Guitar Scales


Welcome to the guitar scales section of 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:

minor pentatonic guitar scale positions

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:

blues guitar scale positions

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:

Natural Minor Scale Guitar Positions

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:

Major Scale Guitar Positions

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:

dorian mode guitar scale position

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:

mixolydian mode guitar scale position

You might also like to take a look at our guitar scales chart for a chart of the main positions of these 6 scales.

Practicing 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.

  41 Responses to “Guitar Scales”

  1. I play Rhtyum but have no idea how to play lead and dont know what scales are or how to play them . It all sounds confusing and difficult.

    • And rewarding;) Just takes some time, but it can and will make sense at some point. Sorry I don’t have the skills to do more for you than encouragement. Good luck and don’t forget to have fun with it! *Insert other motivational cliche here*

      • It will be difficult for a wile but once you have it you will have a better scene for music theory and you will be able to understand it more. The main scales you will need for say rock are penatonic and blues. Just remember the more time you spend the better you will get. if you spend more time with them practicing them at your own speed you will get better and one thing i have come to learn with guitar lead anyway is that girls love a guy who can play a killer solo and the only thing you really need is your scales and some basic theory.

  2. What do the red dots mean

    • Hi Greg,

      The red dots are the root note of the scale. For example, with the major scale if you were in the key of A major then the root of the A major scale would be A and the red dot on the major scale pattern would be an A. This would then indicate where along the neck the pattern starts (e.g. the 5th fret of the 6th string is an A)

      Hope this helps.

  3. So, if I really learn all of these, have them down by memory, and have the ability to play them fast and proficiently, will I really be able to improvise

    • Hi Levi,

      Learning these scales proficiently would be a great help to learning to improvise, but there is more required to learn to improvise than simply learning the scales.

      One of the big steps will be to learn to form musical phrases out of the notes of a scale. Probably easiest to start with the minor pentatonic. As you learn to play the scale and sequences of the scale, you should also start to slowly experiment with forming phrases and licks from the notes of the scale that you like the sound of. As you do this more, this will become more of a spontaneous process.

      This moving from scales to improv is quite an in depth topic and could form a good lesson on the site itself.

  4. I hate guitar, my parents force me to go what shoul i do
    What are scales
    I hate my guitar tutor

    • Hey Daniel,

      Most people who play music do it because they enjoy playing. I tend to think that if your not enjoying it you will have a hard time progressing at the instrument.

      One possibility is that if you keep going, you might come to enjoy it in the future, and when you get older you might really like being able to play an instrument. Also, you might find some more enjoyment if you can get your tutor to teach you styles and songs you really like.

      I have often met people who started at music and gave up and then came to regret that latter on. If none of this helps and you really don’t want to continue, its probably best to try to get your parents to understand this.

      Hope this helps.

  5. I am really excited to read up on these scales . I am getting down to working on them immediately. Thank you.

  6. i enjoy these scales, but i wish i understood the diagrams. could there a better explanation?
    for instance, i need to know the number of frets these dot are played on, their tonic solfa and probably their keys… i think thats what i need now to help me progress.
    already i can play on key c, g and a major>>> i need you to help me here.

    • Hey Dee chords,

      I’ve seen a bit of confusion about these diagrams, so I might work on an additional article soon that goes through how to read them in more detail.

      In the mean time, here is some advice:

      In each of the diagrams, the red dot represents the tonic or root note 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 this helps here.

  7. What are the fingerings.

  8. Would love to learn soloing on my guitar,these scales confuse me.Don’t know what scales to use after listening to guitar music or songs.How would I even start?

    • If your confused about which scales to start with and where you can use them, I would simply start with the minor pentatonic, and learn to form musical phrases with this and figure out what sort of progressions you can use the scale on. Slowly start to build more knowledge as you get this down and you will become more versatile with your soloing and start to understand the context you can use them in more.

      Rather than starting by looking at a song and trying to figure out the scale to use, start by learning one scale and figuring out the contexts you might be able to use this scale and expand from there.

  9. I have started looking into lead, saw a good clip on youtube but the guy there said it is best to learn the first five positions in a designated key. Searching for understanding I found your site and looks simpler. I do have a few questions if you don’t mind answering. Why are you starting in the middle of the fret board? How does the pattern on the root on 6th fret relate to the pattern on the root on 5th fret? What am I missing?

