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The Street Musician - No Nonsense Guide To Scales

This guide may not be 100 % theoretically correct, but it will be everything you need to know to get you through the theoretical nightmare of scales that’s been haunting you for years.

Scales represent a huge barrier to many musicians and dealing with the mass of information that comes with them and trying to make sense of it can be a daunting task. This is where most musicians (including myself) have tried and failed many times and often give up just as they begin to grasp the first concepts of what they are dealing with.

We’ll be cutting through the technical blurb and getting to the crux of things, so stick with these guides and you’ll be soloing all over the fret board in no time at all. It may take you a couple of weeks to really get the hang of it, but soon you’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about and why you didn’t do this years ago..

Let’s get on with it.

Scales

There are a million scales out there to choose from, pentatonic, natural minor, pure minor, majors, blues scales, harmonic scales, diminished and loads of others. Each one of these scales also has twelve keys to learn, ie. C major, D major, E natural minor, F minor, G# pentatonic etc. so sussing out which types of scale to learn is bad enough even before you decide what pitch to learn them in.

Then you think to your self, ‘What if I spend weeks learning one D major scale, and then find most of the solos I like to play are in C# minor. I’ll have wasted my time. And learning one C# minor scale is nothing considering the hundreds of other scales I’ll need to know to be classed as a decent musician. And then what about all the modes and stuff ?’ It’s just to much to even contemplate.

These are the very thoughts that stopped me from learning scales for years, until one day I decided to tackle them and conquer them once and for all.

After a fair bit of research, I discovered a few really handy things that help solve all these questions and plunged me into the world of music theory. Safe in the knowledge that I was going the right way and not wasting my time, I sussed out how to learn as many scales as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Here it is, short and sweet.

  • You will need to learn the natural minor scale in any one key you like all over the fret board. This entails learning either five or seven different patterns or positions and moving between them from the first fret to the twelfth.
  • (Note – Most people learn the major scale first and the theory works just the same, but I choose the natural minor as a starting point because it sounds great, keeps you interested much longer and provides a much better starting point for those who enjoy a moody feel to their music. For me, the major scale never kept me interested long enough to keep up the initial training. The funny thing is, without all the technical blurb, they are almost one and the same).
  • In doing this, you will be able to translate, that one scale into all twelve keys in that scale. Twelve for the price of one.
  • The natural minor is related to the major scale. So each major scale you play, is actually the same scale as a different minor scale. this means that if you can play twelve natural minor scales, you also unwittingly know how to play all twelve major scales.
  • This means that you can effectively play 36 scales just by learning one natural minor scale. That’s 36 for the price of 1. You can’t beat that for efficiency.
  • It doesn’t stop there. In knowing these major and minor scales, you just take a few notes out of each scale, and you are left with the major and minor pentatonic scales. That’s 60 for the price of 1.
  • That’s good enough for the moment, but you should also know that each of these scales has its corresponding modes, and just by learning the major and minor scales, you will also have learned many modes. This literally means you know hundreds of scales just by learning one. It takes a good understanding of theory to know how to move between them, but it’s not rocket science, and if you take it slowly, and learn from me, you will conquer a huge section of music theory, with the minimum effort.

So here we go.

Natural or Pure Minor Scales

Below is a diagram of the Natural or Pure Minor scale in 5 common keys.

G Minor Scale

A Minor Scale

C Minor Scale

D Minor Scale

E Minor Scale

Confusing huh !

Now take a look at frets 1 to 5 of the G minor scale in the first diagram and familiarise yourself with the pattern across the six strings.

Then take a look at frets 3 to 7 of the A minor scale on the second diagram.

Now, check out 6 to 10 of the D minor scale on the third diagram.

That’s right. They are exactly the same patterns. The only difference is that they are a few frets higher or lower than the other scales.This goes for every note and every fret on each of the diagrams and proves that once you know all the patterns on one scale, you can apply the same notes across each and every key in that scale.

