5 Simple Ways to Learn Guitar Scales: Improve Accuracy & Speed FAST


  • December 11, 2020
  • 34 

Updated: January 28, 2021

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?

how to learn guitar scales

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:

  • They are the building block for playing lead guitar
  • Guitar scales are essential for writing solos
  • Scales are an excellent tool to improve your speed, strength and dexterity
  • They help improve your knowledge and understanding of music theory
  • They are the foundation for most, if not all, of your favorite songs
  • They’re fun!

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!

5 Simple Ways to Learn Guitar Scales Quickly

how to learn guitar scales

1. Visualization

Step 1:

Watch a video of the scale being played


Step 2:

Break the guitar scale down into bite-sized pieces
(Focus only on the first 3-4 notes of the scale)


Step 3:

Give yourself a specific time frame for visualization (say 1-2 min, at most) – Set a timer!


Step 4:

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


Step 5:

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.

For example:

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
6. Etc

Remember to continue to use the visualization step for each section of the scale!


Step 6:

Slowly increase tempo by 10bpm working all the way up to at least 120 bpm.

Check out this Lesson from JustinGuitar's YouTube channel on visualization:


2. Picking Patterns

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.

Check out this awesome GuitarTricks lesson on Improving Picking Speed and Accuracy:


how to learn guitar scales

3. Phrasing

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.

Check Out This Awesome, 1 hour lesson on Phrasing from jamPlay!


4. Muscle Memory

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.

how to learn guitar scales

Note: The guitar needs to be in your hands for this to work, not next to the TV

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.

In a recent interview with Guitar World, Joe Bonamassa talked about how a guitarist's tone comes almost entirely from muscle memory. You can read that GuitarWorld article: HERE.


5. Note Memorization

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.

Hungry for more? Check out this free JamPlay lesson on Unlocking the Fretboard:


5 Beginner Guitar Scales to Practice (Plus PDF Cheat Sheet and GuitarPro7 Downloads)

A Minor Pentatonic Scale

a minor pentatonic guitar scale tab

A Minor Pentatonic Guitar Scale TAB

A Major Scale

A Major Guitar Scale TAB

A Major Guitar Scale TAB

C Blues Scale

C Blues Scale Guitar TAB

C Blues Scale Guitar TAB

C Major Scale

C Major Guitar Scale TAB

C Major Guitar Scale TAB

C Natural Minor Scale

C natural Minor Guitar Scale TAB

C natural Minor Guitar Scale TAB

FREE JamPlay Lesson on Learning Guitar Scales and Modes

Ready to Get Started?

JamPlay offers Thousands of lessons like the one above. Get started today and join thousands of other guitarists just like you!

Conclusion

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!

posted December 11, 2020

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  1. I really appreciate you for publishing this blog here about how to learn guitar scales, it’s really a helpful and very useful for us. This is really appreciated that you have presented this data over here, I love all the information shared. Great article!

    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for the comment! I’m glad you found the lesson helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions that I can assist with.

  2. I’ve been practicing for years now, and words can’t describe how bad I am. (or was, at least)

    I found this site a few months ago, and the knowledge I’ve gained from your lessons is far to none. I’ll be buying your full course very soon, as I’m absolutely sure it has plenty to offer.

    Once again, thank you so much for all the amazing content you’ve been putting out, and please know that some of us truly appreciate you for that!

    Time to rock & roll!

    1. Hi Gorjan,

      Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad our guitar lessons have been helping you! If you ever have any questions along the way please feel free to let me know and I’ll be happy to help!

  3. Hey,

    I am so pleased I came across this article. I play the guitar but I am not anywhere near the level I want to be at. I am a huge Eddie Van Halen fan and I want to be able to play like him (RIP Eddie). Learning the scales and being able to play with some kind of speed is what I have been searching for.

    What I love about your lessons is the simplicity and ease of explanation. The pictures of the scales and chords are great too, very easy for me to understand.

