Scales: Absolute Beginner

This contains some of the stuff that you will need to know about scales.

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Okay, if you are completely new to playing guitar then it doesn't matter - i will start from the simplest stuff and go all the way up from there. I will first tell you about how to read a TAB so that you can play from one.

Reading Tabs

Okay. A guitar has 6 strings (or most do, some will have 7 and some have 12, but we are dealing with a 6-string guitar) and each of these strings is given a name according to what the root note is (the root note is the note that sounds when you play the string on its own). The thickest string is the E string. This is followed by the A string, then the D string, G string, B string and the high E string is the thinnest string. This is what a blank TAB looks like. The TAB stave goes in order of the strings on the guitar starting with the E string followed by the A string and so on up to the high E string.



The way that TAB works is like this:
E|------------------------------------------------------- B|------------------------------------------------------- G|------------------------------------------------------- D|------------------------------------------------------- A|------------------------------------------------------- E|-------------------------------------------------------
Playing from the TAB is quite easy. Each fret on the fretboard is given a number. Fret 1 is the fret that is closest to the head of the guitar (the part with the tuning pegs) and the numbers can go as high as 25 (but we won't go that high in these examples!).
E|------------------------------------------------------- B|------------------------------------------------------- G|------------------------------------------------------- D|------------------------------------------------------- A|------------------------------------------------------- E|---2---------------------------------------------------
Here is the TAB score with a number. This number tells us which fret we need to play it on (in this example it is fret 2) and the line which the fret is on tells us which string to play it on (in this example it is on the E string.
E|------------------------------------------------------- B|------------------------------------------------------- G|---6--------------------------------------------------- D|------------------------------------------------------- A|------------------------------------------------------- E|-------------------------------------------------------
This time, the number is now on the G line, so in this example you have to play fret 6 on the G string.
E|------------------------------------------------------- B|------------------------------------------------------- G|------------------------------------------------------- D|------------------------------------------------------- A|--0-2-3-0-2-3-0---------------------------------------- E|-------------------------------------------------------
In this example, there is more than one number, but you play the numbers in the order that they appear - from left to right. The 0 means that you have to play the string on its own without pressing down on a fret. With the TAB score, you ONLY play the string which the number is placed on. In these early examples you will only need to play on one string at a time.
E|-----------------12------------------------------------ B|--------------10--------------------------------------- G|------------9------------------------------------------ D|----------7-------------------------------------------- A|------7-7---------------------------------------------- E|--5-5--------------------------------------------------
In this example, you start with fret 5 on the E string, and then progress upwards. The TAB is still read from left to right but this time you have to play across all of the strings as the numbers are spread over all 6 lines. You still only play one string at a time and you will graduallyu progress to different strings as the numbers appear on different lines. OInly play the strings taht the numbers are allocated. If you are feeling confused, dont worry! Things won't get this complex this fast, these are only examples.

Introducing Scales

Hopefully you know how to read TAB by now and play from a TAB stave, but if you are still confused then don't worry too much - I will give a step-by-step guide on how to play each scale as it comes up.

First Up - An Introduction To The Minor Pentatonic Scale

A pentatonic scale is one which there are 5 notes, or a 5 note scale. Most guitar solos use pentatonic scales with some interesting extensions, but for now we will look at how to play the pentatonic.

Introduction To G Minor Pentatonic

Look at the TAB below
E|----------------------3-6------------------------------ B|------------------3-6---------------------------------- G|--------------3-5-------------------------------------- D|----------3-5------------------------------------------ A|------3-5---------------------------------------------- E|--3-6--------------------------------------------------
This is what the G Minor pentatonic looks like when it is written in a TAB score. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to play it. 01. Place your FIRST finger on the third fret on the E string (Thickest string) and pluck the string to get your first note of the scale. If it sounds muted, you may need to press harder on the frets. Make sure that you are not pressing on the steel bar, but the wood between the bars. Otherwise you get a muted sound. 02. Now, keeping your first finger where it is (you can just rest it on the string where the fret was, you won't meed to press down on it now) get your little finger and place it on the sixth fret on the same string (E string). Press firmly and pluck the E string again and you will get the second note. 03. Now we move up to the A string. Do the same as you did in step 1, but this time you place your first finger on fret 3 on teh A string. Pluck teh A string and you will get the third note. 04. Now with your third finger (between middle and little finger) press dowm on fret 5 on the A string. Remember that you will need to keep your first finger resting over, but not necessarily pressing on the third fret. Once you have your third finger on fret 5 on the A string, pluck the string and you will get the fourth note of the scale. 05. Now onto the D string. Repeat steps 3 and 4 but this time on the D string to get the next notes of the scale. Place dirst finger on fret 3 of D string and pluck the string for the fifth note, and then keep this first finger resting over he fret 3 and place third finger on fret 5 and pluck o get the next note in the scale (this is the first note of the scale again but this time it sounds higher). 06. Now onto the G string. Place first finger on fret 3 on G string and pluck, then use your third finger to get to fret 5 and pluck the string again. 07. Now on the B string, place your first finger on Fret 3 then pluck the string, then on fret 6 with your little finger and pluck the string again to get the next note. 08. Now on the High E string, place your first finger on fret 3 and pluck teh E string, then use your little finger to get to fret 6 and play to get the final note. This is the easiest way to play the minor pentatonic. Practice G minor pentatonic and then move on to the next scale. The more you do this scale, the easier it will get and the faster you will get. Use the right fingers as well! Also, the positions are shown in the diagram below to help you see where your fingers will go! Fret number:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 E|---|---|-X-|---|---|-X-|---| The crosses mark where your B|---|---|-X-|---|---|-X-|---| fingers go on the fretboard. G|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| The O marks the starting position. D|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| A|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| E|---|---|-O-|---|---|-X-|---|
How this works: To use this diagram to help you, the starting fret and string is marked with the O. Start on the bottom line (wgucg represents the Low E string) and play the O first, and then play all X's on that same line. Next, move up a line and then play all of the X's that are on that line, from left to right. Then move up again and play the X's from left to right. Keep going up and playing the rows until you reach the top.

