Welcome to the guitar scales section of GuitarOrb.com. Here I will show you through some of the most common scales used on the guitar in soloing and improvisation, talk a bit about their use and illustrate some of the most common positions to play these scales. I’ll then also discuss how to practice these scales as well as some basic theory concepts that are useful to understand in relation to scales.
The 6 Most Commonly Used Guitar Scales
Scale 1: The Minor Pentatonic Scale
A pentatonic scale is a scale that has 5 notes per octave. The minor pentatonic scale is typically the first scale guitarists learn to solo with and is very commonly used to form solos in rock, blues, and other popular styles.
The two main positions this scale is played in are:
The scale is quick to learn and easy to learn to improvise and phrase with. Once you have mastered the basics of using the scale over a minor chord progression, there is also some more advanced uses based on playing different positions of the scale over a minor chord or moving the scale up or down a fret to get a “playing outside” sort of sound. I might devote lesson to these more advanced uses in the future.
Scale 2: The Blues Scale
Once you learn the minor pentatonic scale, it should be relatively easy to learn the blues scale as it is essentially the same with one additional note (a flattened 5th).
This scale in its two most common positions are as follows:
As the name suggests, the scale is used heavily in blues but is also used in rock and jazz based styles a lot too. Soloing over the blues using this scale is relatively easy to get the basics of, but you could spend a life time honing the subtle nuances of the style, such as the feel of the bends, the vibratos and the timing of your phrases.
Scale 3: The Natural Minor Scale or the Aeolian Mode
The natural minor scale is very commonly used in rock and popular styles. As well as being used to form solos, the chords formed from the natural minor scale would be the most commonly used chords in popular chord progressions.
The two main positions for the scale on the guitar are:
You can read more about this scale in our article on the natural minor scale.
Scale 4: The Major Scale
The major scale is heavily used in a number of ways. The chords formed from the major scale are commonly used to form chord progressions, and there is also a lot of theory on how to form harmonies with this scale.
Additionally, this scale is used to form modes which are also commonly used. The natural minor scale mentioned above as well as the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode below are all modes of the major scale. You can read more about forming modes from this scale in our article on the modes of the major scale.
The two main positions for the scale are:
The major scale can be used to form solos over chord progressions that are based on the chords formed from the major scale. The scale is also commonly used to solo over major 7th and major 6th chords in jazz based styles where the scales used may be changing over different chords. You can read more about this scale in our major scale article.
Scale 5: The Dorian Mode
While the natural minor scale is most commonly used in rock and other popular styles to form solos over minor chord progressions, the Dorian mode is more commonly used to play over minor chords in jazz and fusion based styles.
The main positions for the Dorian mode on the guitar are:
Scale 6: The Mixolydian Mode
The Mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale and is commonly used to improvise over dominant chords in jazz and fusion based styles.
The two most common positions for the Mixolydian mode are:
You might also like to take a look at our guitar scales chart for a chart of the main positions of these 6 scales.
When practicing scales on guitar, once you have learned to play a scale position ascending and descending, it’s then useful to start to practice your scales in sequences. This will help ingrain the position of the scale as well as the sound of the scale.
You can read more about practicing in sequences in our article on guitar scale sequences.
You can then move into starting to form phrases and licks from the scale, practicing over relevant backing tracks and moving into improvisation with the scales.
Some Basic Theory to Know for Scales
Probably the most important piece of music theory relating to scales is how to form chords from a scale that can be used together in the same key. You can read more about this in our article on forming chords from scales.
It is also useful to know how to form the modes of a scale and you can read about this in our article on modes of the major scale.
Other information such as the intervals that are used to form the scale can be seen on the articles focusing on each of the specific scales mentioned.
Where to Go for More Lessons
If you are looking to delve more into this sort of material, I would recommend taking a look at the JamPlay guitar course/lessons site.
I am both an affiliate of the course, a member there and an active participant on their forum. They have a good range of video guitar lessons over a wide variety of topics. You can focus on theory, different styles of guitar, beginners courses or different artists styles to name just a few of the sort of categories of lessons in their members area.
They present lessons from quite a few different instructors so you can find an instructor with a teaching style that best suits your learning. Additionally, they provide regular video chat sessions with their instructors so you can personally ask any questions that may be holding you up on the instrument.
Update: Reading the Neck Diagrams
I’ve seen a bit of confusion about the scale diagrams above, so I thought I would add this section that goes through how to read them in more detail.
In each of the diagrams, the red dot represents the tonic or root note of the scale while the black dots represent the other notes of the scale.
In terms of the key and fret numbers, each of these diagrams can form the scale in any key depending on where you play them along the neck. For example with the first diagram for the minor pentatonic, the red dot is the first note on the 6th string and this is the root note of the minor pentatonic. Now this first note can be played anywhere up the neck, and depending on where you play it will depend on which key the minor pentatonic is in.
For example, if you play that first scale with the red dot on the 5th fret of the 6th string, then the 5th fret of the 6th string is an A and the pattern would represent A minor pentatonic. If on the other hand the red dot was the 8th fret of the 6th string, then this note is a C and the scale would be the C minor pentatonic.
As such, each of these diagrams represents a pattern that can be played anywhere up the neck and the position you play the pattern in will indicate the key of the scale. Each pattern can essentially form the scale in any key depending on where you play it.
I hope you have found this article to be helpful.