Just to be sure, take any section at all in the first G minor diagram. You can use one string across 3 frets, 4 strings across 2 frets, 2 strings across 5 frets, whatever you like, and shift them all up two fret positions. You will find they exactly fit the shapes and positions in the A minor scale diagram. Shift them all up 3 frets again, and they match the D minor image. Once you understand that all these patterns can be moved all over the fret board, you will have confidence that learning one set of patterns will hold you in good stead for the rest of the process..

The 5/7 Scale Positions

These minor scales can be chopped up into 5 or 7 easy to manage pieces. Learning one piece at a time is the best way to learn without stressing yourself out. In my opinion, although you might think it is more hassle, I prefer to learn the scale using 7 positions instead of 5. This is because each of the 7 positions slightly overlap one another meaning they are much quicker and easier to learn and form a stronger connection in your mind when moving between them.

Below are two sections of the G minor scale. Start with the first beginning on the G note, and practice until you can move up and down the pattern with ease and fluidity. Remember the position of the orange root notes as they will become important later on in your training.

G Minor Position 1

G Minor Scale Position 1

Here’s the fingering positions incase you need them.

1 – Index finger, 2 – Middle finger, 3 – Ring finger, 4 – Little finger

G Minor Position 1 Fingering

When you have mastered the first pattern, move onto the next until you have conquered that as well.

G Minor Position 2

G Minor Position 2

And the finger positions…

G Minor Position 2 Fingering

Now practice moving between these two patterns in as many ways as possible. Practice them backwards, forwards, sideways, across two strings, three strings, diagonally, upside down and just about any other way you can think of until they are burned in your memory.

G Minor Positions 1 and 2

G Minor Positions 1 and 2

Every time you pick your guitar up, spend ten minutes going over these shapes until they are second nature to you.

In a few days you will be well on your way to mastering the natural minor scale, and will be ready for

Part 2

of

The Street Musician – No Nonsense Guide to Music Theory

Other Posts of Interest

Scale Runs and Exercises
Chromatic Scales and Exercises

Posted 10.09.08

Let’s take a look at Part 2

Comments

If you have anything you’d like to add, then fill out the comments form below.

Comments

Play it
The site needs a demo of how to play the scales.
#1 – Dennis – 02/04/2009 – 18:06
Will do, it’s all on my to do list – just need to get round to it – and a million other things ! ;-)
#2 – Kier – 02/05/2009 – 02:46
Question
Thanks for the prompt reply – Am I right in thinking your example shows the first and part of the second position. Not having used the second position is it the same as the first using the index finger at fret 5, middle fret 6 etc.
#3 – Dennis – 02/05/2009 – 07:34
Right, Start on string 6. 1st position, stretch fingers 1, 2 and 4 across frets 1, 3 and 5. Position 2 – fingers 1, 3 and 4 across frets 3, 5 and 6. Position 3 – fingers 1, 2 and 4 across frets 5, 6 and 8. Each of these positions overlap each other to make it easier to learn the next and also to move up just one scale note. This is for a very good reason later on in the guide. There are seven notes in the scale and seven positions up the fretboard to learn.
I will add some finger diagrams or vids soon to clarify this stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.
#4 – Kier – 02/05/2009 – 11:48
Fingerings added
Just added a couple of fingering diagrams, hope that helps.
#5 – Kier – 02/05/2009 – 16:57
Accoustic or Electric
Hi Keir. Fingerings are fine, stretching my small hands accross 5 frets not so easy – D
#6 – Dennis – 02/06/2009 – 08:35
Yeah, it’s not easy unless you put in a good deal of practice. It’s even worse on an acoustic, but stick with it and as your fingers strengthen and stretch over a few weeks, it will get much easier. If I don’t practice for a while, it still makes my fingers ache. But it also makes the other positions seem a doddle when moving over only 4 frets. Keep it up ! Remember – a 1 to 5 stretch is just about the biggest you can do on a guitar, so it’s not going to be easy for anyone.;-)
#7 – Kier – 02/06/2009 – 11:59
Shaded Notes
Hi Keir

As a beginner I am allowed to ask silly questions – so why are certain notes shaded.

