SCALES

One of the most common questions I get asked when teaching beginners is: "Why do I have to learn guitar scales?" Well if you want to be able to play lead guitar, you'll need some basic understanding of scales in relationship to guitar chords. Learning your scales will help you identify the sounds between full step and half-step intervals on the guitar neck. One thing I like to do is record myself soloing over a 3 chord progression and see what I can come up with. I like using the Pentatonic Scale when playing rock and blues chord progressions. The basic concept of the Pentatonic scale is one of the easiest ways to understand the notes up and down the guitar neck. I guarantee that if you learn the Pentatonic scale concept, you will excel in your lead guitar playing all most over night. ~Scott

Somewhere along the way in our development as guitar players, we start to get the idea that it would be a good idea if we learned some of those things called scales. If we are new to the guitar, and new to music, we are probably not even quite sure exactly what a scale actually is, which certainly adds to the aura of mystery that begins to surround the subject. What gives? Well, I am going to try and provide some clarity on the subject. I am going to lay out an overall view of the subject, and provide you with an understanding of what scales are, what they are used for, and how the way scales are used is DIFFERENT for different types of players. Once you understand these things, you will be in a much better position to achieve some clarity on the subject, and make your own decisions about how you are going to include the study of scales into your practice regimen.

What Scales Are, Musically, and Why We Practice Them?

Musically speaking, a scale is simply a series of notes, following one after the other. The really important thing about any scale is the SPACE between the notes, and by space, I mean the space in terms of PITCH. It is the distance in pitch between two notes that contains the EMOTIONAL CONTENT of music. This is one of the most important concepts that any musician can know, and most do know it, if only on an intuitive level. For those wishing to develop an understanding of music theory, this concept should be pursued and understood. I cannot go into it in the depth it deserves in this essay, but I will lay out the essence of it, and you should pursue it with your teacher, and in books.

There are three basic sounds in music. They are major, minor and dominant. To over simplify, the major sound is what many think of as being a happy sound. Minor has a sad sound and the dominant sound is one that has a tendency to want to resolve to one of the other two. Scales are constructed from a series of Whole steps and Half steps. In western music, we use a twelve tone scale, meaning that each octave is divided into twelve even subdivisions. Even though the guitar has notes all over the place, they are the same twelve over and over in different octaves or on different strings. The distance from one of these notes to the next (1 fret) is a “half step” while the distance between two (2 frets) is a “whole step.” For the purpose of constructing chords, we are primarily concerned with the major scale. The major scale follows this pattern of half steps and whole steps: Root Note (whole step) 2nd. (whole step) 3rd. (half step) 4th. (whole step) 5th. (whole step) 6th (whole step) 7th. (half step) root note or octave. Another way to look at it... If I play a note on the guitar, and then play the same note again, there is no distance in pitch between the two notes. If I play a note, and then play the note on the very next fret, the distance in PITCH, (which is the “highness” or “lowness” of a sound), between those two notes is called a half step. If I play a note, and then play the note two frets away (a note on the first fret, then the third), that is called a whole step, and the effect is very different than a half step. The Major Scale A major scale is begun on any note, it is necessary to add either sharps or flats to maintain the W,W,H,W,W,W,H step arrangement. In the case of D major, the distance from E to F is only a half step, but it needs to be a whole step in order to follow the major scale step pattern. So, F becomes F# making F# to G the necessary half step between the third and fourth notes of the scale. The same situation occurs between the sixth and seventh notes of the scale. From B to C is only a half step. The C# provides the necessary whole step there and the half step back to D.

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Minor Scales We have studied the construction of the major scale but that scale is only one of many commonly used scales in music. Another commonly used scale is the MINOR SCALE. Actually, the minor scale comes in three varieties, NATURAL MINOR, HARMONIC MINOR, and MELODIC MINOR. The difference between these three forms of the minor scale is only one or two notes.

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Ambitious players should then learn the major scale that starts with the first finger on the 6th and 5th strings. Having these scales in your fingers (six major scales) also puts all the arpeggios and modes into your fingers as well. For those wishing to play blues and rock, you should learn the first pentatonic scale inside and out, backwards, forwards, and various patterns. There are 5 pentatonic scale positions in all, and you should gradually learn them all. Of course, you must learn the licks that come out of them as well, and how to use them in improvising in the common keys (A & E first). For players wanting to improvise in the more sophisticated styles, such as jazz, or fusion styles, all the above should be learned. After that, you are a prime candidate for one of those gigantic, monster scale books we talked about earlier!

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