How to learn guitar scales efficiently

Often i have come across a guitarist who struggled with learning scales, finding it long and tedious. I have even heard some say that they are unimportant! This is far from the truth. Every new scale you learn opens the fret board a little more, adding new dynamics to the music you play. Their significance is unquestionable, but finding the correct method of learning them can be frustrating. In this lesson, we will go over learning your first scales, moving patterns to change key and by the end of the lesson we will go over all the other theory aspects that you should be learning along side your fist scales to help you learn in a more efficient way in the future.

The more scales you learn, the easier they become!

Remember: Scales are a selection of notes; not an order!

Assuming your new to scales, the first on your list should be your Major/minor pentatonic. This is a simple scale built on only 5 notes per octave. Follow our diagram on the link and practice 1 shape at a time! make sure you memorize the shape and can play it comfortably up and down the strings. For beginners I would recommend learning 1 – 2 shapes at a time. once you feel you have made progress with these shapes, put your guitar down and take a break. when you next pick it up, try and play these shapes again up and down the strings, without looking at a diagram. If you remembered it correctly, move on to the next shape or 2; if not, go over them again. Once all 5 shapes have been learned, move all 5 patterns together to change the key. Example, our pentatonic diagram is in the key of A minor/ C major. If you moved all 5 positions 2 frets to the right, you would be playing B minor/ D major. Switch up the key and try playing the notes in a different order; this way you will become accustomed to the sound of the scale.

As you learn the pentatonic scale you should also read up on the CAGED system. We have a simple lesson about the CAGED shapes so check it out if you need to, learn the positions and build your own note progression with it to build a strong sense of familiarity. 

If you want to see our quick lesson on CAGED chords – click here

The next scale you should learn is your Major scale. This scale has been abused, but for good reason. As you begin learning this scale it’s a good idea to start learning about intervals. We will link our intervals lessons at the bottom of the page, though Just so you know, the intervals for the Major scale are 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. whether your new to intervals or not, you can clearly see that it is a simple formula. You should learn this scale in a similar fashion to the way you learned your pentatonic positions. You should learn  about chordd and chord progressions along side this scale (yes, even lead guitarists need to learn chords!)

Learning these 2 scales alone can take months, even years for some people, so don’t get frustrated when you make a mistake. learn from these mistakes, practice in new keys and get to know your instrument. Once you have become fluent with these 2 scales, you will have gained some muscle memory and finger strength. Many people get stuck on the major scale and don’t progress further, yet it only gets easier from here!

Next on your list should be the Natural minor scale

followed by the Melodic minor scale

The 2 scales above will still take some time to learn but the process should be less of a task compared to your first 2 scales. Once you have gained fluency with all of these scales you should notice a dramatic improvement to your musical ability.

If you learned interval placements alongside these scales, you will be able to learn any further scale in a much more efficient way. whether you’re completely competent with interval placement or still need a bit more practice, using intervals to build any further scale will improve your knowledge of the fret board and turn scale learning (which can be a long process) into scale building! Find a scale you wish to learn depending on the style of music you wish to create, find the interval pattern of that scale and instantly you should get a good idea of how to play the scale without ever having to look at a diagram! This will be a challenging learning transition at first as it will require a constant thought process as you play; however the rewards after learning this method is incomparable to any other scale learning method!

Now we have highlighted the significance of this method, head on over to our intervals and scale building lesson linked below to fully understand how the process works.

Click here for our Intervals and Scale building lesson!

Further scales you should look into:

  • Major/minor blues scale
  • Harmonic minor scale
  • Diminished/Half Diminished scale
  • Major/minor/dominant Bebop scale
  • Major/minor Hungarian scale
  • Major/minor Romanian scale
  • Whole tone scale

Learning all of these scales will take time, but practice and patience will reward you with a lifetime of benefits.

Once you have discovered the scales that please your ears, learn how to effectively use modes to really boost your dynamics! We have several modal lessons in our music theory directory.