    I have a few friends who are learning guitar too, so I will share your lessons with them.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the amazing work.

    All the best,

    Tom

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks so much for the comment. The loss of EVH was definitely one that shook the music industry but his impact will be felt forever. Learning scales is definitely a must if you’re looking to play in the style of Eddie or Van Halen. I definitely recommend also checking out my lesson on guitar finger exercises to help with building up that speed and dexterity you mentioned. And when you’re really ready to take the next step, check out JamPlay’s library of lessons, including their Van Halen series where you’ll learn a ton of great riffs and licks in the style of Eddie himself!

  4. Hi!

    So glad I chanced upon this article.

    Honestly learning how to play the guitar has been on my list for a while. I knew a friend who learnt it off the web and I knew it was a practicing makes perfect thing – like almost everything else.

    You’ve concise this lesson just right and I’m going to bookmark this for sure!

    Cheers.
    SAM

    1. Hi Sam,

      Thanks so much for your comment! Let me know if you have any struggles along the way and I’ll be happy to help out

  5. Hello there, thank you so much for sharing this. this is a very awesome piece and a very detailed one. I’m really happy I came across this.  Reading about this article how to learn guitar scales sounds really interesting. Well I’m not too conversant with the guitar but going through this article, it really helped a lot 

  6. I think it is a very wise decision to almost immediately address the six reasons why it is important to learn guitar scales and how that impacts your experience as a guitarist. Very cut and dry, fundamental and simple to try. What makes your article so applicable is your usage of practical strategies concerning how to learn guitar scales and ultimately build muscle memory in doing so.

    Perhaps the article is a tad bit too broad; the information presented is quite intricate and layered, and nuanced.

    Still, you do a great job of offering relatable, pragmatic methods for learning how to effectively practice playing the guitar.

    Excellent structure!

    1. Thanks for the comment! Was there any part of the lesson that was too difficult or complex that I could maybe shed some clarity on? I can definitely understand how scales and theory can get complex real fast so please feel free to hit me with any questions you may have!

  7. Hello,

    thank you for writing an article about improving accuracy and speed fast. I have been playing a guitar for about a year and I have a huge space for improvement. Your article was really helpful for me because I have hard time to be accurate and fast. I will definitely use some of your tips. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi, it is great

    The piano is an excellent instrument to play and learn, your content on how to grasp scales is amazing. It's soothing and wonderful to hear the harmonies that are created
    through guitar when the scales are right.

    Your importance of learning guitar would motivate anyone who never tried it, it's fun and engaging to learn it. Picking patterns and practicing is essential, phrasing technique is absolutely fun to do, it is a great way to improve and get comfortable by playing forwardsundefinedbackward.
    Maintaining muscle memory as mentioned is the best way to learn guitar provided we must practice it daily. It is easy to build once we know the formula of scales. These were inspiring tips to keep us motivated while learning guitar, which is exactly what I needed.

    Learn to feel satisfied with practicing guitar, even if it doesn’t feel like you are getting anywhere in the moment it will surely do once you give it a try.

    cheers

    1. Hi Samantha,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Im a little confused by your comment but it seems you are interested in picking up the guitar, that’s great! Learning these scales is great to do in the early stages of your learning. Let me know if you have any questions along the way!

  9. Hello there! It really would be rude of me to see such a work of beauty and not commend it! I am so very impressed by this article, and I am glad to have come across it, Learnt quite a number of things here. I really do love musical instruments. Your article on Guitar scales is still very relevant in the Piano. 

    1. Hi Joseph,

      I hope this post inspires you to pick that guitar back up and start shredding! Thanks for sharing the post with your friends and thanks for the comment! If you or your friends have any questions along the way learning guitar please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to help!

  10. Thank you for this. I've always wanted to learn to play the electric guitar and I actually bought one a few years ago, but sadly it's collecting dust. I do appreciate your great detailed breakdown. Inspiring me to clean the dust off and learn.

