This is an important preliminary lesson for anyone wanting to
understand the distinction between major and minor guitar scales and
how they work over
that are being played in the background.
When learning guitar scales, there are two
main types of scale you'll
come across - major
scales and minor
Just like major and minor chords, both have unique applications
when it comes to harmony. You'll be exploring these harmonic
differences in more depth in the individual scale lessons, but let's
first clear up some key differences.
There are certain tones that a scale must contain to make it a major
scale. These are exactly the same tones that a chord must contain to
make it a major chord...
This is known as the major
triad, the basis of major scales (and chords).
marks the 1st note of our scale, and tells us the key in which the
scale is being played. Whichever note the root lies is the theoretical
the scale. This is why it's important to know the notes
is also known as the major 3rd.
This is the tone that makes our scale a major scale.
is considered a neutral tone, because it's part of both major
and minor triads (triad = three tones). In some scales, however, the
will be flat or even sharp (b5 and #5 respectively), so look out for
that, as it tells you what type of chord it will work over.
So how will you know if the scale contains these tones? Well, if you're
using this site to learn scales, the tones are clearly marked. For
example, what does the scale diagram below tell us?...
There is a root
(1), 3rd (3)
(5) present in that scale, so we know it's a major scale.
There is also an
indication that this particular example is being used at the 3rd fret (the
position of its lowest root note).
Therefore, the scale is in the key
of G major,
because the lowest root note G
lies at the 3rd fret on the low E string.
Another question you might have is "why do I need to know if it's a
A major scale can only be played over major chords and certain major
key progressions. See, just like scales, if the chord you're playing
the scale over (in a solo for example) contains the root and 3rd, it
will be compatible because both the scale and chord will be major.
This is the intrinsic relationship between scale tones and chord tones
you'll come to appreciate. Once fully mastered, you'll be able to apply
scales over the entire fretboard for fluid
So, in this example, our G
major scale will work over a G major chord. It
may also work over certain G
major key progressions. More on that
Just like with major scales, there are tones present in minor scales
that tell us they're compatible with minor chords and certain minor key
This is known as the minor
triad, the basis of minor scales (and chords).
The minor 3rd (also known as a flat 3rd or b3 for short) is the tone
which makes a scale or chord minor.
The 3rd is "flat" or "minor", because it can be seen as lowered by a
(the equivalent of one fret)
from its natural major scale position. Flats and sharps are always
referenced against the major scale, even in minor scales.
Here is just one type of minor scale, known as natural minor...
So you can see there is a minor 3rd
present in that scale. The other flat tones - b6 and b7 - are also
referenced against their natural major scale positions, but these tones
don't determine if the scale is major/minor. Only the 3rd does that!
Get to know this relationship between the root
of a scale and its 3rd,
whether major or minor 3rd. The sound of this interval should be
engrained in your mind, no matter which key you play it in.
It's one of those things where you only truly realise how important
this knowledge is the more you progress.
In the scales section, there are several major and minor scales to
learn (I'm adding new lessons all the time), so when it comes to
playing over major and minor chords, you'll have a good selection of
scales to choose from.
the other tones in these scales?
Aside from the root and 3rd, scales include other tones that "color"
the basic major/minor sound.
Each scale is different, and the more
you play around with different scales, the more your ear will pick up
on these surrounding tones. These tones are what give the scale its
unique flavour, beyond simply major/minor.
For example, here's the Phrygian
Notice the major triad
present there, so we know it's a major scale and
will work over major chords. However, there is also a minor/flat 2nd
which gives it a very distinctive sound. We'll look more in depth at
these scales in their individual lessons.
Mixing major and minor
If you're soloing over a power chord riff, you'll have more choice over
whether you choose major or minor. This is because power chords do not
contain a major or minor 3rd so they're effectively neutral.
So, a lot to think about, but it's useful to be introduced to this
stuff early on, so you're prepared for learning scales.
learn them as patterns on the fretboard - understand their ingredients!
It's only by doing this that you will truly understand how scales and
chords work together as part of the same foundation of intervals.