Introduction To The Blues Scale - G Minor Blues

Look at the TAB score below.
E|--------------------------3-5-------------------------- B|----------------------3-5------------------------------ G|----------------3-5-6---------------------------------- D|------------3-5---------------------------------------- A|------3-4-5-------------------------------------------- E|--3-5--------------------------------------------------
This scale is exactly the same as the G minor pentatonic scale that we covered previously. There are only two more notes that you need to squeeze in to make the blues scale. Follow the steps below to play a blues scale. 01. Place your FIRST finger on the third fret on the E string and pluck the string to get your first note of the scale. 02. Now, keeping your first finger where it is, get your little finger and place it on the sixth fret on the same string. Pluck the E string again and you will get the second note. 03. Now we move up to the A string. Do the same as you did in step 1, but this time you place your first finger on fret 3 on the A string. Pluck teh A string and you will get the third note. 04. Use your middle finger to get to fret 4 on the A string and pluck to get the string to get the 4th note. Now with your third finger press dowm on fret 5 on the A string. Remember that you will need to keep your first and second fingers resting over. Once you have your third finger on fret 5 on the A string, pluck the string and you will get the fifth note of the scale. 05. Now onto the D string. Repeat steps 3 and 4 but this time on the D string to get the next notes of the scale. Place dirst finger on fret 3 of D string and pluck the string for the fifth note, and then keep this first finger resting over he fret 3 and place third finger on fret 5 and pluck o get the next note in the scale. 06. Now onto the G string. Place first finger on fret 3 on G string and pluck, then use your third finger to get to fret 5 and pluck the string again. Now, place your little finger on fret 6 and pluck the string for the next note. 07. Now on the B string, place your first finger on Fret 3 then pluck the string, then on fret 6 with your little finger and pluck the string again to get the next note. 08. Now on the High E string, place your first finger on fret 3 and pluck teh E string, then use your little finger to get to fret 6 and play to get the final note. This is the easiest way to play the blues scale. Practice G minor blues and then move on to the next scale. This scale shouldn't be as difficult to learn because this scale is very similar to the minor pentatonic scale that we did previously. Keep at it and when you are ready you can move on to the last scale in the Beginner section - the G Major scale. Fret number:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 E|---|---|-X-|---|---|-X-|---| This scale as you can see is B|---|---|-X-|---|---|-X-|---| very similar to that of the G|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|-X-|---| G minor pentatonic scale. D|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| A|---|---|-X-|-X-|-X-|---|---| E|---|---|-O-|---|---|-X-|---|

