Guitar Scales | The Complete Guide

How To Play Scales on Guitar (Diagrams, Tutorial, Downloadable Pdf and Webapp)

online guitar scale dictionary

This mega guide will teach you everything you need to become a guitar scales master.

After learning strumming chords, the next most common step is to begin practicing single-note melodies, and knowing your scale patterns it's helpful in this process.

To help you master this topic, I've created these resources:

So let's begin!

Complete Guitar Scales Chart

Here's a chart with the most used scales. Each link will take you to a new page that shows you several fretboard patterns (4 notes box and 3 notes per string) for playing the scale.

This scales dictionary also provides the name of the notes and the intervals that compose the scale, plus a handy guitar tab with mp3 audio. It also shows some guitar arpeggios.

P.s. All the charts show the scale with the note C as the root, you can move the patterns up and down the neck to play a scale with a different note.

Common Scales

ScaleStructureNote Names
Major Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F;G;A;B
Minor Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;G;Ab;Bb
Major Pentatonic Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;G;A
Minor Pentatonic Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Eb;F;G;Bb
Major Blues Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;E;G;A
Minor Blues Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Eb;F;Gb;G;Bb

Modes from the Major Scale

ScaleStructureNote Names
Major Scale (Ionian)
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F;G;A;B
Dorian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;G;A;Bb
Phrygian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;F;G;Ab;Bb
Lydian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F#;G;A;B
Mixolydian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F;G;A;Bb
Minor Scale (Aeolian)
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;G;Ab;Bb
Locrian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;F;Gb;Ab;Bb

Modes From The Harmonic Minor Scale

ScaleStructureNote Names
Harmonic Minor (Aeolian Maj 7)
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;G;Ab;B
Locrian #6 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;F;Gb;A;Bb
Ionian #5 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F;G#;A;B
Dorian #4 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F#;G;A;Bb
Phrygian Dominant Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;E;F;G;Ab;Bb
Lydian #2 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D#;E;F#;G;A;B
Super Locrian Bb7 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
bb7
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;Fb;Gb;Ab;Bbb

Modes from The Melodic Minor Scale

ScaleStructureNote Names
Melodic Minor Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;G;A;B
Dorian B2 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;F;G;A;Bb
Lydian Augmented Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F#;G#;A;B
Lydian Dominant Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F#;G;A;Bb
Mixolydian B6 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F;G;Ab;Bb
Aeolian B5 Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;Gb;Ab;Bb
Super Locrian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;Fb;Gb;Ab;Bb

Diminished Scales

ScaleStructureNote Names
Half Diminished Arpeggio
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Eb;Gb;Bb
Diminished 7th Arpeggio
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
bb7
b7
7
C;Eb;Gb;Bbb

Symmetrical Scales

ScaleStructureNote Names
Whole-Tone Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;E;F#;G#;Bb
Whole-Half Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;Gb;Ab;A;B
Half-Whole Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Db;D#;E;F#;G;A;Bb

Exotic Scales

ScaleStructureNote Names
Indian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;F;G;Ab
Japanese Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;F;G;Ab
Gipsy Hungarian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F#;G;Ab;B
Neapolitan Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;Db;Eb;F;G;A;B
Persian Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;E;F;Gb;Ab;B
Jewish Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;E;F;G;Ab;Bb
Bizantine Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
b6
6
b7
7
C;Db;E;F;G;Ab;B
Arabic Scale
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
C;D;Eb;F;F#;G#;A;B

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How To Play Scales on Guitar | Beginner Tutorial

At first, we're going to understand what a scale exactly is , then we'll see the most common guitar scales that you must know, and then we'll list (almost) all the types of guitar scales existing in music.

I've recorded a video that shows you how to play the most common scales used in Western Music:

What is a scale

Scales are not the same as chords. Chords are built of notes made from scales. When we practice scales we play them one note at a time, unlike a chord. They really are a necessity though if you want to advance musically, even if you just learn a few basic scales.

We can consider a scale as a way to go from one note (say C) to the same note one octave upper .

Let's see this example on the guitar: take the C note at the 3rd fret of the A string , and the C one octave upper, at the 15th fret of the same string.

C major scale played on one single string

A scale is a way to go from one note to the same note one octave upper

If you count the number of the frets between the lower C and the higher C, you get 12. So an octave spans 12 frets .

We have multiple ways to go from the lower C to the upper. We could play the 3rd, 5th,  7th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th frets, or play only the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 11th, 15th, or even play all the frets between the two C.

Of course, this holds true for ascending and descending both (from the lower C to the upper and from the upper to the lower)

The relationship between each fret generates the scale structure and thus its name. We can construct scales of all of the types: major, minor, pentatonic, harmonic minor, Whole-tone , Augmented , Lydian, Dorian, and so forth (there is even a Neapolitan scale). Each scale type has its own unique combination of distances between the frets in the octave.

