Boy am I excited for today’s lesson! Are you excited? Well, you should be! Today we are going to be covering how to learn guitar scales for beginners. Towards the end of the lesson I will also show you a few quick and easy beginner guitar scales for you to practice.
FREE BONUS! GuitarPro file with all the scales discussed below!
What Is A Guitar Scale?
A guitar scale is a series of notes that begin and end with the same root note, but in a different octave. For example, if you’re playing a C Major scale, the scale will begin and end on a C note.
Scales are “formulated” based on the intervals in between each note in the scale. The intervals can either be whole note intervals, or half note intervals.
More on music theory and intervals in another post. For now, let’s keep things simple.
Why Should You Learn Guitar Scales?
We could talk for hours about the importance of learning guitar scales and what it will do for your playing and for you as a musician.
However, I think the 6 main reasons you should learn guitar scales are:
Don’t agree with me? Let me know in the comments below!
When Should You Start Learning Scales?
You should start learning guitar scales as soon as possible! It is never too early to begin learning your scales. In fact, they are an excellent way to keep the process of learning guitar interesting early on as you’re getting more comfortable with your instrument.
Many beginning guitarists find themselves quickly getting bored with just learning the basic cowboy chords. Keep your guitar practice routine fun, exciting and productive by incorporating guitar scale study today!
How to Learn Guitar Scales Quickly
(Optional) Watch a video of the scale being played
Break the guitar scale down into bite-sized pieces
(Focus only on the first 3-4 notes of the scale)
Give yourself a specific time frame for visualization (say 1-2 min, at most) – Set a timer!
Study the sheet music you’re trying to learn. Tell your hands which fingers will play what fret. With your eyes open or closed, visualize yourself playing those 3 notes for the time frame you determined earlier
Once you’ve finished visualizing, turn on a metronome to SUPER slow and play only those 3 notes, playing 1 note per beat.
Start at 30 bpm, then try to increase to 45. If that’s too much, dial it back to 35.
Once you can comfortably play those first 3 notes at 45 bpm go back to the beginning and repeat this process for the next 3 notes of the scale.
Tip: There are free metronome apps you can download to your phone. Personally, I like using GuitarTuna, but there are plenty of options out there. Find one that works best for you.
IMPORTANT: Start with ONLY those next 3 notes. Do not play the 3 notes you just learned (yet). Once you can play each string of notes at 45 minutes, then practice everything you’ve learned to that point.
1. Learn the first 3 notes at 45 bpm
2. Learn notes 4-6 at 45 bpm
3. Then go back and learn notes 1-6 at 45 bpm
4. Learn notes 7-9 at 45 bpm
5. Then go back and learn notes 1-9 at 45 bpm
Remember to continue to use the visualization step for each section of the scale!
Slowly increase tempo by 10bpm working all the way up to at least 120 bpm.
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Another awesome way to not only master your guitar scales but also really improve your right-hand ability is to practice these beginner scales with various picking patterns. I recommend practicing three main picking patterns while working on learning scales:
- All down strokes
- All up strokes
- Alternate picking
That's not to say there aren't more picking patterns that you can practice, however these are the main three that I would recommend working on to see the most improvement in your playing the fastest.
Alright this is where things get really fun. Phrasing is the technique that is critical for improving your soloing ability. Honestly, I could and likely will write an entire lesson on phrasing but we're going to keep things simple here.
(Let me know if you’d like to see a lesson on phrasing in the comments below)
Phrasing is a great way to practice scales and get comfortable with them since you will be playing the scale forwards and backwards, backwards and forwards. This will also aid in your ability to recall that scale from memory quickly and easily.
For your phrasing practice you are going to practice the following four exercises:
1. Play sections of the scale: Pick a section of the scale that you really like the sound of, and play it over and over again. If the whole scale just sounds like a scale and no section sticks out to you, just start at the beginning of the scale for this exercise.
Play the chosen section two or three times in a row and then play the next section of the scale and then return to that previous section of the scale.
2. Repeat notes in the scale: Much like a skipping record, you want to repeat the same note occasionally. Want to really challenge yourself? Try using a repeating note as a turning point in your phrasing. To do this, play a section of the scale, then repeat a note, say for example, the 4th note in the scale, then play the previous 2 notes in the scale, then move forward 1 note in the scale, play that note 2-3 times, and rinse and repeat.
3. Play the scale backwards: Pretty straightforward. Play the scale from end to beginning.
4. Skip notes in the scale: Similar to repeating notes on the scale except the exact opposite. Try playing the scale front and back and skip notes as you go from the root note to the octave.
This next technique simultaneously takes the least and most amount of effort. Building muscle memory is something that is just going to happen naturally over time as you learn how to play guitar and how to play these guitar scales. However, there are a few exercises you can do to help speed up the process of building that muscle memory.
The 1st and most important thing you can do to improve your muscle memory, and make sure you're building it as fast as possible, is to practice daily.
I know you've heard it before: you have to practice daily.
Well, it’s true- and I can’t stress it enough. If you really want to make sure your muscle memory develops as quickly as possible you need to make sure you're doing your guitar practice routine on a daily basis.
Whether it's for 15 minutes or an hour just pick up that guitar, get playing and you will find that your muscle memory builds up very quickly.
The next thing you can do to help give that muscle memory a bit of a boost is practice playing these scales while distracting yourself. The easiest way to do this is to practice these guitar scales (and guitar in general, for the matter) while watching TV.
So put on that show you've been bingeing, or a movie, or the football game- whatever it is you can zone out to. Just start practicing scales and doing the exercises from earlier in the lesson and this will really help build up that muscle memory quickly. This is also an amazing way to work on chord transitions.
You knew it was coming! I saved the best (or worst) for last. As mentioned earlier in the lesson scales are built around interval formulas. If you can learn and understand the musical alphabet and the distance between notes and you know where those notes lie on the fretboard you can very easily build scales on the fly simply by knowing the formula of the scales.
You don't need to know the notes off the top of your head if you’re trying to play in a certain key. All you need to do is find where your root note is on the fretboard, know the scale formula and you should be able to play the scale with ease in many variations.
Want to memorize the fretboard as quickly as possible? Check out my lesson on memorizing the fretboard notes.
5 Beginner Guitar Scales to Practice (Plus PDF Cheat Sheet and GuitarPro7 Downloads)
A Minor Pentatonic Scale
A Major Scale
C Blues Scale
C Major Scale
C Natural Minor Scale
GuitarPro File Download
Scale Cheat Sheet Download
FREE JamPlay Lesson on Learning Guitar Scales and Modes
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In conclusion, knowing how to learn guitar scales is an essential skill for both beginner and advanced guitarists alike. There are many ways and methods out there to learn guitar scales however I have found the 5 most effective ways to be visualization, picking patterns, muscle memory, note memorization, and phrasing.
What are your favorite methods for learning guitar scales and songs? Share them down in the comments below!
Questions? Leave ‘em below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!