The Importance of Guitar Scales

November 1st, 2011

Several explanations for the importance of guitar scales exist on the Web yet the one that makes the most sense to GLC is to compareĀ guitar scales to the weight of your guitar expertise. You can play the guitar without much knowledge in regards to guitar scales, but at some point you’ll really want to learn them unless you want to be a lightweight. Guitar scales teach beginners how to solo and improvise and your understanding of not only the guitar, but music, will improve when you pick them up.

Do you want to be a light or heavy-weight?

Guitar scales are important because they essentially introduce you to the fretboard. These days you can skip learning the scales by reading the tablature of your favorite tunes, however when it’s time to understand how to create and form your own leads, solos, licks, etc you will be gravely behind.

What is a scale?

A scale is a group of notes arranged in ascending and descending order designed to express the types of notes used in a song or designate the key of the song. In other words, songs are composed based on a particular scale. Once you know that scale you subsequently know what notes you can play in the solo and what notes are off limits. Thus, the scale basically tells you what sounds good and what sounds bad based on the given scale.

…Now you should be able to understand why learning guitar scales from the beginning is important. It’s what separates the trained guitarist from the novice.

Understanding Guitar Scales

Guitar scales are composed of whole and half steps. The half step is when you move from one fret to the next on any given string (i.e. 1st to 2nd fret). The whole step is when you skip one fret to the next note (i.e. 1st fret to 3rd fret). Essentially, half steps mean you only slide one fret down while whole steps require you to jump, or skip a fret.

Whole steps and half steps are important in regards to guitar scales because each scale has a particular pattern. Thus, if you know where the half and whole steps are on the scale you will quickly be able to reach the notes designed for a solo. At first, learning guitar scales is confusing and challenging largely because you’re still learning the scales and unaware of the correct steps. Consequently, you need to practice popular guitar scales daily until they’re memorized.

Popular Guitar Scales

The first two guitar scales (and most popular) you need to learn are the Major and Pentatonic Scale.

Music theory teaches us that there are seven major notes — A,B,C,D,E,F,G. When someone says let’s play “C Major” they are referring to the Major Scale with the note C as its root. The root note is the first note in the scale and gets everything started. Now that you understand the correct steps in the Major Scale you can play the other notes that compose the “C Major Scale” – C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C (one octave lower).

Did you know — The majority of popular music is based on the major scale? Once you learn the key, find the root on the fretboard and know the pattern of the Major Scale you will have the notes that blend well for a solo or lick.

The Pentatonic Guitar Scale features both a major and minor version. Instead of being a heptatonic scale (seven note like the Major Guitar Scale, above), the Pentatonic scale is composed of only five notes per octave. The composition of the Pentatonic scale makes it very popular in music used around the world because any pitches of this scale may be played in any order or combination without clashing sonically.

The Pentatonic scale removes the 4th and 7th scale degrees of the Major Scale, which means that in comparison to the example (above) the C Major Pentatonic Scale would read: C,D,E,G,A,C (one octave lower). Note that the second C does not count in either scale (it’s just one octave lower) thus warranting the seven and five note scales.

The Importance of Guitar Scales

The Major Scale is very common in popular music and the Pentatonic Scale is an outstanding scale for solos because when you use it over any chord progression it’s difficult to make it sound “bad”. Thus, if you need a good starting point for scales master the Major and Pentatonic Scale.

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