EasyLead Guitar Learning Systems

Guitar Scales Made Easy (2)

How Many Scales Are There?
Best Scales To Learn
Best Ways to Learn Scales
Chromatic Scales
Whole Steps and Half Steps
Major Scale
Minor Scale
Modes and Scales
Relative Minor
Finding the Key
Scales For the Key
Major Scale Chords

Modes and Scales

Once you have a basic understanding of the major scale you can quickly learn the concept of modes and scales for guitar because it really is simple. Understanding modes of scales will allow you to play guitar with real emotional diversity and dramatically increase your range as a lead guitar player.

A mode is simply a different version of playing a fixed scale pattern. Changing the musical emphasis to a different note in the same scale creates a different mode. Just a subtle change in emphasis from the C in the major scale (key of C) to the A in the same scale changes the mode and the entire feeling of the scale.

Actually, playing from A to A in the C major scale turns it into not only a different mode, but also the A minor scale. Very cool.

This is all made possible by the diatonic nature of the scales, which is really cool, but you can learn that later in the section about the relative minor.

So, since there are 7 unique notes in the scale you can play the modes by starting at any one of those 7 notes. In the C major scale, you could emphasize the C, D, E, F, G, A, or B simply by starting at one of those notes and resolving back to that new note. It gives you a completely different feel from the standard C major sound. Each time you change the start and end point in the scale you play a different mode.

You can refer to the guitar modes by their numbers like the 1st, 2nd or 3rd mode or you can use their proper names.

Let's go through the different guitar modes so you can see clearly the way in which you will play them to change the feel of the scale. We'll keep using the key of C to keep it simple.


This is the classic major scale sound where the root note C is your starting and end point.


Play this mode by emphasizing the D note, the second note in the C major scale.


Play this mode by emphasizing the E note, the third note in the scale.

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    This mode is unique from all the others because it has kind of a split personality. On one hand it is the 6th mode of the C major scale (Aolean Mode) and on the other hand it is also the A minor scale or the relative minor or C major.


    And don't forget that the guitar modes and scales can be played in any one of the 12 chromatic keys. So you can have D# Dorian where you would start and finish at F, the second note in the D# major scale. And on and on it goes.

    Latin names aside, by learning these scales and modes for guitar you will be engraining each of the 7 unique pattern boxes or scale positions, which is one of the best learning techniques to develop your lead guitar playing. Click here to see how the EasyLead Guitar Map™ makes learning these modes a snap!

    Playing a scale in a box or pattern or in a different scale position is an essential transitional learning phase to becoming a great guitar player. It economizes movement of your playing hand and your pick.

    Trying to play notes in a melody by moving up and down the neck on one string may showcase your finger gymnastic ability but it is not the right way to play lead guitar. Learning these guitar modes and therefore the patterns within them is crucial to learn to play guitar to your full potential.

    To clear up any confusion, scale boxes, patterns or positions and guitar modes are interchangeable. So when you hear someone refer to guitar modes it doesn't really matter whether they mean modes in the technical sense or they are simply referring to a scale position from which to start your lead guitar work. They all mean the same thing.

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    Relative Minor

    If you have read the previous lessons, you are probably starting to see or suspect some kind of overarching principle about guitar scales. You would be correct my friend. It's called the relative minor concept and all it means is that every major scale has a relative minor scale. They are like cousins, and they live only 3 frets away from each other.

    But, the only reason this relative minor exists is because of the diatonic nature of the musical scales itself, which is another topic of how the musical scale was adjusted just perfectly so this could work.

    Well, if you recall the lesson on the Minor Scale, you will remember that in major scale it was actually possible to play two different scales (major or minor) in different keys while using the same scale pattern.

    For example the natural (C major) scale is in key of C but you could also play the minor scale in the key of A by playing the exact same pattern but emphasizing the A note as the root or musical center. The A note is the 6th note within the key of C and to find it you can simply move backwards three frets from the C.

    The A note is called the relative minor of C. Every major scale in each chromatic key has a relative minor that is three frets behind the root note of that key. The following table shows the relative minors of each key.

    By now you are probably beginning to see the power of knowing the major scale pattern and the whole step half step relationship. By knowing that single pattern, the concept of the relative minor and the shifting up the fret relationship, you have covered an immense amount of musical ground!

    You now know that the major scale pattern sounds great in two keys; its namesake and its relative minor. You also know that by shifting the entire pattern up three frets but keeping our root note or musical center in the same place as in the major pattern, you can play the minor scale of the same chromatic key!

    That is three birds with one stone. And remember there are 12 chromatic keys so with what you know now, you are technically capable of playing 36 different variations of scales and keys.

    That why it's all relative.

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    Finding the Key

    When you are trying to figure out how to play a new song you have to identify the either the key or the chords. They sort of go together. In other words, with a bit of understanding of chord theory, you can figure out what the chords likely would be and that can suggest what the key would be. But also, if you can identify the key, you should very easily be able to figure out the chords being used.