Usually, there are eight notes to each scale within a one octave range.

Considering that the scale doesn't change with an octave change we don't need to repeat it past 8 notes.

A C scale will always end and start on a C, and the same for each successive note.

How To Read Scales Diagrams

Playing scales horizontally, on one single string, is a great way to visualize and understand the structures, but is impractical when it comes to making music, so usually, we use patterns that use all the strings.

Let's see how to read the scale diagrams that you'll find in this article. Have a look at the diagrams below, that shows you the C major scale

how to read scale diagrams

  • The top line is always the first thinnest string, and the bottom line is the sixth and thickest.
  • The diagrams show you the fretboard with the same point of view of a guitar player that is looking at the instrument.
  • The colors of the note identify their degree (distance) from the root.
  • The root is always in yellow.
  • You must play one note at a time

Often, on the Internet, you'll find scale tabs. Tabs are of course far more popular than actually reading music because they use specific fret numbers of what to play.

Even better is if your fretboard diagrams or tabs come with finger patterns, as in exactly which fingering pattern is best while playing.

Scale Patterns are Movable!

Did you notice that the C major scale pattern above is just four frets? We call these shapes box patterns, usually, they span 4, 5 or 6 frets.

The reason why guitarists prefer to play scales along these box patterns are that the motion if more efficient: 1 finger for each fret (we're going to see this topic in the following)

The great thing about a guitar scales box is that it will work anywhere you place it on the guitar as long as you follow the pattern.

Each scale type has a specific box pattern which can be shifted to other keys. So, for example, if we want to play a D major scale , we move up the C scale pattern by two frets. Want an F major scale? Move the C pattern up by 5 frets!

Guitar scales patterns are movable

To play the F major scale, we move the C major scale pattern five frets up, so that the root of the pattern (yellow note) is F

If you want to understand better how and why the frets are placed across the strings, have a look at the guitar notes tutorial .

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Major Scale Fretboard Patterns

The most common and first scale to learn is the major scale. This very popular scale has the formula WWHWWWH , where the W equals a whole step (2 frets), and the H equals a half step (1 fret).

On a guitar, each fret is a half step away from the next, just as each piano key is also a half step apart. By taking the C note and applying this formula of whole and half steps we can find the C major scale;

C D E F G A B C

With this formula, you can find any major scale by just starting at the first or root note and counting each half or whole step.

C major scale pattern 1 octave root on the A string

C major scale pattern, 1 octave, root on the 5th string

C major scale guitar pattern, 1 octave, root on the G string

C major scale pattern, 1 octave, root on the 3rd string

C major scale guitar pattern, 2 octaves, root on E low string

C major scale pattern, 2 octaves, root on the E low string

There are other possible patterns for the major scale, below in the article, you'll learn how to find them.

Major Pentatonic Scale Patterns

Not all scales will be eight notes long, in popular music you will often see the pentatonic scale , which is only five notes . Pentatonic scales were very popular among ancient civilizations across the globe.

They may be only five-note scales, but they are musically very powerful. To find the major pentatonic scale we use 1, 2, 3, 5, 6.  of the C major scale;

C D E G A

C major pentatonic scale with root on the A string

C major pentatonic scale pattern, 1 octave, root on the 5th string

C major pentatonic scale pattern root on G string

C major pentatonic scale pattern, 1 octave, root on the 3rd string

 C major pentatonic scale 2 octaves root on the E low string

C major pentatonic scale pattern, 2 octaves, root on the E low string

Minor Scales

Another important group of scales is the Minor Scale. We can have different types of Minor Scales, let's see together:

Natural Minor Scale

Now to make a natural minor scale we use the formula WHWWHWW. If we start from the A, we get the A minor scale

A B C D E F G A

The surprising thing is that the notes of the A minor scale are the same as the C major scale, but they are layed out in different order.

As previously said, the type of a scale (and then its sound) is determined by the distance between its notes.

A natural minor scale played horizontal

A Natural Minor Scale on one single string

A minor scale guitar pattern

A Natural Minor Scale Guitar Pattern with root on the E lowest string

Why did we start from A?

Because A is the relative minor of C

The relative minor is taken from the sixth note of the major scale.

If we want to find the relative minor of any major scale, we can do that simply by count six notes from the root of the major scale (C D E F G A), or by looking at the Circle of Fifths .

Harmonic Minor Scale

The formula for the harmonic minor is WHWWH3H , that 3 in there represents three half steps (or 3 frets) until the next note in the scale.

