Guitar Scales for Beginners: A Foundation for your Solos
Playing the guitar isn’t just about being in rhythm and playing the right chords. Being a guitarist also means that you can improvise and create your own solos. In short, this means having originality as well. With that in mind, how do you become unique in a world of music filled with common chord progressions and mechanical rhythms? Simple – knowing about the guitar scales.
Scales and the utmost understanding of it allows a guitarist to be unique. Jimi Hendrix and Slash have different ways of coming up with their solos. Yngwie Malmsteen does his differently too. But that’s because they know where to go – meaning they know what their scales are. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of what scales are and how you can use them to make your own style, especially when it comes to solos!
What is a scale?
Let’s start with the definition of a scale first. A musical scale is a set of pitches or notes arranged in ascending or descending order. The notes in these scales are separated by intervals, or distances between notes. These intervals matter because they determine what type of scale it is. We’ll discuss the intervals as we go along explaining the different types of scales.
Side note: Keep in mind that scales are different from modes, and you can read about them here.
Different types of scales
There are different types of scales, and each of these scales have different patterns of intervals, or the distances between the notes. For now, we’ll discuss the most common ones and we’ll dive into the more complicated, genre-based ones in another article.
Before we begin, here are some terms to keep in mind:
- Whole Step (W) – Examples include: C to D / E to F# / G to A / B to C#
- Half Step (H) – Examples include: C to C# / D to D# / E to F / G to G# / B to C
- Aug (+) – augmented (raised by a half step)
- Dim (°)– diminished (lowered by a half step)
The Major Scale
The major scale is one of the most common scales in the world. Aesthetically, it sounds “happy” and “fulfilling”. If you know that Sound of Music song, “Do Re Mi” – then you’ll have a very clear idea of what a major scale sounds like. This scale is one of the easiest to learn since it’s a very common set of sounds. Let’s use the C Major scale as an example.
A major scale is comprised of the following intervals: W – W – H – W – W – W – H
The Natural Minor Scale
This scale is mostly used in popular music and is formed by the following intervals: W – H – W – W – H – W – W
Check out this video to know how the natural minor scale sounds like. For this example, we will use the key of A minor. The notes for an A minor scale are A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A (no sharps, no flats).
An example of the natural minor scale would be Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. This song is in the key of C minor.
The Harmonic Minor Scale
Similar to the natural minor scale, a harmonic minor scale has basically the same intervals, but with an sharp 7th. In A minor, that would be: A – B – C – D – E – F – G♯ – A.
Here’s what it sounds like:
Its interval pattern looks like this: W – H – W – W – H – W – W+
A good example of the harmonic scale used in a song is Racer X’s Viking Kong. Tip for you guys who want to use it – it’s best when played slow!
The Melodic Minor Scale
The melodic minor scale is different from the two previous minor scales. This is because its ascending form is different from its descending form. Going up, the scale has a sharp 6th and sharp 7th. On the other hand, going down the scale is similar to the natural minor scale. Listen to the following A melodic minor scale:
It would be a bit confusing to discuss its intervals since it’s different than the previous two, but it would be better explained by simply “naturalizing” the sharp 6th and 7th on the way down. The notes for this scale would be: A – B – C – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A (ascending) and A – G♮ – F♮ – E – D – C – B – A (descending)
The chromatic scale is different from the previously discussed scales. This is because it passes through all the notes from the beginning up until the end. If we start from C, you’ll have to go through C♯, D, D♯, E, F, F♯, and so on and so forth. Here is an example of a chromatic scale starting from C.
A good example of a song that uses a chromatic scale is Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov. Another more modern piece of music that uses a chromatic scale is A Day in the Life by the Beatles (starting at 1:45). The Beatles song may not have that clear distinction of a chromatic scale, because it is a harmony of several chromatic scales put together.
A pentatonic scale is a scale composed of any five notes within an octave (series of 8 successive notes). If you play all the black keys on a piano, that’s what a pentatonic scale usually sounds like. This scale was commonly used in Asia during ancient times. However, it has also been used in some parts of Early Europe predating even Pythagoras. An example of a pentatonic scale would be C – D – E – G – A.
Since this is a very broad topic, we’ll be diving further into the pentatonic scale in another article.
Are those all the scales I need to know?
The scales discussed in this article are just the beginning of it all. There are more types of scales that will blow your mind, such as a jazz scale and the Indian scale which is totally different from what we know. It takes months or even years to learn all the types of scales, but as your fellow guitarist, I would suggest sticking to the ones you need for now. The scales you should learn depend on the type of music you want to play or compose for.
How do I use these scales to create solos?
First off, you will have to be familiar with these types of scales in every key you can imagine. Knowing their patterns or their intervals will allow you to apply a major or minor scale to any key. Once you’re familiar with that, the next step would be to add some rhythm to it. Try a basic swing rhythm going up and down a scale. Then, try it on another scale. You can also try other rhythmic exercises from our guitar teachers here!
Here at Guitar-Elite, we have teachers who can help you learn your scales and make your own solos in the fastest time possible. Join our Guitar-Elite community and become one of the pros in no time!