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Guitar Scales Cheat Sheet

I wanted to post this just to have a quick guide up for a reference when needing a different scale pattern to use on the fly. This info came from a variety of sources that I found while browsing around the other day. So, Let’s start with the basic patterns for the main scales everyone needs to know.

A Minor Pentatonic

Most guitarists feel comfortable beginning with the A minor pentatonic, which is the single most popular scale for solos in Western music. Most guitarists know this shape of the Am pentatonic scale by heart, mainly because it is so frequently used in solos. It can also be used for pretty much anything, especially if you want to give it a slightly melancholy sound.

Minor Pentatonic Scale for Guitar
Minor Pentatonic Scale for Guitar
e |--0-------3-- 
B |-----1----3-- 
G |--0-----2---- 
D |--0-----2---- 
A |--0-------3-- 
E |--0-------3-- 

The Blues scale

You can easily modify the minor pentatonic scale by adding a single note and turning it into the blues scale. In the diagram below , A blues scale is shown at the fifth fret. The number represent the frets played, and the numbers in parentheses represent the Blue Note which, as the name suggests, is the major source of the blues vibe in the scale. The blue note is not actually part of the Minor Pentatonic scale, although it is often added in for extra colour.

e |--5--------8--
B |--5--------8--
G |--5-----7-(8)-
D |--5-----7-----
A |--5-(6)-7-----
E |--5--------8--

Major Pentatonic

The A major pentatonic also has five notes:

A-B-C#-E-F#-A

Major Pentatonic Scale for Guitar
Major Pentatonic Scale for Guitar

The major pentatonic can be formed from any seven note major scale by simply leaving out the fourth and seventh note. The difference between the A minor pentatonic and the A major pentatonic is their modality. They both use the same root note however it is the interval between the root and the third that defines a scales modality. In the major pentatonic we have a major third (A – C#) so therefore the modal quality of this scale is major. The minor pentatonic has a minor third (A – C) and therefore the modal quality of this scale is minor. Though they both have the same tonality by starting on the same root note they differ in sound. Understanding that it is the third of a scale that determines whether a scale is minor mode or major mode is important. In a scale the I, IV and V notes are called the tonal degrees and the II, III, and VI notes are called the modal degrees.

e |-----5---------
B |-----5-----7---
G |--4-----6------
D |--4--------7---
A |--4--------7---
E |-----5-----7---

Major Scale

The pattern for any major scale is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1, meaning that the difference from the first note to the second is 2 frets, from the second to the third is 1 fret, etc. The difference in notes can also be called steps, 2 notes being a whole step, and 1 note being a half step. This pattern in steps can be shown as W-W-H-W-W-W-H or as full tones and semitones T-T-S-T-T-T-S.

Major scale in the key of A

A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A

e:---------------------------4-5-
B:-----------------------5-7-----
G:-----------------4-6-7---------
D:-----------4-6-7---------------
A:-----4-5-7---------------------
E:-5-7---------------------------

Natural Minor Scale

The pattern for any natural minor scale is 2-1-2-2-1-2-2, shown in steps as W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Natural Minor Scale in the key of A

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

 e |------------------------------5--
 B |------------------------5-6-8----
 G |------------------4-5-7----------
 D |--------------5-7----------------
 A |--------5-7-8--------------------
 E |--5-7-8--------------------------

Harmonic Minor Scale

The Harmonic minor scale has a very different quality than the minor pentatonic scale. It has a “middle-eastern” sound when used to play lead lines.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A

This is a moveable shape and to play in other keys just move the shape up or down the neck:

e |--4--5-----7--8--
B |-----5--6--------
G |--4--5-----7-----
D |--------6--7-----
A |-----5-----7--8--
E |-----5-----7--8--

Melodic Minor Scale

This scale is actually two scales. Thus when one speaks of a “melodic minor” pattern, one refers to two patterns – one ascending and one descending.

A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A (ascending) A-G-F-E-D-C-B-A (descending)

This is best illustrated by playing the melodic minor scale. Below is the A melodic minor scale in tab; note the sharps when ascending and the naturals when descending.

A melodic minor scale – one octave

The ascending pattern is constructed by raising the 6th and 7th steps of the natural minor scale. When descending the normal natural minor scale is used without the 6th and 7th raised. The reason for this is to be found in singing. Vocalists find the augmented second between the F and G sharp in the Harmonic minor scale very awkward to sing. It is not impossible but the dissonance of the interval and the sense of “leaping” meant that a different approach was sought. The answer was to also raise the sixth note. The awkward augmented second was gone and the melody flowed better due to the absence of the leap.

Hungarian Minor

The Hungarian minor scale is a type of combined musical scale. It is akin to the harmonic minor scale, except that it bears a raised fourth. Its tonal center is slightly ambiguous, due to the large number of half steps. Also known as Double Harmonic Minor, or Harmonic Minor #4, it figures prominently in Eastern European music, particularly in gypsy music. Melodies based on this scale have an exotic, romantic flavor.

e |--7--8-----10--11--
B |--7--8--9----------
G |--7--8-------------
D |--------9--10------
A |--------9--10--11--
E |-----8-----10--11--

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