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6 Essential Guitar Scales for Beginners

When you’re a beginner on any instrument, one of the first things you learn is how to play scales. Usually, those are simple major and minor scales, like C major or A minor. However, the guitar is a unique instrument, particularly regarding its fundamentals. Let’s look at six scales that beginners should learn and practice.

6 Essential Beginner Guitar Scales

Whether you want to play as a hobby, play in a band, or perform as a soloist, you’ll always need to practice your scales. Do you need to learn absolutely every guitar scale right now, though? Thankfully, the answer to that is no.

Most scales are necessary for players of all skill levels, but some are also particularly necessary for beginners. Here are six essential scales that will help you the most at this point in your guitar-playing journey.

1. E Minor Pentatonic (Open Position)

A pentatonic scale has five notes and is, more or less, a type of shortcut for guitar scales. The notes in the E-minor pentatonic scale are E, G, A, C, and D. To play it in the open position, you do the following:

Pin
  • On the 6th (low E) string, play open, then ring finger at fret 3
  • On the 5th (A) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2
  • On the 4th (D) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2
  • On the 3rd (G) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2
  • On the 2nd (B) string, play open, then ring finger at fret 3
  • On the 1st (high E) string, play open, then ring finger at fret 3

The E-minor pentatonic scale is one of the fundamental scales for lead guitarists and soloists. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a lead guitarist in any band at all, this scale is your best friend. 

Some popular songs that use E-minor pentatonic include:

2. A Minor Pentatonic (Fifth Position)

The A-minor pentatonic scale is A, C, D, E, and G. To play this scale in the fifth position, you’ll put your index finger on each string at the 5th fret and alternate that with the following:

Pin
  • Fourth (pinky) finger on the sixth (low E) string at fret 8
  • Third (ring) finger on the fifth (A) string at fret 7
  • Third (ring) finger on the fourth (D) string at fret 7
  • Third (ring) finger on the third (G) string at fret 7
  • Fourth (pinky) finger on the second (B) string at fret 8
  • Fourth (pinky) finger on the first (high E) string at fret 8

This scale mimics the pattern you see with the E-minor pentatonic scale. However, the two scales have different purposes in guitar-playing. While the E-minor pentatonic scale is bread and butter for lead guitarists, the A-minor pentatonic scale is excellent for riffs and melodies, especially for blues and rock.

Some popular songs that make good use of the A-minor pentatonic scale are:

3. C Major Scale (Open Position)

C major is among the most common keys in all music. It has no key signature, making it easy to write, read, and play. Indeed, it’s one of the first scales many beginning instrumentalists learn. 

Pin

This scale has seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, but you’ll start with open E and do the following:

  • On the sixth (E) string, play open, then index finger on fret 1 followed with ring finger on fret 3
  • On the fifth (A) string, play open, then middle finger on fret 2 followed with ring finger on fret 3
  • On the fourth (D) string, play open, then middle finger on fret 2 followed with ring finger on fret 3
  • On the third (G) string, play open, then middle finger on fret 2
  • On the second (B) string, play open, then index finger on fret 1 followed with ring finger on fret 3
  • On the first (high E) string, play open, then index finger on fret 1 followed with ring finger on the fret 3

Songs that include the C-major scale are:

Many Beatles songs are easy on guitar and use the C major scale, try some out now.

4. G Major Scale (Open Position)

As a beginner, the G-major scale will do two things for you: All major scales are a great place to start learning music and guitar theory, and many popular songs use G major. It has seven notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, but like the C-major scale, you’ll start on an open E:

Pin
  • On the sixth (E) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by ring finger on fret 3
  • On the fifth (A) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by ring finger on fret 3
  • On the fourth (D) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by pinky finger on fret 4
  • On the third (G) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by pinky finger on fret 4
  • On the second (B) string, play index finger at fret 1 followed by ring finger on fret 3
  • On the first (E) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by ring finger on the third 3

Here are some songs that use the key of G-major:

5. E Harmonic Minor (Open Position)

The E harmonic minor scale has seven notes: E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D#. That jump from C to D# gives the E harmonic minor a haunting, exotic quality you’ll hear in surf, metal, jazz guitar songs, and more. You play it like this:

  • On the sixth (E) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by ring finger at fret 3
  • On the fifth (A) string, play open, then middle finger at fret 2 followed by ring finger at fret 3
  • On the fourth (D) string, play index finger on fret 1 followed by middle finger on fret 2, then pinky finger at fret 4
  • On the third (G) string, play open, then middle finger on fret 2 followed by pinky finger at fret 4
  • On the second (B) string, play index finger on fret 1 followed by pinky finger at fret 4
  • On the first (high E) string, play open, then middle finger on fret 2 followed by ring finger at fret 3

You might know some of these songs that use harmonic minor scales:

6. A Blues Scale (Fifth Position)

Blues scales are more straightforward than they might appear at first glance; they’re pentatonic scales with one more note added. Since the blues is a very guitar-heavy genre, knowing how to play these scales is essential to your repertoire. The notes in the A-blues scale are A, C, D, E, Eb, and G. Like the A-minor pentatonic scale, your index finger will play the fifth fret on all six strings, alternating with the following:

  • Pinky finger on the sixth (E) string on fret 8
  • Middle finger on the fifth (A) string on fret 6 followed by ring finger at fret 7
  • Ring finger on the fourth (D) string at fret 7
  • Ring finger on the third (G) string on fret 7 followed by pinky on fret 8
  • Pinky finger on the second (B) string at fret 8
  • Pinky finger on the 1st (E) string at fret 8

To hear what songs from different genres that use blues scales sound like, check these out:

Consider: Learning to play blues guitar

Why Scales?

Scales are the foundation of all music. Without them, you don’t have chords, and thus, you don’t have music. You can derive so many chords, progressions, key changes, and more from a single scale. 

Plus, scales help you learn and refine your ability to read guitar music, train your ear, and help you perfect your technique. Long story short, scales are a vital part of playing the guitar

Beyond that, they serve similar, but not identical, purposes for each instrument. For guitar players, scales help you learn your fretboard and give you a way to “organize” it. As you learn and play your beginner guitar scales, you build a sort of visual vocabulary on your fretboard. That, in turn, helps you improvise or teach yourself other guitar players’ “licks.” For example, try out some masterful blues guitar licks, next!

Last Updated on April 15, 2021 by Liam F. Admin