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Why learn the natural major and minor scales?

Question by Frank

Hi! I have been playing guitar since about 6 years. Taking classes in Holland, with a strong focus on Latin music, especially Atahualpa Yupanqui (Argentina). Now progressing to the point where we start improvising a bit. Have learnt Pentatonic scales and Arpeggios, and am working on various chord progressions.

My question:

I'm analyzing the harmonics and rhythmics of Guantanamera (cha cha). I have figured out the I IV V IV I progression in key G. Knowing the Pentatonic scales and related Arpeggios, why should I learn to play the Natural scales as well?

Can you explain what is the value add of learning the natural major and minor scales, if you already know where the roots of all the basic chords are? Perhaps a silly question. But your answer could be very enlightening to me.

Thank you very much for your consideration.


Frank, the way you have learned it (mixing pentatonics and arpeggios) is fine for knowing what to play over each chord in a progression. In fact, it's very beneficial to be able to see it this way as it helps you to harmonise the individual chords.

In a way, you've advanced beyond the stage where you NEED to know the major and minor scales.

However, learning the natural major and minor scales might help by connecting it all together into one root scale.

It may just be a matter of convenience, to help you visualise an entire progression's harmony in a single scale pattern.

For example, take the progression I, ii, IV, V (so in C major that would be: Cmaj, Dm, Fmaj, Gmaj).

All these chords use notes within the C major scale.

It's just another way of seeing the connection between chords and scales - a collection of related intervals, if you like, in one convenient position on the fretboard.

You could still break the progression down in the way you have, and see each chord with its related arpeggio and pentatonic scale, but by knowing that it all ties into that root major scale means you can make a quick run up or down that major scale and you'll know it'll work over those chords.

So, keep doing things the way you are, but familiarise yourself with the major and minor scales as it gives you another, perhaps more fluid way to connect each chord that might give you some new ideas for your solos.

For example, many people see the major scale as useful for voice leading.

Let's say we're moving from the V to I chord. In C major that would be Gmaj to Cmaj.

The 4th and 7th of C major would be natural leading tones for supporting this resolution.

The 4th would resolve to the 3rd and the 7th would resolve to the root when the chord changes from V to I.

It might be difficult to see this relationship if you were breaking each chord down by their related arpeggios and pentatonic scales.

So, same notes, different way of seeing how they relate to one another.

There's also the benefit of being able to harmonise a scale more fluidly. See the below videos I did on using scale patterns (such as natural major) to build related chord shapes...

Hope that helps.

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So right... but...
By: Jean-Luc Antoine

Hi, I'm a belgian guitar player (since 50 years now :() and I had some formal education in music and guitar. But not enough, very far to be enough, and that is never enough. I'd say I play quite well (they say ;)) but I'm not a pro. In fact, I "found" by myself the natural scales since I had a too classical but incomplete formation followed by a flamenco one during the '80s. Now, I've had to study later the basics of the scales I knew (and others) to understand, find more and not to be limited. If I had been instructed of these necessities, I'd certainly had won 10 years! It is absolutely important, and point!

Now, I think it is also important to consider that if we chose a particular type of music to play (I play flamenco and fingerstyle blues/folk/jazzy forms...and found a quite personal style playing with all those techniques and working at least two hours a day), that is not necessary to play all the scales, progressions a.s.o. It is important to know they exist and how to find them, but not to play all at a time. I think it is very important to make this precision since beginners (and less beginners) always find it a so huge material to absorb and work all together that they prefer to let it on one side. That is not necessary, that is progressive and just in the case one wants to go further and look new possibilities... now the question whether it is better or not, of course, always better...

Thanks o lot for your excellent site and work, that is far the best I know...

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