Since childhood, you may have been dreaming to play guitars. This is because of the excellent music notes it produces that enchant anybody. Plus, you may be inspired by the ‘cool’ looks of your favorite artists as they perform on stage. In fact, whenever we hear the term ‘rockstar,’ we think of someone full of energy with a guitar in hands. These personas attract us towards playing guitars.
Playing guitars seems easy. But, as you start, you will realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea. You have to pay attention to and learn the various guitar scales to play it well. If you are a beginner, then don’t worry. Today, we will guide you about how to read and play guitar scales.
What Are Guitar Scales?
Guitar scales are the series of notes played in a specific order to see the differences among them. Playing guitar scales means you play a round of notes usually from highest pitch to the lowest one.
The following common guitar scales will help you learn the basics of guitar.
- The Major Scales
- The Natural Minor Scales
- Harmonic Minor Scales
- Major Pentatonic Scales
- The Minor Pentatonic Scales
- The Blues Scale
- The Major Blues Scale
- Scale Modes
How To Read And Play Guitar Scales
A beginner can’t learn to play guitar scales unless he knows how to hold the guitar, where to place the fingers to hold the chords, and how to begin. Guitar scale diagrams help you do that. So,before you can actually start playing guitars, you need to learn how to read guitar scales.Below, we will guide you about how to read each guitar scale, and how to play it. Once you practice these scales, you will be in a position to get started with your own notes.
Guitar scale diagrams comprise of six vertical lines. The two extreme lines represent the E strings – the higher E string on the right, and the low E string on the left. Whereas the inner lines represent the A, D, G, and B lines (from right to left) respectively. Numbers can also remember the. But the letters help to label the scales as a standard (for instance, G major, A minor, etc.). The horizontal lines depict the frets of the guitar.
Apart from the lines,the scale diagram holds some oval dots, each having numbers on it. These numbers actually guide you about the placement of your fingers on the guitar. It means you have to actually designate a finger for a specific fret. A few of these dots may appear somewhat distinct from others. Based on the diagram, they can be highlighted with a distinct color, shade, or with a filled background. These dots represent the primary notes on a scale, and are known as ‘root’. Usually, the root is present on the lowest note, however, exceptions are always there. Many scales with a higher note; while some have their roots on the inner strings.
The above picture depicts the notes for the G major scale. For all other scales, you will have to follow similar diagrams to play a scale.
Now that you have understood the basics of a guitar scale diagram let’s move on to learn what are the primary guitar scales, how to read these scales, and how to play them.
1. The Major Scales
The Major Scales is being enormously used in most guitar tones. In fact, it forms the primary scale through which all other scales arise.
Though a major scale has seven notes, a usual primary scale diagram may show dots presenting more notes. That is because the notes are first played on either one of the lower or, the higher side, and then on the other. For instance, in the case of a G major scale, the scale diagram would look like this.
To play G major scale, the first finger of your left hand will be placed on the second fret, where it will play any note. While your second finger will be placed on the third fret. As you can see in the picture, the root note for G major scale lies on the third fret E lower string, you will begin playing the scale with your second finger. After this note, you’ll move to the second note which is on the fifth fret. Your fourth finger will play a note on that fret.
Done? Now move on to the second string, beginning from the top. You will play the note on the second fret with your forefinger. Then, play the next note on the third fret with your second finger. After that, you will play the last note on the second string on the fifth fret with your fourth finger.
After doing this, it’s better if you practice first playing notes on these two strings. You will understand why it is essential to use a designated finger for each fret.
Once you get used to with the notes on the two lower strings (E and A strings), you can now include the notes from the third string (the D). After you complete the notes on the second string, you will reach the third one by playing the note on the second fret with your first finger. The next note then lies on the fourth fret; you will play it with your third finger. This is the first time you will use your third finger to play a note. So, position your fingers in a comfortable way to go smoothly with this point. After the third, you will play the last note in the D string with your fourth finger on the fifth fret.
Once you learn playing notes on the lower octave, you can move up to the higher octave now. Moving will be easier for you, as the notes on the fourth string are the same as the ones on the third string. Then, you will have to play only two notes on the fifth string; one on the third fret with your second finger, and the other one on the fifth fret with your fourth finger. Then, the last notes of the scale will be played on the sixth or the E-higher string. Here, you will play the first note on the second fret with your first finger, the second note on the third fret with your second finger, and the last note on the fifth fret with your fourth finger.
Before moving on to the other scales, you must practice playing a note on this scale. Memorize the shape formed by these notes, and learn to play them quickly.
Major scales, as said above, form the basis of most other scales. So, the faster you learn playing major scales, the quicker you would understand the other scales. Besides G major, you can practice on A major, C major, and others too.
