Guitar Scales for Guitar Beginners

by Taura Eruera


Learning guitar scales is an important part of learning to play guitar.

Turning scales into melody is the true purpose of any guitar scale.

Bear in mind that in the same way that knowing the alphabet does not a writer make, playing scales does not a guitar musician make.

You are best to think of scales as alphabets, not literature.

And you should give scales only 'alphabet time'.

But important, quality alphabet time.

Guitar scales challenge like piano scales do not

The joy of piano scales is that there is only one scale form per octave on piano. 

The big benefit here is that a piano scale is quick to learn and quick to use. 

The joy of guitar scales is that there are typically three forms for one scale in the same octave.

In the short term, this can be massively confusing for the beginner player.

In the long term, this is a massive expression advantage for the guitar player.

Whereas the piano player has only one form for expressing an idea, a guitar player has three. 

Which means more variety for the guitar player.

Chords and Scales

Before you get into learning scales I recommend you learn to play the CAGED chords first

This is because a chord is half a scale (if we can stretch 3 scale notes out of seven that far). 

When you already know half a scale you only have another half to learn.  Easy huh?

One of the sources of confusion about scales is that they are often taught as being separate entities from chords.

Which leads to differences rather than similarities being emphasised. 

Which in turn ushers in unnecessary steps that invites avoidable confusion.

Chords and Arpeggios

After learning CAGED chords then I recommend learning CAGED arpeggios.

A CAGED chord is the simultaneous application of three or four fingers to produce a  chord.

A CAGED arpeggio is the sequential application of a single finger to sound a note in a chord.

Put another way, an arpeggio is a single note version of a chord

(One of my teachers called a chord an arpeggio on its side.  That's clear when you read music)

An arpeggio is how you turn a chord into a lead break.

From a physical point of view, an arpeggio is quite a different experience for your body from a chord.  And it's a feeling your body has to be taught.

From a music point a of view, a chord is a bunch of notes played at once. An arpeggio is a bunch of chord notes played one at a time, in any order you like.

From a scale point of view you are learning four notes of an seven note scale (with the octave repeated).

Now you only have four other scale notes to learn.

And your job has been cut in half.

Scales and Picking

Be aware that two hands play a scale. 

Your picking hand is extremely important. 

You should learn the recommended pick techniques and use them with your scales.

Mistake Free Scales Practice

For best practice with lifetime benefits, you should programme your motor system with a metronome and timer and focus on mistake free accuracy not on speedy slop.

Start off at MM40 and over a 21 period gradually increase the tempo at a mistake free tempo. After 21 days, it doesn't matter what tempo you reach. 

The most important thing is that your body can play the desired scale mistake free.

If you are a day-job, night-hobby player, being able to play scales mistake free at MM60 is a massive achievement. 

Being able to play scales mistake free at MM72 is a monumental achievement.  

After that , spending time on playing scales faster is a a dead end.

Spend the rest of your time learning melodies, songs, licks and riffs.

Then you'll learn how songwriters turn scales into melodies.