • 1
    What style of music? Theory, performance methods, and aesthetics (what sounds good) aren't completely the same between different styles. Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 14:36
  • How helpful? Really helpful. Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 1:06

6 Answers 6


Scales are very useful, as they are a 'list' of diatonic notes. That 'list' is a set of notes recognised to work well together (with a little prudence). I guess the majority of pieces, if examined, would comprise notes from a particular scale - which then can be construed as constituting a particular key.

'Mixing scales' - is one way to put it, but it's usually more a case of using an occasional note from another key. Think about it - in one key, 7 out of the 12 notes available can be drawn upon, only leaving another 5.

At the beginner stage, it's safer to stick to diatonic notes - even pentatonics - as they will work well together, and produce fewer problems with harmonies - which also, safely, will contain diatonic notes. When you improve, you'll want to include other notes, but it's not that good an idea to consider that you're 'using other scales', unless the piece has modulated, at which point, that's exactly what's happening.

You will also find, when you meet the 'circle of fourths', that as it goes round, one key has only one note changed at a time. For example, key C and key F are next to each other. They both contain exactly the same notes, but with a single change. C has B, whereas F has B♭. There is a greater chance of a piece in key C having a B♭ (in the next door neighbour key), than a D♭ (in a key much further round that circle).


You've got a lot of opinions, some disagreements, and a few answers. Or an attempt at an answer.

I'm going to put my 2 cents in and try to add to the proceedings. First, my answers to your questions.

If I'm most interested in the ability to create progressions of notes that will sound "well", I should focus on learning scales, right?

Right. You are asking for validation in this question rather than direction, but scales should be learned. Chords are made from scales, and whole progressions can be derived from and fit into scales. Even when there are "out" notes, the majority of what appears in music follows this trend. The scale can be thought of as a basic part of our language; from it many things are constructed. You should keep a couple things in mind.

(1) Songs will modulate and the "scale" used may change; that doesn't mean that the previous statements are invalid, they apply to each new key (scale) that comes along.

(2) We frequently use accidentals to create more texture; this doesn't mean that the key has been thrown out the window. The basic structure is likely still going to follow the traditional key and scale with some deviation.

(3) When accidentals are used they are usually motivated by voice leading, creating a smooth chromatic movement on one or more voices. Common example is IV --> iv --> I, where the b6 of the key is introduced.

How important are scales in finding the right follow up sounds?

I don't know what you mean by "follow up sounds" but I'd say an understanding of scales and the chords that naturally fit into them is important for creating harmony and chord progressions easily.

Do artists mix scales in the same part of a song or do they come in order, as in one part is written using notes from one particular scale and the next part using notes from one another particular scale?

Both. In classical music one commonly encounters song structure that is in a well defined key for a section then modulates to a new key, perhaps a 4th up, then back down. And in some tunes a melodic theme may wind through more than one scale or mode, or even key in one section.

> Is there something else to learn from music theory that would help me know what notes i could play next?

Yes, a lot.

Now here are some of my suggestions based on my experience. Some have stated that you should start here or there and mentioned a little theory. My approach to teaching is a little more holistic. You'll never win the chicken vs egg debate. You need to expose yourself to music and a lot of it. But that is not enough for everyone to learn the patterns that exist in classical western music and like it or not this has dominated the musical landscape for 100's of years. On the other hand you can't really learn music by only looking at text book information. So, I'd recommend you do both at the same time. The theory study will add to your depth of thought about the songs you play and the constant exposure to well structured music will enhance your understanding of the theory. By the way all theory books are written in SMN so there is no reason why you can't "play" your theory book and most state up front that you SHOULD!

Along these lines, the classic approach to harmonizing melodies is based on Church multi voice vocal music. While that may not seem relevant to modern music you might be surprised at just how strong the influence is. I would highly recommend going through a basic theory and harmony text. The virtue in my option is that (1) you start very basic using triads and that is easy to follow, and (2) you learn why certain combinations of notes and note movement work. While a fancy modern Jazz progression may seem to not follow, these basic patterns are actually embedded in the more complex chords and chord movement. Here are a few suggested texts:

Basic Theory - Harmony by Paulson and Cheyette

How to Create Jazz Chord Progressions by Chuck Marohnic

there are many more books available but I learned from these so I'm familiar with them. The key is to integrate the two forms of study. Again, PLAY YOUR THEORY BOOK. And analyze your playing and listening.


Chords and scales really go hand in hand. Each note of a scale has a specific chord built around it. These are called diatonic chords. They naturally have a tendency to "fit" together. There are even certain patterns they tend to appear in (called harmonic function). But they are far from the only options. Here is my recommendation:

  1. Learn what a scale is. Try here
  2. Learn how chords are derived from scales. Try here
  3. Learn harmonic function. (This will help with the "what to play next" part.) Try here

Hopefully this helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me directly here (shameless plug).


Don't try to work outward from theory. Just play plenty of existing good music (being able to read notation will be a great help). SEE what works. Copy and extend it.


As a guitarist, you will find that you have to focus more on chords. Guitars are better suited to playing chords, pianos are better suited to playing scales. Guitars have become the world's most famous instrument largely through the introduction of jazz (and, subsequently, blues, rock'n'roll and other genres) to the Western world. How you approach your instrument also depends on the genre(s) you play in. Jazz progressions and scales are usually more chord-based than classical ones. Composition-wise, not all genres employ key changes. Even classical music sometimes doesn't jump out of the confines of a particular key. In fact, you should not expect too many key changes within most classical works before the 20th century. You will probably hear them a lot in modern classical and jazz music and extreme genres like mathcore, but not in "older" classical music or the more "primitive" genres, like punk rock and grindcore.

What Tim refers to as the "circle of fourths" you will find is called "the circle of fifths" when it comes to classical music (it's the same thing, just clockwise).

Of course you should not discard music theory, but don't beat yourself over the head with it either. I started out as a percussionist (drums, xylophone, kettle drums) when I was a teenager and had played for 8 years ignoring my teacher's attempts at teaching me theory. I felt the effect the moment I started playing saxophone. Now, the saxophone is less complicated and more linear compared to guitar, as it is a monophonic instrument, but I would probably want to kill myself if I focused on the fact that I have to play 84 scales from memory too much.

Scales are meant to prepare you for improvisation later on. The idea is that you will have them down your fingers so well after playing the instrument of your choice every day for a number of years that you will be able to go over them "intuitively" while everyone else is playing within the same (or a related) scale.

Scales can also be a wonderful tool in musical composition. For example, you might make your 12-tone neo-classical composition more interesting if you have one instrument play in C natural major and another one - in C# pentatonic major. Those scales only have one note in common (F), so you will have plenty of room for dissonance while also segregating the chromaticism into 2 separate parts.

I've only scraped the tip of the iceberg here. The question you ask is a big one, and I hope my response will help you see where to go from where you are at the moment.


music (or what you mean is: songs and melodies) are based on scales and chords. The best way is to play tunes you have in your ear (as you have learnt by your mother, even baby songs! as they are in burnt scheme in your mind and try to play hits you like - just playing the melody) try to find out the chords and the tabs of it. this will be the elements to you to progress. then just tap with your fingers on the frets of your guitar and find out and develop your own patters. try to notate them in a tab or staff system. and zou have to study the elementary music theory. it will help you a lot to advance. You will hardly create new progressions that other not have used. just listen to music won't help you as far as you don't have the basic knowledge to analyse what happens. search here for questions about basic patterns and chord progression, you will find a lot of useful examples.

look at this guy. he is just cleaning his bass guitar and finds a lot of music:

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.