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How To Play Guitar Scales


You have probably heard your friends talk about playing scales. In this beginner lesson you will learn the basic skills you need on how to play guitar scales. You will learn what scales are and what they are used for along with the basics of picking techniques you need to know too. After finishing this lesson you will have the knowledge required to learn any guitar scale.

Prerequisite reading

To fully understand this lesson be sure to read my lesson on intervals for guitar.

What are scales?

A scale is a group of notes separated by a certain interval pattern. There are many types of scales each having it's own pattern of intervals. Scales have names too. Some scales are more common than others. Some are exotic. Some types of music use only particular types of scales.

What scale should you learn first?

In this lesson I will be teaching you about the Major scale. There are two reason why I recommend starting with the Major scale. First, once you understand the Major scale, learning other scales including the minor scale will be easier. Second, most modern music is made using the Major and minor scales.

Major scales look like this on guitar:

c major guitar scale

Why learn scales?

Here are a few reasons why you would want to learn scales.
* Scales help you understand chords.
* They help you understand the theory behind the music you play.
* You make a better lead/solo guitar player and all around fretboard navigator.

How to build scales?

Scales can be thought of as a group or pattern on intervals. In my lesson on intervals you learned about Whole and Half steps. Using a pattern of Whole and half steps you can build scales.

To build a Major scale:
* Use the pattern of intervals of W W H W W W H.
* Start at any note and apply this interval pattern and you will derive a Major scale.
* Starting from note C, a Major scale's intervals would be: WWHWWWH
* Starting from C, a Major scale would have these notes: CDEFGABC

Which simply means, a Whole step from C is D, a Whole step from D is E, a Half step from E is F and so on all the way to the octave. A major scale has only 7 different notes.

You can apply the WWHWWWH interval pattern starting on any note to build any Major scale.
The name of the scale takes the name of the note you start on.
The note you start on is also called the root note.
Example: a G Major scale would have the notes GABCDEF#

How to play a scale

There are many places that a Major scale can be played on a guitar neck. For now I'll show you how to play a scale one octave using alternate picking (up and downward pick strokes). In a future lesson I will show you how to play them everywhere with ease. Right now I just want to get you started thinking about how to do it and prepare you for what is to come later.

Watch this animation then follow these steps to play a C Major scale:

how to play C major scale guitar animation

* Press your 2nd finger down on 8th fret of the 6th string (low E) - Pick downward to sound the note.
* Press your 4th finger down on 10th fret of the 6th string (low E) - Pick upward to sound the note.
* Press your 1st finger down on 7th fret of the 5th string - Pick downward to sound the note.
* Press your 2nd finger down on 8th fret of the 5th string - Pick upward to sound the note.
* Press your 4th finger down on 10th fret of the 5th string - Pick downward to sound the note.
* Press your 1st finger down on 7th fret of the 4th string - Pick upward to sound the note.
* Press your 3rd finger down on 9th fret of the 4th string - Pick downward to sound the note.
* Press your 4th finger down on 10th fret of the 4th string - Pick upward to sound the note.

The animation and steps above outline how to play the scale from lowest to highest pitch. That is called ascending.

Reverse the steps above to play the scale in descending order (highest to lowest pitch).

Summary and the scale in two octaves

So far you learned what scales are and the basic technique on how to play them. By now you should have a pretty good idea how to play a scale in one octave. Until the next lesson I want to leave you with a bit of homework. I want you to learn play the scale above in two octaves using all the guitar strings. Can you figure out how?

I'll make it easy for you, it looks like this:

C Major guitar scale 2 octaves

Ready for the next lesson? Go to how to play scales and learn how to memorize them over the entire guitar neck.



how to play guitar scales

Posted July 22, 2015, 11:42 pm in: Beginner guitar lessons


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