Your reply said to start with 1 3 and 5 frets but the Gm position 1 fingering starts with 3 5 and 6 frets.

The stretching is going fine and there is a noticable improvement in the sound quality.

#8 – Dennis – 02/12/2009 – 18:00
Hi, it says somewhere in the text ‘Remember the position of the orange root notes as they will become important later on in your training’, so the shaded orange notes are the actual root notes. i.e the first note of the scale. To clarify your second question, in my pos 1 diagram, the fingers stretch across frets 1, 3 and 5, but you should start the scale by hitting the G with your 2nd finger. Then hit the A with your 4th finger then the A# with your 1st finger on the 5th string. The reason I suggest stretching across all three initially is so you already have your hand in the right position to hit the next notes in the scale and also to help with recognising the whole look or pattern of position 1, i.e. on strings 4,5 and 6 you get the same 1,3 and 5 stretch across all strings so you can spot this easily all over the fretboard in future. IMHO It’s all about the shapes.
#9 – Kier – 02/12/2009 – 20:09
Getting there
Hi Keir

Now on G minor 2 and the fog is lifting – must admit the site is impressive.

D

#10 – Dennis – 02/23/2009 – 10:00
Cheers. Keep at it, once you’ve got through all seven patterns most of the hard work is done, and you’ll have a huge section of scale theory pretty much sussed.
#11 – Kier – 02/23/2009 – 11:19
Weird
Hi Keir
Usually practise major and Gm1 and Gm2 scales and never been past the fifth fret then something weird happened – I found that I could play any of the major scale patterns almost anywhere what have I found ?
#12 – Dennis – 03/05/2009 – 16:39
Take a look at Parts 5 and 6 of this guide and you’ll find what you are looking for. This is where the light comes on. Whatever you do, don’t stop at patterns 1 and 2, have a go at patterns 3 and 4 now, you will find them a complete doddle as you’ve already got past the first two difficult ones. You can start to build your speed with 3 and 4 as they are so easy. This is where scales start to become enjoyable (sort of !)
#13 – Kier – 03/05/2009 – 17:48
Question
Hi Kier

Can now play part 1 and 2 forwards and backwards (by rote) is the object of the exercise to know every note in part 1 and 2 and where it is on the fretboard ?

#14 – Dennis – 03/25/2009 – 16:49
The object of the exercise is to learn the shapes of the patterns and where the root notes are in each pattern, like in the fingering diagrams. Don’t worry so much about the names of the notes in between. eg. A root note of position 2 is on the 6th string, 1st finger (G), so when you play between the root notes from G to G sticking to that pattern, you are playing a Gm scale. You can now take that whole pattern, and move it up to any fret you like. Say you move it up to fret 8, and play the exact same shape, your 6th string, 1st finger root note is now on a C note, therefore you are now playing a C minor scale. This is all explained later on in Part 4 of this guide. Eventually after learning all 7 shapes of the Minor scale from frets 1 to 12, you will be able to play any minor scale in any key, anywhere you like over the whole guitar. :-D
#15 – Kier – 03/26/2009 – 04:14
Oh Yeah ! You will also be able to play every major key as well, and both major and minor pentatonics, and with a little addition, the blues scale also. Not bad for learning just a few shapes.:-D:-D
#16 – Kier – 03/26/2009 – 16:48
Tunefull
Hi Kier

Now on position 5…..