    • Hi David,

      First thing, I’ve seen a bit of confusion about these diagrams so have just added a section to the main article that goes through how each of these diagrams can form the scale in any key, depending on the position you play it up the neck. It might be useful to take a look at this section.

      In terms of learning scales in five positions rather than two. It is certainly the case that the more fretboard knowledge you have, the better, and you will ultimately want to know each of these scales (and more) in all five positions. However, something I believe is much more important that starting with a lot of positions and scales to learn, is to just learn a few scales and positions and also learn how to phrase musically, improvise and play over backings with a more limited set of positions rather than tackling all the positions at the start and ignoring this more musical side of the playing.

      For example, I believe it would be much better to simply know the positions shown for the minor pentatonic and blues scales above, but also be able to improvise great sounding solos with this than it is to memorise say all positions of all the modes of the major scale straight up.

      This implies that as well as practicing the scale positions and sequences of the scales, you also need to spend considerable time experimenting with the scale positions to start to form musical phrases with the notes of the scales. You then need to start to do this over backings tracks and keep going to the point that you can do this quite spontaneously (i.e.. improv).

      I’m more of a believer in tackling this whole process straight up rather than simply trying to learn all positions before you start on the more musical sides of learning to solo.

      The reason for the choice of scales and positions presented above is that I believe that these are by far the most common. For example, I think that these scales and positions probably would account for maybe 80% of the soloing of many accomplished rock and popular music guitarists.

      Also, once you have learned what I have presented above, you should have a good understating of the process and it will be quick to add more positions and scales to your repertoire.

      Hope this answers your questions.

  10. I play chords but scaleS give me a had time.. Just dream that I could just master scales as much as I do chords.i

  11. How to form melodies solos using minor pentatonic scale?

  12. I have a strange and unique style of guitar playing, granted its not the style I would like to play my brain and fingers do their own thing, I have difficulty covering music I enjoy and my timing is getting better but I just can’t parrot music like it seems most can, I can do chord progressions from standard to power single notation and finger picking which I was given one lesson and taught myself the rest through trial and error, leaving me with multiple albums worth of material for guitar alone… first question is what tips do you have to play in sync with bass and drums? Second, any tips on solos and breakdowns? Third, any advice or tips to aid in learning a cover song? (Cover songs) I find the accurate sheet music I use the same tunings and I understand every guitar has its own unique tone I even attempt to play along with the songs but to no avail it sounds off let alone singing and playing at the same time no love there either. Final question, metronomes I have one I don’t understand it or know how to utilize it in practice not sure how I should set the beats and tempo or when I should be strumming or playing a note?

    • Hi Hei,

      I’m not really sure what advice to give here, but will outline a few points that I think might help based on what you’ve said.

      Firstly, although I often have experiences when improvising where my fingers seem to be doing their own thing too, it is certainly important to be able to control you playing when you want and do on the instrument what you intend to do. Probably the advice here would be more practice where you are trying to play what you intend rather than letting your playing go on auto-pilot.

      In terms of playing in sync with bass and drums, and why your having trouble with covers could be a couple of things. Some likely candidates:

      Your may need to develop your timing. Practice here over drum backings and metronomes will develop this. In terms of the tempo, set the metronome at a comfortable tempo (maybe 100bpm) (in 4 beats per bar) and play something your very comfortable playing along with the metronome. The metronome is setting the beat while your playing should attempt to be right on the beat.

      A key point here is while you are doing this, you should be listening to the metronome or your drum beat more than you are listening to your own playing. You may strum different sub-divisions of the beat at different times, but you need to keep the same tempo as the metronome.

      To understand this I would suggest searching youtube for videos on practicing with a metronome and also do some searching to read up on the different sub-divisions of the beat that are common.

      Some other possible reasons it is sounding out, is you need to make sure your guitar is correctly tuned, as this would make it sound out. Best way here is simply get an electronic tuner (or if you use a smart phone, there will be tuner apps you could explore on your phone).

      Finally I would also check you are plying in the right key, but if you’ve learned a song from tab, this should probably be fine.

