How many guitar scales are there in total?
As we mentioned when answering how many chords there are, this question is notoriously difficult to answer. You first need to understand what makes a guitar scale "complete" and how to properly define the term.
Technically, guitar scales are defined as any sequence of musical notes ordered by pitch. However, most scales occur in groupings of five or seven notes, called pentatonic and heptatonic scales.
- Pentatonic scales: 5 notes per octave
- Heptatonic scales: 7 notes per octave
When you complete the pattern between the two octaves, the pattern simply starts over again. Thus for any given scale, you can have up to 20 different patterns of that scale based on its length and/or position on the fretboard.
If you count modes, which are slight variations of scales (Lydian, Dorian, etc.), we can get a total number of scales both with and without fretboard variations.
How many guitar scales are there? With an without fretboard variations
In terms of base scales, there are 14 that are commonly used by guitar players. However, there are many more scale forms if you look at other - particularly non-western - musical styles.
Without getting too far into the weeds, and based on the all-guitar-chords database, there are about 110 different scale forms from around the world. We can use that number to multiple by scale keys and forms to get our total number of guitar scales:
- 110 different scale types (pentatonic, Lydian Mode, Dorian mode, etc.)
- 12 different keys for each scale
- 20 different patterns for each key in each scale
Total: 26,400 guitar scales (110 forms x 12 keys x 20 patterns)
Keep in mind, even the forms can be shifted and change keys, which can further complicate our number. It's also not necessarily correct to limit our scale forms to 110. However, this number is going to be fairly close and realistic, given the amount of information we have.
Number of Guitar Scales without Varying Patterns
Without considering patterns or fretboard location, we can limit our answer to 110 forms x 12 keys, giving us a total of 1320 scales to place in whatever fretboard position we choose.
Whatever way you slice it up, it's a lot of scales and a lot of possible melodies.
The total number of guitar scales isn't necessarily going to be useful to you. There are just too many of them spanning such a wide range of musical styles that it would be impossible to understand or make use of them all. Instead, most guitar players focus on a few that are most relevant to their musical interests.
In the case of western pop, rock, and blues, the pentatonic (major and minor) scale, natural minor scale (Aeolian mode), major scale, and the blues variation scales are some of the most common.
So while there are a lot to sift through, there are just a few that you really need to hone in and focus on.
Questions and Comments
Do you have a different take on how many guitar scales there? Perhaps you have a questions about the information listed in this article.
If so, feel free to drop a line in the comments section below, and we'll do our best to help out.