In this lesson, we are going to look at five simple scales that are useful for developing a strong foundation for beginners to build from. We will learn one shape and cover one octave in each scale, but you should remember that this is just to get you started. There are many different ways to play every scale and playing around with alternative patterns will help you really understand the ‘ins and outs’ of each one.
All scales on this page use C as the root note so you can easily compare them and understand what makes each one unique.
1. The Major Scale
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C
We are going to start with the major scale as it is the most common and most important scale in all of Western music. It is also the basis for what we know as the key of a tune.
Once you have the scale under your fingers, try moving the pattern around so you feel comfortable playing it at any place on the neck.
If you want to do an exercise to help you remember the scale and get used to moving it around, you can play the scale up and down, then move it up a fret and repeat. Do this all the way up the neck and then work your way back down again.
2. The Major Pentatonic Scale
1 2 3 5 6 8
C D E G A C
This is a five-note scale that is basically a stripped down version of the major scale. The major pentatonic has two notes missing that makes it different from the major scale – the 4th and the 7th. These two are missed out as they need to be placed more carefully in a song, whereas the others work well in most situations. This scale works really well over chords I, IV and V and is a great scale to start with if you are beginning to learn how to solo and improvise.
3. The Natural Minor Scale
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
The natural minor scale can be found by playing the major scale starting from the 6th degree. For example, if we played the C major scale from A (the 6th), then we would get the A natural minor scale.
C D E F G A B C D E F G A
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6
This scale provides the pallet of notes for songs in a minor key.
4. The Minor Pentatonic Scale
1 b3 4 5 b7 8
C Eb F G Bb C
The minor pentatonic scale is another five-note scale that can be used by beginners to solo in a minor key without running the risk of hitting notes that might clash. This scale is made by taking the natural minor scale and missing out the 2nd and the 6th.
5. The Blues Scale
1 b3 4 #4/b5 5 b7 8
C Eb F F#/Gb G Bb C
The blues scale is a popular variation of the minor pentatonic and contains just one extra note – an augmented 4th (also called a diminished 5th). This is a chromatic note that leads into the 5th from the 4th and creates a nice bit of tension and release. Even though it is out of key, the chromatic note works here as it is between two strong scale degrees and isn’t lingered on long enough to sound out of context.