If this is applied to every note, we will get the corresponding harmonic minor scale. A harmonic minor will be;

A B C D E F G# A

A harmonic minor scale played on one single string

A Harmonic Minor Scale on one single string

A harmonic minor scale guitar pattern

A Harmonic Minor Scale with root on the E lowest string

Melodic Minor Scale

Another common minor scale is the melodic minor, with the formula WHWWWWH . The A melodic minor is:

A B C D E F# G# A

A melodic minor scale played on one single string

A Melodic Minor Scale on one single string

A melodic minor scale guitar pattern

A Melodic Minor Scale with root on the E lowest string

Pentatonic Minor Scale

As you would expect, there is also a pentatonic minor scale, the formula being 1, 3, 4, 5, 7.

Here's a popular 4 frets box:

A minor pentatonic guitar scale pattern

A Minor Pentatonic 4 Frets Pattern

Pentatonic Blues Minor Scale

The Blues Scale is simply the Minor Pentatonic Scale with one more note: the diminished fifth (6 frets from the root). This note gives to the scale the Blues feeling that we all know.

The formula is:  1, 3, 4, b5, 5, 7

A minor blues scale

A Minor Blues Scale

There are many other scales to learn, the next logical step is to get familiar with Modal Scales.

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Today you can enroll Guitar Tricks, the most popular, award-winning guitar learning site, free for 14 day.

Scale Pattern Shapes

There are different ways to play scales on the guitar. Due to the nature of the fretboard, we have multiple options for going from one note to the upper octave.

We could use only one string, moving our fretting hand horizontally, our we could use all of the strings. There are 3 popular fingering types that you should know:

4 Notes Boxes

This is the common method for beginners when first learning to play scales. There are four frets for each finger, keeping your scale in a nice box already to play without much hand movement.

Each finger frets the notes on the nearest fret (for example, index finger on fret 1, middle finger on fret 2, ring on fret 3, and the pinky on fret 4)

4 notes box

3 Notes Per Strings

This is a way of playing scale often used by shredders and heavy metal guitar players. Basically, your fingerings have exactly 3 notes per string: this is useful for high-speed alternate picking and legato.

The picking patterns are equal on all the strings (down, up, down, next string and repeat) and this allows very efficient motion .

When you play with legato , you pick only the first note on each string; again this is efficient.

C major scales pattern 3 notes per string

C major scale 3 notes per string pattern

Horizontally, on 1 single string

Scales boxes and patterns are useful, but when you'll advance in your guitar studies you could feel yourself trapped in these fixed schemes.

Playing scales horizontally, on one single string, allows you to gain more fretboard navigation freedom .

The Best Time to Enroll a Guitar Course was 1 year ago. The second Best time is Now.

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Imagine what great guitarist you could be in 1 year with a professional guitar course that takes you step-by-step from A to Z.

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Interactive Guitar Scales Finder

To further experiment with scales, fingerings, and keys, try our Guitar Scales Finder.

It's a free interactive tool that will help you learn you more than a hundred scales patterns. It's also available for left-handed guitar players , bass, ukulele and alternate tunings.

Guitar Scales Pdf Ebook

guitar scales ebookFinally, be sure to download the Guitar Scales Patterns and Arpeggios Ebook. It's an handy reference pdf with tons of fretboard scale diagrams that you can print out.

You'll find the ebook in your free download area .

Other Cool Types Of Guitar Scales To Know

As you imagine, there exist tons of different guitar scales. To help you deepen your scales knowledge, we have created some tutorials specifically aimed at learning a given type of guitar scales. Check the list below:

Augmented Scale

This tutorial will show you how to play the augmented scale for guitar. You'll learn how this scale is constructed, and on which chords to play it. You'll also find the fretboard patterns for this scale in different positions..

The Whole Tone Scale

The whole-tone scale has a really particular sound. The post will shouw you when to use it and which chords fit well with it.

How To Play The E Harmonic Minor Scale

The Harmonic scale is commonly used in Jazz, Gipsy, Heavy Metal, and gives a little tension that can be used to spice up your songs and solos. This tutorial will teach you how to play the harmonic scale in the key of E minor

The Neapolitan Scale and its chords

A pretty uncommon scale, but really fun to learn. Jump to the Neapolitan scale tutorial

The E Minor Pentatonic Scale

The E minor pentatonic scale is easy to learn as it uses open strings. In the tutorial, you'll also learn how pentatonic scales are constructed, how to play them using open strings, and how to build riffs combining scales and power chords. Click here to learn the E minor pentatonic scale

Exotic Guitar Scales

Learn 8 exotic guitar scales that you can use to make your sound more interesting. Plus, you can download for free a pdf ebook with 40 exotic guitar scale patterns all along the fretboard.

The D Major Scale for Guitar

This tutorial will show you the most common patterns used to play the D major scale. You'll learn also the notes and the structure of this scale, plus some tips on the best way to play major scales on the fretboard.

Let the power of scales be with you!

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