      I don’t think the problem here would be the tone of the guitar based on what your saying.

      I’m not really sure what to advise here, but I think these things are probably most relevant.

  13. Ok, I write songs and know what sounds good to the ear for rhythm guitar. But I find myself drawing a blank with lead. Is there a trick to coming up with a good lick consisting of the notes I used. I’m not really too familiar with scales. Or is there a scale consisting of A#, A, and G? Much appreciated

    • Hi Colten,

      Those notes would be part of many larger scales. Some main examples would be G natural minor, G dorian or Bb Major.

      To learn to phrase with the notes of a scale takes a lot of time experimenting with the notes to come up with phrases that sound good to you. You can also look at the phrasing of some of the lead players you like to start to get ideas.

  14. Hi! I really wanna thank you for helping me figure out a way of being a good guitarist, my favourite lead for that matter……………….I have over the week improved greatly on my “flows” while playing for my local band…. Thankssss once again….. I will everly remain indepted to your writeup….. Keep up the good work Sire!

  15. Thank you for your information on these scales. I’m looking forward to practicing them and eventually becoming a better guitar player.

  16. Superb for once it’s beginning to almost make sense keep up the great work it really is appreciated


  17. I’ve noticed that at lot of the questions have to do with understanding the “red dot” root. GuitarOrb Admin (GO) has repeatedly done a great job explaining what it is. However, I think that there is some confusion caused by a lack of understanding. Perhaps for what it’s worth, I can interject a helpful bit of avice and expand on GO’s explaination. Let me take a “G” chord. The root note – the “G” is located on the low “e” string – the thick one closest to you. That is also called the “bottom” string or the 6th string. On the 6th string, the root is the G located on the third fret. Hence, that is the red dot. If you were to play a scale for a G, that is where one would begin. (Note that a G chord also has a G note played on the first string – the top string, also called the first string. It is the thinnest string. I don’t concern myself with that note. The bass note – the low sounding G is what I’m worried about. It’s my root. Again, in this case, that would be the root. If you play a song in the key of G, that scale would sound “good” – it would fit, and not sound “off”

    The same principle applies to the scales with the red dot – the root – on the 5th string, or the “a” string. Consider a C chord. in this case, the root C is located on the firth string, third fret. The scales with the root on the 5th string are the ones you want to use in this case.

    One common thread runs through this explanation – that being there is basically no way to learn to play a guitar and grow if you don’t know the notes on the strings and the frets. When I teach, I initially try to get the student to learn the notes on all strings up to and including the fifth fret. Why? Because it speeds learning down the road. As one becomes more versed and proficient in the guitar, it is a very simple issue to learn the notes up to and beyond the 12th fret… all the way to the bottom of the neck to where it joins the body. But, in the beginning, it is essential to learn every note – – sharp, natural, and flat – on each string up to the 5th fret. The difference when one comes to the B and G strings (2nd and 3rd) strings can be confusing, but with a little practice, it becomes a non issue.

    My point here is that too many people try to jump too far ahead without learning the basics. And I would be lying if i said it isn’t frustrating at times. But, with a little practice… a half hour – you’ll be absolutely amazed at how for you have come, and how far you can go. Learning to play the guitar has absolutely no bound. There is literally no limit to what you can do or where you can go. But, you need the theory to start off. You need the foundation. Again, YOU NEED THE FOUNDATION, otherwise you’ll sink into a morass of confusion and frustration and end up hating something that could be your best friend.

    Not to hijack the site at all – just my observations. GuitarOrb has a magnificent site here.

    Thanks for allowing me to post.

  18. I’ll be 63 soon and I want to get back into playing guitar. I played in a garage band back in the 70′s and loved it and I was ( the lead guitar) player as I was the only guitar player. Back then we really did not have the resources that exist today so my lead playing was limited to what ever I could pick up on my own. I taught myself chords, open and barre and really my approach to leads was pretty much just play single notes based off of the chord that was being played. I didn’t understand hammer-ons & pull-offs ( did not recognize the sounds when slowing down a record) and never knew scales or scale forms.
    I’ve tried TABs and while I have a good idea what the symbols mean I find them painfully slow to try and learn a lead section for a song. I want to learn scales and positions and in my mind then I will be able to play leads to whatever chord progression a song may have. So my question is what scales should I concentrate on to play Classic Rock music, which is the style I like. (60′s, 70′s, 80′s)?