2. The Natural Minor Scales
Like the major scales, the natural minor scale also forms an integral part of guitar notes. To build a natural minor scale, you will take a major scale as the base. In fact, a natural minor scale forms by taking the sixth note of a major scale as the starting and ending points. Then, the third, sixth and seventh notes are lowered. Since natural minor scales are formed from the major scales, they are also called the Aeolian Mode or the Relative Minor Scale.
For instance, consider a C major scale. Here we took C major because it’s the simples scale with no sharps or flats to bother you. Below is the C major scale diagram.
To form a C minor, you will lower the third, sixth, and seventh notes. We will denote a lowering by adding the letter ‘b’ to the above scale. Now, C minor scale will appear like this.
Now, to play these notes on your guitar, consider the following scale diagram for C minor.
As you can see, the notes appear in one octave only. Start by playing the first note with your first finger, then move on to play the second and third notes with your third and fourth fingers. Likewise, you will continue playing all notes according to the guitar scale diagram. Practice a little bit for this scale first to make your fingers used to with the new pattern. Then, you can learn other natural minor scales to polish your skills.
3. Harmonic Minor Scales
Harmonic minor scales are quite similar to natural minor scales. The only difference is that the seventh note is raised about a half step. By this little change, you can transform any natural minor scale into harmonics minor scale.
4. Major Pentatonic Scales
Pentatonic Scales, as the name shows, comprise five notes. A major pentatonic scale is usually played on the major notes only. Playing these notes is much easier and comfortable for your fingers as you have to play only two notes on each string. You have to remember the order of the notes to maintain the rhythm.
As an example, we will consider a G major pentatonic scale. This scale is derived from the G major scale. The difference lies in the shifting of a few notes out of the octave to have two notes on each string.
To start with a G pentatonic scale, you will play the first note with your second finger on the third fret on E lower string. Then you will play the next note on the fifth fret of the same string with your fourth finger. Then, move on to the second string to play the first note with your first finger on the second fret. After that, skip to frets and play the note on the fifth fret with your fourth finger. Repeat the same pattern once again on the third string then. Then, move to the fourth string, the second fret to play the first note once again. But, after that, you will not move to the fifth fret. Instead, you will play the note on the fourth fret with your third finger. The fifth and sixth string notes are then easy to play, as they once again repeat the pattern. You just have to play notes on the third fret and fifth frets repeatedly.
5. The Minor Pentatonic Scales
Minor pentatonic scales are somewhat different from their corresponding major scales. For instance, here is the scale diagram for a G minor pentatonic scale. Compare the notes with that of G major scale referred above. You will notice the differences yourself.
Nonetheless, as evident from the diagram, playing these notes is quite easier, and does not require extensive involvement of your fingers. There are two notes on each string with repeating patterns. Move along to play these notes with designated fingers as directed through the diagram, and take some time to learn the patterns. Try practicing this scale with the G major scale and G major pentatonic scale, and see if you have correctly memorized all of them.
6. The Blues Scale
Reading or playing Blues scale will be much easier if you make yourself familiar with the minor pentatonic scale. Also known as the Pentatonic Blues scale, the only thing that makes them distinct from the minor pentatonic scale is the addition of a 5b note.
The best part of this scale is that you can play it in your style once you learn the basics. Hence, the Blues scale is best for solo performances. As the name depicts, this scale is popular for playing blues music.
7. The Major Blues Scale
Like the Blues scale, the Major Blues scale is created by extending the Major Pentatonic scale. In this case, we add a third flat (3b) note to the scale. This scale is also popular for blues music.
8. Scale Modes
Scale modes are essentially the derivatives of the major scale. By making subtle differences in the notes of major scales, you can play these modes. Some of these are already described above, such as the Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Scale), or the Ionian mode (the actual major scale). We represent a few more scale mode below. If you master at playing significant scales, you can certainly play these modes easily.
- Dorian Mode – Starts by playing the second note of any significant scale.
- Phrygian Scale Mode – Requires playing the third note of a major scale as the beginning.
- Lydian Scale Mode – Played by starting with the fourth note.
- Mixolydian Scale Mode – Continuing the trail above, requires playing the fifth note as the beginning.
- Locrian Scale Mode – Begins by playing the seventh note of a major scale as the starting note.
Wrapping It All
So, here we reach the end of our tutorial about how to read guitar scales, and how to play them. At this point, we hope your fear to begin playing guitars would have been lowered down. As you can see, playing guitars isn’t that difficult. You have to practice for performing all the primary guitar scales to become used to with the notes, placement of fingers, and to decide about a comfortable position to hold guitars. With a little bit of practice and memorizing the patterns, you will eventually find yourself playing guitars like a pro. (Umm, you can at least dream big!)