    Step 1

    The process of identifying the key is fairly simple and in most cases can be done by listening closely to the base line of the song and trying to play the corresponding note that the melody or chords seem to resolve back to, either in the verse or the chorus.

    If you simply try to play a baseline that mimics the chord progression of the song, you will have almost figured it out. The baseline should tell you what the root notes of each chord are.

    Keep in mind this is only a general rule because it can be more complicated than this but this will solve your problem 90% of the time.

    Step 2

    Once you have found what you think is the root note of the baseline of the song, for example C, then you can start to figure out what the actual scale is. To identify the scale you should refer to the lessons on the Major Scale, Minor Scale, or Pentatonic Scales to refresh your memory.

    Start at what you believe is the root note on the lowest string and make that the first scale position. Start to play the major scale pattern in the various modes and listen closely to notice if or when a note sounds like it doesn't belong. You either misplayed a note or the scale is not major.

    Perhaps it is a pentatonic scale. The only way is to play the pentatonic pattern to see if the notes fit into the song you are listening to. As you play you should work with the particular scale for a minute or two, and shift the entire pattern up or down the fretboard until you find the right location. If you still are not having any luck, then you should try a different scale pattern, like a minor or a pentatonic and you will get to the point where the notes all seem to sound good against the song.

    Remember, the major scale is the big one to learn because as you will recall from the lesson on the minor scale and the pentatonic scale, these latter two scales can all be found within the major scale.

    By now you should understand the value in learning the various guitar scales not only for improving your lead guitar playing but also for helping you figure out the key and chords in any given song.

    You can learn scales a variety of ways and if you haven't done so already you should read the lessons on the major, minor and pentatonic scales. You should also check out the EasyLead Guitar Map™ that makes the typically mundane boring task of memorizing scales a super fun process by allowing you to start jamming to music right away and takes the difficulty out of it. Click here to see what people have been saying about it.

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    Scales For the Key

    If you have followed the previous lessons on the Major Scale, Minor Scale, and Pentatonic Scale, then you are now armed with the knowledge of two distinct guitar scale patterns in you head the major scale pattern and the pentatonic scale pattern.

    And just to recap, the natural minor scale is found within the natural major scale and the pentatonic minor scale is found within the natural minor.

    But for now we will just try to focus on those two separate patterns and you will learn the immense power you now possess as an up and coming guitar virtuoso! You may not yet realize it but for each pattern, you can play more than one musical key or context!

    You can play the pentatonic scale pattern against chord progressions in three different keys and never switch the actual pattern you are playing. Talk about range!

    You can also play the major scale pattern against chord progressions in two different keys.

    So with these two different patterns, there is no excuse for you not to be able to play 5 different keys.

    And it gets even better. If you simply shift the pattern up to another fret, you change the chromatic key. And there are twelve chromatic keys. My friend, you are ready to jam with anybody to practically any style of music with just a little practice! Here's a more detailed explanation and some charts to keep it simple.

    But first, check out how the learning process is sped up and simplified with the EasyLead Guitar Map™.

    A 3 For 1 deal:

    One Pentatonic Pattern Three Chord Progressions in Three Keys

    The pentatonic minor pattern can be played perfectly with chord progressions its blues key, its natural minor key, or its relative major key.

    For example, a pentatonic E minor scale pattern sounds great against a G major key chord progression of G-C-D-G. It sounds good against an E minor key chord progression of Em-D-C-Em. And it also sounds great against a 12 bar blues chord progression like E7-A7-E7-A7-E7-B7-A7-E.

    And also, a 2 For 1 deal:

    One Major Pattern Two Chord Progressions in Two Keys

    The major scale pattern can obviously be played perfectly with chord progressions in its major key, but also its relative natural minor key.

    So a melody line from the C major scale pattern would sound great against a chord progression in the key of C major such as C-F-C-G-Am-F-C.

    But don't forget that you can use that same C major scale pattern and change the emphasis or tonic center from the C down three frets to the A and play an A minor scale. This subtle sonic shift would sound great against a chord progression in the key of A minor such as Am-G-F-Am.

    Here are two Scale and Key/Chord charts for the pentatonic and major scale patterns for easy reference when you are practicing.

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    Major Scale Chords

    Now that you understand the major scale, and whole step half step intervals of the guitar scale, it's time to learn what chords can be used in a particular key and scale so that you don't play notes that are outside of the scale.

    Knowing what chords to use in a given scale or key is a crucial part of really understanding chords and how they relate to the logic of the guitar. If you eventually want to know how to determine what key a song is in or figure out what chords are being played, then this lesson will really help.

    Chords are made from notes in a given scale. A chord results when these notes are harmonized. The discovery of harmonization and chords gave music a depth that it had lacked with only melodies. So a common question among aspiring guitar players is "What chords can be played for a given key or scale?" Let's try to answer that:

    When you are first learning chords, it's common to assume, for lack of knowledge, that all of the chords in a major scale would also be major chords. But if you were to try to play a chord progression, in let's say the key of C major using major chords for C, D, E, F, G, A and B you would find that they just don't sound very good. Why is that?

