Welcome to the GuitarBro. Here I will show you through some of the most common scales used on the guitar in soloing and improvisation, talk a bit about their use and illustrate some of the most common positions to play these scales. I’ll then also discuss how to practice these scales as well as some basic theory concepts that are useful to understand in relation to scales.
Scale 1: The Minor Pentatonic Scale
A pentatonic scale is a scale that has 5 notes per octave. The minor pentatonic scale is typically the first scale guitarists learn to solo with and is very commonly used to form solos in rock, blues, and other popular styles.
The scale is quick to learn and easy to learn to improvise and phrase with. Once you have mastered the basics of using the scale over a minor chord progression, there is also some more advanced uses based on playing different positions of the scale over a minor chord or moving the scale up or down a fret to get a “playing outside” sort of sound. I might devote lesson to these more advanced uses in the future.
If you would like to practice this scale over a backing track you can use the blues backing tracks or the backing tracks designed for the Aeolian mode or the Dorian mode.
Scale 2: The Blues Scale
Once you learn the minor pentatonic scale, it should be relatively easy to learn the blues scale as it is essentially the same with one additional note (a flattened 5th).
As the name suggests, the scale is used heavily in blues but is also used in rock and jazz based styles a lot too. Soloing over the blues using this scale is relatively easy to get the basics of, but you could spend a life time honing the subtle nuances of the style, such as the feel of the bends, the vibratos and the timing of your phrases.
Scale 3: The Natural Minor Scale or the Aeolian Mode
The natural minor scale is very commonly used in rock and popular styles. As well as being used to form solos, the chords formed from the natural minor scale would be the most commonly used chords in popular chord progressions.
Scale 4: The Major Scale
The major scale is heavily used in a number of ways. The chords formed from the major scale are commonly used to form chord progressions, and there is also a lot of theory on how to form harmonies with this scale.
Additionally, this scale is used to form modes which are also commonly used. The natural minor scale mentioned above as well as the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode below are all modes of the major scale.
The major scale can be used to form solos over chord progressions that are based on the chords formed from the major scale. The scale is also commonly used to solo over major 7th and major 6th chords in jazz based styles where the scales used may be changing over different chords.
Scale 5: The Dorian Mode
While the natural minor scale is most commonly used in rock and other popular styles to form solos over minor chord progressions, the Dorian mode is more commonly used to play over minor chords in jazz and fusion based styles.
Scale 6: The Mixolydian Mode
The Mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale and is commonly used to improvise over dominant chords in jazz and fusion based styles.
When practicing scales on guitar, once you have learned to play a scale position ascending and descending, it’s then useful to start to practice your scales in sequences. This will help ingrain the position of the scale as well as the sound of the scale.
You should then start to spend time experimenting with the scale, trying to come up with phrases using the notes of the scale that sound good to you.
Then move into experimenting with the scale over backing tracks. As you do this more, this will become more of a spontaneous process.
Some Basic Theory to Know for Scales
Probably the most important piece of music theory relating to scales is how to form chords from a scale that can be used together in the same key.
Other information such as the intervals that are used to form the scale can be seen on the articles focusing on each of the specific scales mentioned.