I find that adding a rhythm to the positions makes it fun (easier to play and remember)

Regards

D

#17 – Dennis – 04/06/2009 – 15:18
Definately ! There’s a few backing tracks to mess about with in Part 4 if you feel like. Great going getting to Position 5.. that’s my least favourite, but Positions 6 and 7 are really good fun and dead easy to play. You can really get some good speed up on them. Then you are home and dry.
#18 – Kier – 04/06/2009 – 16:47
Pickit
Hi Kier

Still practising positions 1 to 5 – I have a Yamaha F310 acoustic and tend to strum and finger pick. do I need to start using a pick now ?

Regards

D

#19 – Dennis – 04/12/2009 – 15:27
It’s really a matter of preference and what style you want to play. If you want to be a fingerstyle player then you don’t need a plectrum, but if you want to kick out a few songs in the sort of manner a general musician or busker would, then I suggest you get used to playing with a pick. I use a plectrum 80% of the time for strumming, scales and solo’s etc. and fingerpick the 20% songs that need a more subtle approach. Don’t pick a plectrum that is too flimsy, I use standard Jim dunlop tortex plectrums 0.73 ( yellow) for electric and acoustic playing. You should be able to get them in any decent guitar shop or take a look at them on Google.
#20 – Kier – 04/12/2009 – 17:11
Qustion
Can you please Explane to me about in the G Minor Position 1 in the finger position how to play the notes that don.t have a number on them.
#21 – Walter – 05/25/2009 – 12:28
If you are referring to the notes that are shaded out in white – at the moment in pos 1, you don’t play them. When you move up to position 2 you will cover those notes. In time when you’ve learned all 7 positions, you will realise you have covered all the notes up the entire fretboard, and you will learn to move between them freely, whichever way you choose.
#22 – Kier – 05/25/2009 – 15:18
Having Trouble
>-(>-( Please tell me how to play the first position and the second im having troble learning how to play them!!!
#23 – walter – 06/21/2009 – 07:21
Read the Notes
Hi.. Take a look at all the above comments and replies and you will find I have gone into a bit more detail as to how to play them. I will add some example videos at a later date.. if you read the comments and you’re still not getting it, give me another shout and i’ll get back to you. Cheers
#24 – Kier – 06/21/2009 – 08:03

13 comments to Scales – No Nonsense Guide, Tutorials & Lessons

  • Surprisingly, if a person looks for this being taught using the 7 positions you use, they will struggle. Yet I have theory teaching videos on Youtube and I can say that your method of teaching is quite brilliant. Why people teach this only using the 5 positions is bizarre.
    Your patience and willingness to answer questions is admirable.
    Considering I teach basic theory lessons, I must admit that I have never actually got round to this scale playing all over the neck. Every time I’ve taken a look I’ve been confused by the the information out there and people talking about the CAGED system etc. The snobbery and inconsistencies make this area very confusing and off putting. I’ve asked well respected teachers about this area and they still don’t give a clear explanation/demonstration. They are obsessed with this 5 position system. Well that’s all good and well but, if you do the G major scale staring on fret 3 on the 6th string then, fret 5 for the A, fret 7 for the B and fret 8 for the C, they all work to the EDCA chord shapes of the CAGED system but, when you get to the D you it doesn’t work to the G shape then, what about the E on the 12th fret or the F#? it’s all modal playing and very confusing.
    Your simplistic approach and, your covering the 7 shapes (for the 7 natural note names ABCDEFG) instead of just 5 is the correct way and I commend you for your work and, I look forward to actually applying this to my Guitar playing & theoretical abilities.
    Thank you.

  • Thanks, I’ll also be adding some videos soon which should make the whole process pretty simple for just about anyone.

  • Viktor k

    Hey can you give me some tips? I’m having trouble combining 2 positions. I remembered the 1st position and the 2nd position, but when I try to go across them and put them together, I always forget the one I’m not playing. If I start on the 2nd position, and can’t remember which frets the 1st position is on and vice verse. Any tips?