Introduction To The G Major Scale

This scale is slightly different from that of any of the other two scales. Look at the TAB score below.
E|--------------------------------5-7-8------------------ B|--------------------------5-7-8------------------------ G|--------------------4-5-7------------------------------ D|--------------4-5-7------------------------------------ A|--------3-5-7------------------------------------------ E|--3-5-7------------------------------------------------
In this scale, there are three different patterns that you will need to remember. The first is the 3-5-7 pattern, then the 4-5-7 pattern, and finally the 5-7-8 pattern. Below is a step by step guide on how to play the G Major scale. 01. Place your first finger on fret 3 on the E string and play this note, which is G, your root note. Next, place either your second or third finger (second recommended) onto fret 5 of the E string and play this note. To get to 7, use your little finger and then play the note. 02. Do exactly the same as you did in step 1, but this time do it on the A string. 03. Place your first finger on fret 4 of the D string and play the note. Next, use your second finger to play fret 5, and your little finger to play fret 7. 04. Do what you did in step 3 but on the G string this time. 05. Place your first finger on fret 5 on the B string and play the note. Now place your third finger on fret 7 and play the note. Finally, place your little finger on the 8th fret and play this note. 06. Do what you did in Step 6 but this time do it on the high E string. If you can do this scale with some practice at it then you are doing well. Keep practicing the scale until you can get it faster and try not to mute any notes. Below is a diagram of the different positions that you will use. Fret Number:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 E|---|---|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|-X-|---| B|---|---|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|-X-|---| G|---|---|---|-X-|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| D|---|---|---|-X-|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| A|---|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---| E|---|---|-O-|---|-X-|---|-X-|---|---|
With the three scales covered, you do not have to start them on the frets stated. There are other pentatonic scales that you can use, and below is a table of the starting fret for each scale. From there, look at the pattern diagrams and change the fret numbers to the numbers that fit your scale - e.g. an A minor pentatonic starts on fret 5, so move all numbers up by two, which will give you the following: A Minor Pentatonic
E|----------------------5-8------------------------------ B|------------------5-8---------------------------------- G|--------------5-7-------------------------------------- D|----------5-7------------------------------------------ A|------5-7---------------------------------------------- E|--5-8--------------------------------------------------
As you can see, all of the numbers have been shifted up by two for the A minor pentatonic. The numbers shift up and work for all scales, so if you want to play A Major then the starting fret is also 5. Just use the patterns and you will understand how this works. Here is the tables which tell you the starting fret for each scale.
Scale Key | F | F#| G | G#| A | A#| B | C | C#| D | D#| E | Starting Fret| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10| 11| 12|
Use this table to help you find your starting notes and then you will be able to If you can play these scales well, move on to "Scales (Novice)" and there will be three more scales that are slightly more challenging and ones that you will need to learn to become an expert on your guitar. Scales are not fun but if you practice them often, you will get better. Try to practice them in all 12 different keys. That way you will get better. When you are ready, move onto the Novice scales where three more will be introduced.