    1. Hi Gregg,
      Thanks so much for your comment! Unfortunately that is a rut many guitarists find themselves in when first learning. Hopefully you’ll be able to clean that dust off and start learning guitar! If so, let me know if you have any questions along the way and I’ll be happy to help!

  11. Hello there! I am not someone who knows too much about music (although I have tried picking up a guitar before) but wow this is a really detailed and thorough article. I didn’t know anything about guitar scales but this article provides some of the important fundamentals when learning guitar. A lot of songs I enjoy are quite fast paced so developing the speed, strength, and dexterity are critical components. Thanks for this article!

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks so much for the comment. I am glad you enjoyed the article and were able to learn a few things about guitar scales. They are definitely great to learn early on in your journey learning guitar. They’re also great for building up that speed and dexterity as you mentioned. Take care!

  12. Little did I know about importance of learning the guitar scales but having read this article has drawn my interest and attention to knowing about guitar scales. I love music and I am so passionate about music theory so I am flattered by how these guitar scales can help me to improve my knowledge and understanding of music theory. Everyone surely knows the importance of improving speed and strength.

    1. Hi Kokontala,

      Yes, it is extremely important to learn guitar scales early on in your practice learning guitar. They will help you develop that speed and strength you mentioned quickly!

  13. A pleasure to read your article, Deven. It brought back a lot of memories! The most vivid being the pain in my fingertips, LOL. It must be about 30 or 35 years ago I had some guitar lessons and they should have been as you describe it here. Maybe then I would have sticked to the guitar. Instead I switched it to play the buttonbox and the flute.

    Your description of having the guitar in your hands reminded me of one of my staff. He was a drummer and obviously couldn't practice during work hours. But he was either tapping his feet or drumming with his fingers all the time. To be honest, at times it drove us crazy! 🙂 But I admired his perseverance and loved going to listen to the performances of him and his band.

    1. Hi Hannie,

      Thanks so much for the comment! I’m sorry to hear you weren’t able to stick with the guitar, but you are not alone and actually in the majority. That’s my goal here at TheBestGuitarLessons: to make learning guitar as quick, easy and FUN as possible to keep people sticking with it!

      You’re not le about your drummer friend is spot on! I’ve known MANY drummers that use the technique of visualization in their down time. It’s a super powerful learning tool that is t covered enough.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  14. My son plays the guitar and he have really gotton good at it. Playing the guitar calls for and requires skills. Its so amazing by hiting the strings what beautiful sounds are made. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Hi Norman,

      Thanks so much for the comment! I agree, it’s pretty wonderful the harmonies that can be created on the guitar, especially when you know your scales! And it sounds like your son did. Thanks again and take care!

  15. Is it more difficult to learn the electric guitar? I was wondering how hard it would be to take online guitar classes or would it better to take classes with a teacher in a pysical classroom? My cousin learned to play the guitar and he played some awesome solos. Many of my friends also know how to play the guitar. I would love to learn but I'm not sure where and how to start now with the lockdown.

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thanks so much for the comment/question! It is widely believed that it is harder to learn on acoustic as the strings tend to be thicker and farther from the neck (higher action) and therefor it is harder to put enough pressure to get that note to fully ring out. It is very possible to learn guitar online! I’ve built this entire to site to help aid you in that process. Private lessons are also an excellent choice but can be very expensive. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help.

  16. I can do a good job of playing piano because I was sent to lessons when I was little. I love the guitar but have no idea of the techniques to use when playing it. Because I have the musical experience, I know about scale and chords but would need technique training because every instrument has its specifics. This article has shown me a few things I didn’t know and I am looking forward to give guitar playing a try. Thank you

    1. Hi JJ,

      Piano is an excellent instrument to learn to gain a grasp of scales and music theory. I think if you worked to memorize the fretboard you’d be able to play scales up and down the neck in no time! Once you get playing, feel free to drop by any time if you have questions or concerns I can help out with!

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