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Guitar Scales Beginner Lesson

This page is for the guitar scales beginner who needs a basic introduction to the world of guitar scales. You should read through this page before you move on to learning individual scales. 

Now bear in mind I'm going to explain this as simply as possible, so please don't be offended if I come across as patronising!

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Essential scale patterns that every guitarist must know...
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The obvious place to begin is to ask what is a guitar scale?

A scale is, simply put, a sequence of notes. The spaces between each note (intervals) are what define the sound of that sequence.

What if we play a sequence of notes without any gaps between them? We get the chromatic scale, which, if played out on one string, would look like this...

chromatic scale on the G string

Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Note: G G#
A A#
B C C#
D D#
E F F#

That's the chromatic scale played on the G string, from the open G string to the 12th fret G octave. That's 12 notes, because the open G and 12th fret G are the same note and count as 1 note in the sequence. Each note represents a degree of the scale.

You could also apply the chromatic scale to any other string (e.g. open A to 12th fret A, open B to 12th fret B etc.)

If you've taken the fretboard lessons (don't worry if you haven't yet) you'll know that there are 12 notes in total on the guitar fretboard. The chromatic scale is note 1 to note 12, without any gaps (12 consecutive semitones, in other words).

Now, the chromatic scale isn't used much as a musical scale because it's not very... musical. But theoretically, this scale is the most elementary scale of them all, as it includes every note we will ever use (not just on the G string though, obviously).

When we remove certain notes from the chromatic sequence, we can create more musical sounding scales. Let's try removing notes from the chromatic scale on the G string:

G major scale on the G string

Degree: 1 x 2 x 3 4 x 5 x 6 x 7
Note: G G#
A A#
B C C#
D D#
E F F#

So again, from open G to 12th fret G we have a sequence of notes, but this time there are gaps (intervals) between some of the notes and therefore fewer notes before we reach the 12th fret octave (only 7 this time). Try playing this pattern of notes on the G string, or any string. Remember to start on the open string.

That diagram above is a G scale (more on individual scales later!). It's a G scale because we started on the note G. In other words, the G note is note number 1 in the scale as it lies on the scale's 1st degree, also known as the root note. The root note defines the tonal center (or key) of the scale. As time goes on, you'll learn how significant this is.

When playing a scale, you won't necessarily always start on the root note, but just knowing where the root note is in the scale is the important thing.

So that's ultimately what scales are! Of course, scales are most often played across more than one string. For example, the G scale above can be condensed to play across more than one string within the space of just 4 frets:

G major scale 1st position boxed pattern

So again, the root notes lie on G, and it's exactly the same scale as above, just in a lower register (deeper sounding) and across 3 strings rather than 1. We can also continue that scale from the higher root note on the D string, and cover the remaining 3 strings for a higher register of the same scale.

We could also apply the scale in relation to an A or D string root note, which would change how the pattern looks (more on this in the scales lessons).

If we filled in the gaps between those notes, we'd get the chromatic scale again!

This type of scale that spans just 4 or 5 frets is known as a boxed scale pattern. Boxed patterns are a good place to start, but eventually you'll want to break out of those boxes.

Expanding out of the box allows you to use more of the fretboard, which allows you to play scales more fluidly. It frees up your fingers and your creativity.

That's why each of the scales lessons on this site begin with the boxed patterns and then expand out to cover more of the fretboard. It's the same scale, just with more fretboard coverage.

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