    It has to do with the individual notes that make up the chords and the whole step and half step relationship between the notes of a given scale.

    Back to the Chromatic Scale

    Starting from first principles let's look at the chromatic scale again and all of the twelve notes contained within it and do a quick review of the important characteristics.

    There are 12 steps in this scale before it repeats.

    Each step is marked on the guitar by a fret and is called either a half step or a semi-tone.

    Two half steps or semi-tones make a whole step or a full tone.

    To determine which chords can be played in major scale let's use the key of C because there are no accidental (sharp or flat notes) to confuse you. By the way, accidentals are also call enharmonic notes and are referenced to the major scale degree above or below them. Here is the chromatic scale starting from C and going to the next octave.

    The notes that comprise the scale are shaded and their position numbered.

    Without getting into too much theory as to how the concept of harmonization was discovered, you should know that chords evolved from the discovery of the major triad that's three notes from within the scale. The major triad was discovered from the unique properties of the single vibrating string, which is really interesting but you don't need to know that to understand this lesson.

    What you do need to know is that the major triad was the basis for the major chord formula you will be referring to as we identify and build the chords of the C major scale.

    So the C major chord is made up of C, E and G. We arrived at this simply by counting the positions of the notes in the scale and combining them.

    The D chord in the C major scale would contain the notes D, F and A. We arrived at this using similar logic but by starting to count our numbers with D as the first note, E as the second, A as the fifth and so on.

    Keep in mind that this is still the C major scale, but for purposes of counting out the notes used for the D chord in this scale, we simply shifted the numbers over. If we use this process we can identify all of the remaining chords and their notes as shown in this guitar chord chart.

    That was easy enough. But what is the real nature of each of these chords and are they all major chords or minor chords or any other type? And how can this be determined?

    All great questions and the answer to your first question is, "No, they are not all major chords. They also contain minor and diminished chords."

    The answer to your second question is a bit trickier and requires further explanation, which should be a snap for you, especially if you already read the lesson on whole steps in the guitar scale.

    But first just a quick observation about these chords. Notice that the chords you have constructed all contain notes from the C major scale. But that is just a rule and in music rules are broken all the time just ask a jazz guitarist. Now back to the nature of the chords:

    The nature of each of these chords, that is whether they are major or minor sounding or any other character, is determined by the intervals between each of the notes. This is very important to remember and understand. It is the number of half steps between each of these three notes that gives the chord its unique flavor.

    So while we are on the topic of intervals you should know that there are specific names for each of the intervals in the chromatic scale. Here is a great guitar chord chart that summarizes all twelve of the intervals in the chromatic scale and will really help you figure out the type of chord you are dealing with.

    Let's look at each of the chords in the C major scale and find out what they really are by counting the number of intervals between each note. But before we start you are now ready to learn the formulas for two other types of chords.

    The negative sign refers to a note being flat

    The C Chord

    You know that the notes for the C chord are the first, third and fifth (C, E, G). There are 4 half steps between the C and the E. The chart above defines that gap as a Major Third. There are 7 half steps between the C and the G a Perfect Fifth. This makes a C major chord.

    The D Chord

    The notes for the D chord in the C major scale are D, E and A. But if you count the intervals between these notes you will find that there are only 3 half steps between D and E making it a Minor Third (Flatted). There are 7 half steps between the D and the A making it a Perfect Fifth.

    This interval spacing coincided with the minor chord formula of 1, -3, and 5 in the previous chart. So here we have a D minor chord.

    The E Chord

    The notes for the E chord in the C major scale are E, G and B. There are only 3 half steps between E and G making it a Minor Third (Flatted). There are 7 half steps between the E and the B making it a Perfect Fifth.

    You are looking at an E minor chord.

    The F Chord

    The notes for the F chord in the C major scale are F, A and C. There are 4 half steps between F and A making it a Major Third. There are 7 half steps between the F and the C making it a Perfect Fifth.

    This is an F major chord.

    The G Chord

    The notes for the G chord in the C major scale are G, B and D. There are 4 half steps between G and B making it a Major Third. There are 7 half steps between the G and the D making it a Perfect Fifth.

    This is a G major chord.

    The A Chord

    The notes for the A chord in the C major scale are A, C and E. There are only 3 half steps between A and C making it a Minor Third (Flatted). There are 7 half steps between the A and the E making it a Perfect Fifth.

    This is an A minor chord.

    The B Chord

    The notes for the B chord in the C major scale are B, D and F. There are only 3 half steps between B and D making it a Minor Third (Flatted). There are only 6 half steps between the B and the F making it a Diminished Fifth and therefore a B diminished chord.

    The diminished chord is not commonly used in western music. Not surprisingly, it suggests to your ear a resolution with the octave given its close proximity, in a similar way that a seventh note suggests resolving to a root note or octave note in a scale.

    So the chords in any key of the major scale are

    This information will really help you when you are listening to a song and trying to figure out what key it is in and what chords are being used. Click here to learn more about deciphering the key and chords in a song.

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