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.
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.
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
Here’s the fingering positions incase you need them.
1 – Index finger, 2 – Middle finger, 3 – Ring finger, 4 – Little finger
When you have mastered the first pattern, move onto the next until you have conquered that as well.
G Minor Position 2
And the finger positions…
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
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
Other Posts of Interest
Let’s take a look at Part 2
I will add some finger diagrams or vids soon to clarify this stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.
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.
Now on G minor 2 and the fog is lifting – must admit the site is impressive.
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 ?
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 ?
Now on position 5…..
I find that adding a rhythm to the positions makes it fun (easier to play and remember)
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 ?