    Thanks and Keep On Rockin;

    Steve Zartman (Funkfan as in Grand Funk Railroad, my fav band)

    • Hey Steve,

      I have two comments here, firstly, for those styles of music I think all 6 of these scales are appropriate and what I’ve presented is their most common positions too. Your first emphasis for these styles would be minor pentatonic, blues scale and then natural minor in that order.

      The second thing I would like to suggest is to also keep your old knowledge of playing single note chord tones and learn to integrate this and combine it with your newly learned scale knowledge. It is often the case that the chord tone is a note of the scale and is often a note that is emphasised during many solos. I would try to approach it as furthering your existing soloing with scales rather than replacing it.

      I hope this helps.

  19. Thanx guys it realy helped me…please bear with me. Im a beginner

  20. Guys i dont understand the picture(diagrams) anyone to simplify it for me please…

  21. My biggest struggle is knowing which scale to use over any given chord or key. I realize there are no set rules but if I want to solo over a C chord or a song in the key of C major would any ‘C’ scale work or would it be better to go to its relative minor, A? Also, playing over minor chords/minor keys………….

    Any input would be appreciated.

    Great website, btw!

    • Hey Adam,

      I think related to this it is very important to understand how to form chords from scales, as described in my article on this.

      Probably the main approach to start with here is when you see a chord progression, you need to know what the tonic or root of the progression is and figure out which scale has been used to form those chords. You can then use this scale to form a solo.

      For example if you see the chord progression C Am F G (repeated) then this is in the key of C major and these chords are formed from the C major scale, so the C major scale would be your first choice, scales like C natural minor will not really work here.

      Another example: Am Dm F G (repeated) These chords are formed from A natural minor so you would use the A natural minor scale here.

      Dm7 G7 (repeated) through the same reasoning this would be D dorian.

      Anywhere you use the natural minor or dorian, you can also use the minor pentatonic or blues and you can also use these on dominant chords in blues to give it a blues feel.

      I think understanding this sort of concept is the best place to start in understanding what scale you should use.

  22. Hi GO, Thanks for this site I think its quite valuable. My question is just looking at the pentatonic finger pattern is straight forward for the 6th string, but Im not understanding the 2nd pattern on the 5th string. Are they meant to be tonally different? My example if you use the first pattern and say just the first four notes at C 8th Fret and then use the 2nd pattern on C 3 Fret 5th string the scale is not the same note wise is there a quick explanation for this, or could you please tell me what im missing. Thank you.

    • GO, I got it I was reading the pattern top to bottom not bottom to top and then when read the way you’ve laid the tab out starting on the 5th string just shortens the pattern by 2 notes.

  23. Hello,
    I need to be faster and be able to play notes at up and down the guitar fret, i’m a beginner would practicing these scales help with my speed and technique? or are there other ways, i can play those scales for hours a day if they were to help with speed. Thank you

    • Hi Pharaoh,

      You can certainly use these scales to build speed and technique.

      You would probably be best to use them to build your alternate picking speed. Practice the scales ascending and descending as well as the sequences of the scales I mentioned. To build speed you will want to practice them with a metronome. Start at a comfortable speed and then increment the metronome by maybe 4bpm increments as you slowly get faster.

      Doing this as a technique exercise will have the added benefit of having learned the scales which you can then go on to learn to form musical phrases and solos with.

      Something else to keep in mind is there are different techniques that people build speed with. For example, I’ve recommended using the scales as an alternate picking exercise, but you would need different exercises for say sweep picking or tapping, …

  24. What finger do I have to use in scaling? Do I HAVE TO USE ALL FOUR OF THEM? Iam having difficulty in guitar scaling even i practise, my fingers are to close to each other specially my middle and ring finger. What shuold i do to make my fingers more comfortable or to make make my scaling easier?
    Thank you:)

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, I would recommend using all 4 fingers. I really do think the solution here is more practice.

      It might also be worth doing exercises like:

      Theres all sorts of variations on these sorts of exercises like moving up ad down each string at a time with them.

      Hope this helps.

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