  • If you’re having problems remembering patterns it’s probably because although you think you know them, they haven’t been thoroughly ‘burned’ in your brain yet. It will take time for you to be able to visualise adjacent patterns while you are in mid play. As you progress up through the 7 positions over a number of days, you will find the earlier patterns you have learned become much more embedded in your mind.

    My advice would be to keep learning more positions until you know all 7. Then go back and start combining them. It will still be a little tricky but I’m sure you will find it much easier by then. Hope that helps.

  • Viktor k

    Thanks for the advice. I just played positions 3-7 a few times each and now remember them pretty good. I am able to move between positions with a Gm backing track. I’ll practice this everyday until I can combine the flawlessly.

  • Cool.. you’ll find once you get the hang of each position the whole thing becomes quite fun and you can move onto majors, pentatonics and other scales relatively easily. Make sure you take a quick look at the post on alternative scale positions aswell, so you can recognise other commonly used patterns when people refer to them using other teaching methods.

  • pat

    What about the open notes ?

  • The open notes are covered in my post on open scale positions http://www.streetmusician.co.uk/openscalepositions/

  • Mike

    Hey man, I played guitar for about 2 years and got to a very high level of technical playing (could handle a lot of Vai/Satriani/EJ type stuff) but put off everything and anything to do with theory and eventually just got bored of feeling “stuck” when playing.

    After a couple years of not playing I’m just getting back into it and theory is where I’m starting so that I can gain that sense of freedom that pure skill can’t bring about.

    I just want to say that the manner in which you’re presenting this is absolutely brilliant and very easy to follow/not too much at one time etc. Perhaps in the summer you could add a small segment to your theory on building chords and on understanding which chords are in which keys and how to transition between them etc (if there isn’t already something on these topics).

    Thanks a lot though, this is definitely going to help my playing A LOT. On the second pattern now, you say we should only be concerned with memorizing the root notes right? Would there be much benefit to memorizing all the notes and just taking the learning extra slow so that in the end of the 7 positions you’ll not only be able to play all over the fretboard but also (through relationships) know every single note on it as well.

    Thanks again and sorry for the exceedingly long comment.

  • Thanks for your input Mike, looks like you came in the exact same direction as me. I played for years and avoided theory. Quit and started again from scratch. Sooner or later theory has to be conquered for your own peace of mind and you definitely feel a whole lot better once you’re into it.

    For the chord guide suggestion, it’s on the cards. I have many posts and videos planned for this guide and a huge ‘to do’ list right across the blog, but things have had to be put on hold since I started my artisan business as I have to concentrate most of my time on making the business work.

    Once I get things under wraps I’ll be able to concentrate more on the guitar side of things and get some more tutorials up. It might take a while but it will happen sooner or later.

    As for memorising all the notes on each pattern, it might be helpful but would definitely be very time consuming so instead of learning all names of the notes with regards to each pattern (which will actually change depending on how you use the patterns in future) you would be better off learning the names of all the notes in relation to the whole fret board, (which could also be done in small sections as you work through the patterns).

    So if you want to, learn all the notes on the fret board separately, that will always help you greatly in the future, and also learn the patterns and where the root notes are for each pattern. If you can do both, nothing will stop you.

    Hope that helps. Cheers

  • Tom Fig

    In lesson one you show the G minor scale as having 2 sharps – A# & D#. Isn’t the relative major of G minor, Bflat? While the notes are same, isn’t it more correct to show A# as a Bflat and D# as E flat? If I’m right, why did you you choose to show those notes a sharps rather than flats?

    Thanks.

  • Brandon

    Not many comments here as of late… Just wanted to say thanks. This is the best free info regarding scales… I hope you keep the site going

  • Brandon

    I should mention that I suck with lead guitar styles…. But I’m moving to shape 4 and it’s starting to make sense. Lots of one line movement between shapes for the time being…without anything really musical sounding…. But i’m hoping it’ll all get better with practice…and your other lessons. Great free site, and with alittle effort sifting through the info,…who needs lessons;)

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