65 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    eltrentoro
    looks like a great introduction for complete beginners (and I don't think we make enough of those, so good job. we were all there once...) just one problem, your tab of the G blues scale is a little bit off. you have: e|---3-5 B|---3-5 G|..... D|..... A|..... E|---3-5 bu t in your step-by-step instructions, you give the right frets (6's instead of the 5's). anyways, I'm giving it a 9, good work
    Fryer Mike
    Is that honeslty all the scales there are? I always thought there were tons... ahh well...
    wraith696
    I've been playing for a year, and for a while, I thought scales were just shapes that you repeat up and down the fretboard, more or less. And then, I saw a lesson which said that it varies for different keys. If this is true, where can I find a good article that explains this? Or to make it easier,is there a good article on the site that properly explains how scales work?
    Perforator
    This is a bit useless. I don't think beginners need to learn scales right away (especially three scales at a time, just start with all the boxes from the minor pentatonic) , and I don't think advanced players will need an explanation on how to read tabs.
    wetwilliamthe3r
    ^yes beginners need to learn scales,and the explaining of tab is for beginners not advanced players (hence the name "Sclaes Fro Complete Beginners...) dumbass
    blinnk16
    Thanks dude, I've been playing for 4 years and I know a lot of scales by ear and I've never took the time to find a simple pentatonic couple of scales to play with. Please continue to work your way up into more advanced scales. 10 From me.
    Perforator
    wetwilliamthe3r wrote: ^yes beginners need to learn scales,and the explaining of tab is for beginners not advanced players (hence the name "Sclaes Fro Complete Beginners...) dumbass
    I understand the explaining of tabs was meant for beginners, I can read. But it's kinda weird to combine them with scales in one lesson. I think a beginner would be better of learning songs he likes from tabs instead of starting with theory. Get it, dumbass?
    tallicatextures
    e|---3---6--- B|---3---6--- G|---3-5-6--- D|---3--5---- A|-- -3-4-5--- E|---3---6--- This is the right way.
    lorynelizabeth
    im with wetwilliamthe3r ive been playing for around 5 years (almost completely self taught) and i have never used a pentatonic scale in my life (ive always used the solfege scales) thanks for the help!
    Jon Vines
    Thank you so much for this article! As a beginner, I appreciate you taking the time to help myself and others like me. I hope you will ignore the smartassed comments from some who have been writing, as they only want to act as if they know everything, but don't take the time to be this detailed in helping others. Thank you again!
    musiccitymadman
    for beginers I think scales are a wonderful exercise to help build dexrarity in the fingers and to teach proper finger usage and to help the beginer to practice and build speed. But I agree this article did need more thery as what sacales are for
    TheUnholy
    ^ Yes, Thunderbird I only scanned the article. The site does need more beginner stuff, but there should have been way more theory in this article - scales are a compositional tool, and won't work if all you know is the tab.
    Lemon Juice!!!
    Fryer Mike: There are a ton of more scales. These are just the beginner scales. As the article stated in the beginning. But at the same time many artist have pretty much only used these scales and made a living off of them.
    TheDisturbed1
    Big Sounds wrote: eltrentoro wrote: does no one else notice that the g blues scale is tabbed wrong? or am I wrong? did I miss a memo about the theory changing or something? uh yea... you are right. I noticed it to. E|-----3-6----- B|-----3-6----- G|-----3-5----- D|----- 3-4-5----- A|-----3-4-5----- E|--3-6----- that is how you play the g minor blues scale.
    no its not, for the FINAL time, this is the CORRECT G Blues scale... e|---3---6--- B|---3---6--- G|---3-5-6--- D|---3--5 ---- A|---3-4-5--- E|---3---6--- There, that's the correct way...
    Tasman
    Yeah doesn't help me learn how to write riffs in certain scales
    Steve25uk
    Very good attention to detail and except for the tab mistakes in the G Blues scale it's a really nice introduction for novices, starting them on the right track.
    GWiz2
    This is a GREAT article for the "Complete Beginner"! Perfect 10 (except for the minor error in the Blues scale). For all those that don't think learning scales is for beginners your are sadly mistaken. Scales provide a strong foundation for Solos and Improvisation. All music styles make HEAVY use of Pentatonic, Blues, Major, and Minor scales unless you are just playing chords (but the individual notes of a chords are part of the Major and Minor scales. Hmmmmm.) Examples of great guitarists that use Pentatonic scales for soloing: Jimmy Page, Kirk Hammett, Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen, etc. Get a clue and understand the music you listen to and want to play. Take a closer look at that tab you've been playing and you may notice you are playing notes inside the Major, Minor, and Pentatonic scales.
    blinktbs
    i think it is like this please correct me if im wrong E|----5-8----- B|----5-8----- G|----5-7----- D|- ---5-7----- A|----5-7----- E|----8-----
    thrasherboy
    correct me if im wrong but i agree with GWizz and i have only played since chrismas and all improv is based on the scales and scales are pretty much 50 percent of the gutiar Theroy
    Mrasi
    I play my G major like this, pretty much the same but I find that it sounds better (because it ends with a G (the root note) instead of the perfect fourth of the root note) and you can play it faster because your left hand doesn't need to move horizontally...good job tho... E-3--5-----| B-----2--3--5-----| G-----2--4--5---- -| D-----2--4--5-----| A-----3--5-----| E-----2--3--|
    zerodeck
    wish I had this a year ago, I learned them myself without theory but it took me a while
    =Thunderbird=
    good article, makes me wonna practice on scales , didn't really know them before...I'm not a fan of music theory altough I know I'll need it... but what the **** is now the right blues scale? e|---3---6--- B|---3---6--- G|---3-5-6--- D|---3--5- --- A|---3-4-5--- E|---3---6--- ?
    eltrentoro
    does no one else notice that the g blues scale is tabbed wrong? or am I wrong? did I miss a memo about the theory changing or something?
    the_extremist00
    "Scales are not fun" i disagree but excelent for a guy that has just bought a guitar and wants to get his fingers working if you posted this 3 years ago i would be practicing them already XD
    Rocker3829
    not bad on explanations but I don't know if an absolute beginner should go for a 3NPS major scale pattern right off the bat.
    :demanufacture:
    The 3 NPS of the G Major scale can be brutal for an absolute beginner; by that I mean stretching the pinky over. You could have noted that it takes a bit of practice to get that down, otherwise nice article.
    Peanut1614
    Or change the pattern, move the 7 onto the A string wuda been easier but tahts a great article, 9/10!
    Mud Martian
    Metal_Militia2 wrote: This guy must really think that we are all huge NOOBS!
    Uh, it's meant to help people who are new to guitar. That said, I think it's a fairly decent article. Some spelling mistakes, and as other people have said, the 3nps G Major Scale form is tough for beginners and doesn't really belong here. But after reading this, anyone who didn't know how to read tab and didn't know the Pentatonic Scale, WILL know it, and that's a big help. So, I give it an 8!
    Sir_Awesomeness
    good job. i would love this if i was a beginer!!! you should do a sequel with more advanced scales. eh?
    kaze_no_oto
    Word. If I would have had this presented to me in this straight-forward of a way, I might not hate theory so much right now. Nice - short, sweet, to the point and very practical. excellent
    stevo_92
    does no one else notice that the g blues scale is tabbed wrong? or am I wrong? did I miss a memo about the theory changing or something?
    no, i'm pretty sure it's right