Scales are one of the most fundamental aspects of learning the guitar. Guitar scales are the 'data structures' of the fretboard world, providing grids and patterns that assist in crafting melodic lines, harmony, and essentially everything you hear from the guitar.
Even chords can be understood in the context of guitar scales and note patterns within a key.
When learning guitar scales, here's what we need to look for:
- A theory-based explanation
- Ability to analyze segments of scales (not just full fretboard patterns)
- More attractive and usable diagrams
- More than just pattern memorization
- Understood in the context of melody
These are helpful things to think about when we're putting together scale resources, which is what we'll do in this article. All of the websites listed here are recommendations that I've used to learn guitar scales, write lessons, and that I know have been helpful to a lot of people.
1. The Justinguitar Scales & Modes Section
He starts with nine scale lessons for beginners and intermediate players:
As you scroll down the page, the collection of lessons gets more detailed and he starts to deal with specific scales:
With multiple lessons/videos in each segment, there's a ton of content here to work with, spanning years of teaching by Sandercoe. It's a great place to start, especially if you'd rather get going with a free program before you pay for something a little bigger.
This section of Justin's site doesn't get into a ton of advanced material, but it's a great overview for beginners and does cover some of the most commonly used guitar scales.
2. TrueFire's Free Lessons Section
TrueFire offers a ton of free lessons. And while they're not necessarily organized into a course, there are multiple videos in each free lesson section, and plenty of topics covering scales or a related topic.
Searching for the term "scale" in the search bar brings up a ton of content that's free to use at your own pace:
If you go into one of the lessons, you'll notice that there are actually multiple videos that can be browsed through from the menu on the left side of the page (at least in the desktop version of the site). Most of these videos are between three and 10 minutes long.
This particular lesson even has a really helpful downloadable chart in PDF format:
Getting this much free content is somewhat unusual in the realm of online guitar lessons. In fact, TrueFire has one of the biggest open source video and resource sections of all the platforms we've reviewed.
The only problem is that much of this content is isolated in its usefulness because it's not organized into any particular order or system. The videos within each lesson are organized, but it feels more like you're getting bits and pieces from separate courses.
When you pay for video guitar lessons, topical ordering and organization are big parts of what you're paying for.
Still, if you can sort through the material yourself, there's plenty here, especially for the intermediate to advanced players.
Read our full review: TrueFire
3. Guitar Tricks Free Trial and/or Full Membership
Like Justinguitar, Guitar Tricks keeps a section that's entirely devoted to guitar scales, though it's a lot more thorough and better organized. You can also get a lot of help with scales if you just go through their rock and blues courses, which cover the topic in-depth among other relevant concepts.
There are two main sections that deal with scales:
- "Beginner Scales/Chords"
- "Scales" (has more advanced content)
Here's a quick look at the beginner scales and chords lesson section:
These lessons do an exceptionally good job of infusing music theory with guitar scale lessons, while also making it understandable and easy to apply. They also include plenty of supplemental material with each lesson, which almost always consists of tabs for whatever scale patterns are covered.
One of Guitar Tricks' greatest strengths is their ability to contextualize what they teach, and teach it in a way that makes sense in a real world scenario.
In other words, they give you a lot of great tools to work with and it doesn't feel like you're just memorizing a scale diagram.
It feels like you're learning something that's usable and practical.
At the end of that same page, there's a section of lessons/courses dedicated to combining scales and chords:
If you click on one of the "Connect Chords" lessons, you have plenty of helpful graphs like the following:
This of course is in addition to the video lesson you're expecting:
All of this is to say and illustrate that Guitar Tricks is excellent when it comes to showing you a concept, demonstrating it, and helping you to apply it to the fretboard. This is seen both in the way their instructors explain material, and in the way they have their courses organized.
We'd recommend them, especially for beginners who want more of a guided learning process with a solid ordering of topics and material.
You can use the free trial via this link: Try Guitar Tricks for 14 Days
Alternatively, if you want more information, you can checkout our full Guitar Tricks review.
4. All-Guitar-Chords (the scales section)
For our roundup on platforms for learning guitar chords we mentioned all-guitar-chords.co.uk as a great resource because of their interactive fretboard tools.
They actually have a similar tool for learning scales as well.
Here's a look at the interface:
In the above diagram I've selected from the three menus that give you the following categories:
The patterns drop-down lets you choose the positioning of the scale's root note (C in this case), the chords drop-down lets you choose the key of the scale, and the "Scales" section has a list of actual scale patterns to pick from with almost every scale and mode you could think of.
Here's what I choose for the above scale diagram:
- Pattern: 3
- Chord: C
- Scale: Pentatonic major
Select your fretboard position, select the key you want the scale to be in, then select the scale pattern itself. The tool will then also spit out a primitive Courier font tab, as follows:
These tabs are really helpful if you don't know how to read the scale diagrams, or if you just prefer to read tabs.
Old Flash Content
Unfortunately, many of the other tools on the site are unlikely to render in a modern web browser because they use Adobe Flash player, in which case you'll see something like the following message:
As of my last visit and testing of this site (in September of 2020), the following tools all rely on Flash Player to run:
- Reverse Scale Finder
- Chords to Scales
- Metronome Tool
However, the chords and scales tool pages both work fine without requiring any kind of third-party plugin. For those needed a quick - yet thorough - guitar scale reference, it has been one of my simple favorites for a long time.
Check out the scales: all-guitar-chords.co.uk
5. Musiciantuts Comprehensive Guide to Learning Scales
The MusicianTuts guide is just an article that covers the basics of guitar scales for beginners, but does so with some fantastic diagrams and copy-friendly guitar tabs.
Here's the A minor pentatonic scale with its tab beneath the diagram:
The article continues showing you some of the more relevant guitar scale diagrams before getting into an explanation of modes and practice tips. It concludes with a nicely put together scale chart that's great for individual study or even as a classroom poster.
Here's a little sample of the chart:
Keep in mind that in this chart, he's showing you a full scale pattern spanning the entire neck (from the first to the 15th fret), then breaking it down into five more manageable patterns of about four fret spaces.
You can checkout the article via the link and download the full chart.
Read the full article: Musiciantut's scale guitar
Scales are a difficult thing to learn because they're just really boring.
But, what a lot of people fail to understand is that part of the boredom comes from thinking that scales are just something to be memorized. When you're learning an instrument, scales should be applied. They're a tool that you can use to build melody.
If we were not doing something with all those scales and patterns, then there would be no good reason to memorize them at all.
When you set out to learn guitar scales, make sure you find resources that'll help you apply them in a practical way. It should be as much about making sense of the fretboard as it is about learning a particular run of notes. Once you know how and why they work, you'll be able to play more effectively and make a lot more music.
If you have questions about the guitar scale resources I've listed or something just related to scales in general, drop it in the comments section below and we'll chat.
See you there.