Why It’s Important To Learn Guitar Scales

why learn guitar scales - man playing acoustic guitar

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When you start playing guitar, you probably think it’s enough to learn chords, strumming, playing on time, and with proper technique. And when the time comes, and you first hear about scales, you may ask yourself, why I have to learn guitar scales? Is it really necessary? 

I’m not going to lie to you, scales are a fundamental part of learning for any good guitarist. I can guarantee you that practicing scales will make you gain agility in your fingers. Practicing scales will also help you develop greater fluency in both single notes and full chords. You can use scale practice as a warm-up too. Warming up a little will get your fingers ready when it’s time to play. 

When you learn guitar scales, you’ll see that the different scales you can learn are made up of notes. These notes are the same that make up the chords of each chord family. There are chords derived from the major scale and the minor scale. 

Let’s learn a little about guitar scales

To learn more about guitar scales, it’ll be good to know more about the major scale and its chord family. I can tell you that not all chords derived from this scale are major. Even though the scale is major, this scale has 3 basic types of chords: major, minor, and diminished.

For example, in the C major scale, it’s formed by the following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and finally another C, which is an octave higher. The chords of this scale will be of the following type in this order: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, and diminished. This can be applied to any other of the twelve notes of the scale.

The minor pentatonic scale

To start practicing scales on your guitar, I recommend you start with the one I started. The pentatonic scale is a scale that has 5 notes per octave. The minor pentatonic scale is almost always the first scale that guitarists learn with. This one is useful to practice, to make your first notes and guitar solos in different musical styles like rock, blues, and jazz.

A Minor Pentatonic Scale (5th fret)
The Minor Pentatonic Scale

This scale is quick to learn and easy to play. It can be used for both improvisation and phrasing. You can play this scale to improvise on a song you like. For this, you need to know in which key the song is played in. Then play with the pentatonic scale (like the image above) on the same key. Also, you can transfer the scale to any note on the guitar fretboard.

The blues scale

Once you learn the minor pentatonic scale, playing the famous blues scale is easy. Since both scales are practically the same. But the blues scale have one difference, you add an extra note, a flattened 5th (like the image below).

A Minor Blues 5th fret
The Blues Scale

As you might have guessed, this scale is used to play the blues. But it isn’t only used for this style, it is also used frequently in rock and jazz. The good thing about this scale is that it’s easy to learn. 

Playing a blues or rock song with this scale is pretty easy if you know how to find the keynote of the song and transpose the scale to that same note. Of course, to play a good guitar solo, it isn’t enough to know the blues scale. You also need to learn other essential techniques like string stretching or vibrato.

You also need to know that there are many other scales to learn. For example, there is a group of seven main scales, which are commonly known as the modes of the major scale. And they are named this way: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian.

The scales are also used to compose music

I read somewhere that “Scales are like building blocks in music”, and I really liked that metaphor. It’s quite true because scales are important tools for composition. You shouldn’t fall into the error that scales are only used for play guitar solos. Finding a chord for the song you’re composing also has to do with knowing the scales. 

Scales and chords aren’t separate elements, as you saw with the major scale and its family of chords. Chords and scales are closely related to each other. To put it correctly, chords are derived from scales. All those chords you have been learning in this post and in this other post are built from the notes of a scale. 

If you take the C major scale with the notes C D E F G A B, from these, you can take certain notes to form chords. For example, if you take C, E, and G, which are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of this scale, you will have a C major chord. And if you want to form a G major chord, you will use the notes G, B, and D. And there’s a reason why these chords sound good together. This is because they are all derived from the same C major scale.

Scales can help you improve your technique

Scales can be your most powerful tool for improving your technique. You could solve almost all of your playing guitar technique problems by practicing scales. To develop a good technique, it is always important to have good posture, as you have already read in this post. Scales will allow you to strengthen your hands and fingers.

This is because when you drag your fingers over the scales all over the fretboard of your guitar, it’s like you are taking them to the finger gym to do a complete routine. It will also help if you do it every day for at least 40 to 60 minutes.

While practicing scales, you’ll gain strength, improve coordination between the two hands, and increase the fluidity when passing between different chords. Practicing scales also helps to improve the connection with your guitar. Because if you play full scales over the entire fretboard, you will be improving the way you connect visually and physically with your instrument.

As you practice more and more different scales, you will develop the ability to mix scales together. Mixing scales is another great tool for composing. If you want to compose better songs or more interesting solos, you need to learn how to combine scales. 

In more advanced styles like jazz, a different scale is often used in each chord of a progression. Therefore you need a vast knowledge of scales and chords to play these styles.

A few final words on the scales

If you go back to the beginning of this post, but knowing what you know now, you will realize that when you start learning guitar, it is essential that you learn chords and scales. Now you know the intimate relationship that exists between them. I don’t think you’re still wondering why you need to learn guitar scales. 

Learning the scales will lead you to a greater understanding of your guitar and the music you play. Being able to understand the relationship between notes and chords will help you when you face with songwriting and composition. Also, practicing scales will improve your technique, synchronization between your two hands, and keep the rhythm when playing chord progressions and scales.

The more you learn about scales, the better will be your ability to play different melodies on the right chords. Learning the different scales and practicing them will become an invaluable resource for you. This will lead to a better and more complete mastery of your guitar.

For more information, check out this minor keys and scales guide.

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Damián is an author of All Stringed. He started playing with an electric guitar when he was 14 as a self-taught boy at home. He has almost 30 years of experience playing electric and acoustic guitar. You can find more about him here.