A beginners guide to essential guitar scales

Last updated on February 26th, 2024


As a guitarist, it’s important to learn scales in order to take your skills to the next level. Learning scales help you to understand the fretboard, play melodies with more ease and choose the right notes to improvise on your instrument.

In this post, we will cover the essential guitar scales to practice for beginners such as the Major and minor scale, Major and minor pentatonic scale and the Major and minor blues scale. Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Major scale

The first scale you I recommend learning on guitar is the Major scale because it gives you a good foundation to learn the notes on the fretboard. Once you learn it, you can then adjust some notes to build other scales.

Major scale formula

The way to get the notes of a Major scale is to either learn the sharps and flats in a key signature or learn the whole and half step formula between each of the notes. For example, the formula for the notes in the Major scale is whole, whole, half step then whole, whole, whole, half step.


Major scale chart examples

This formula can be applied to start on any root note. Here some examples below.

Major scale1234567
C MajorCDEFGAB
D MajorDEF#GABC#
E MajorEF#G#ABC#D#
F MajorFGABbCDE
G MajorGABCDEF#
A MajorABC#DEF#G#
B Major BC#D#EF#G#A#

Here are two ways of playing the C Major scale starting on the 6th string below. The numbers above the notes are suggested fingerings for your fretting hand. If needed, you can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

C Major scale – 2 octaves – shape 1

C Major scale - 2 octaves - shape 1

C Major scale – 2 octaves – shape 2

C Major scale - 2 octaves - shape 2

These are just two ways to play a Major scale on the guitar. To learn the scale throughout the fretboard, I recommend learning the 5 Major scale shapes.

One of the advantages of learning scales on guitar, is that you can simply shift the starting point to play another scale on the same string. This makes it convenient to shift the scale notes to different keys.

Minor scale

The minor scale is directly related to the Major scale because they share the same notes. If you start a Major scale on the 6th degree, you get the relative minor scale. For example, the C Major scale has the same notes as an A minor scale.

Minor scale formula

The formula for the minor scale is whole, half, whole step, then whole, half, whole, whole step.

Minor scale chart examples

Here some examples of the minor scale starting on different root notes.

Minor scale12b345b6b7
C minorCDEbFGAbBb
D minorDEFGABbC
E minorEF#GABCD
F minorFGAbBbCDbEb
G minorGABbCDEbF
A minorABCDEFG
B minor BC#DEF#GA

Here are two ways of playing the C minor scale starting on the 6th string below.

C minor scale – 2 octaves – shape 1


C minor scale – 2 octaves – shape 2


To learn the 5 scale shapes throughout the fretboard, check this post: minor scales on guitar.

Major pentatonic scale

The Major pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes from the Major scale which are the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th degree. For example, a C Major pentatonic scale would have the notes: C, D, E, G, and A. The pentatonic scale can be used to create cool melodies and riffs and is widely used across different styles of music.

Major pentatonic scale formula

Here is the Major pentatonic scale whole and half step formula below.


Major pentatonic scale chart examples

Here some examples of the Major pentatonic scale starting on different root notes.

Major pentatonic scale12356
C Major pentatonicCDEGA
D Major pentatonicDEF#AB
E Major pentatonicEF#G#BC#
F Major pentatonicFGACD
G Major pentatonicGABDE
A Major pentatonicABC#EF#
B Major pentatonicBC#D#F#G#

Here are two ways of playing the C Major pentatonic scale starting on the 6th string below.

C Major pentatonic scale – 2 octaves – shape 1


C Major pentatonic scale – 2 octaves – shape 2

Check out the 5 C Major pentatonic scale shapes here.

For musical application examples, check out how to play pentatonic scales on guitar.

Minor pentatonic scale

Just like we covered earlier that Major and minor scales are related, the same concept applies to pentatonic scales. If you play the Major scale pentatonic starting from the 6 degree, you get all the same notes of the relative minor pentatonic scale.

Minor pentatonic scale formula


Minor pentatonic scale chart examples

Here some examples of the minor pentatonic scale starting on different root notes.

Minor pentatonic scale1b345b7
C minor pentatonicCEbFGBb
D minor pentatonicDFGAC
E minor pentatonicEGABD
F minor pentatonicFAbBbCEb
G minor pentatonicGBbCDF
A minor pentatonicACDEG
B minor pentatonicBDEF#A

Here are two ways of playing the C minor pentatonic scale starting on the 6th string below.

C minor pentatonic scale – 2 octaves – shape 1


C minor pentatonic scale – 2 octaves – shape 2


To learn the 5 scale scale shapes and patterns used for improvisation, see how to play minor pentatonic scales on guitar.

Major blues scale

The blues scale is a set of 6 notes based on the pentatonic scale with an added chromatic note. This extra note, sometimes referred to as the blue notes gives the scale its distinctive sound.

Let’s first look at the formula for the Major blues scale below.

Major blues scale formula


Major blues scale chart examples

Here some examples of the Major blues scale starting on different root notes.

Major blues scale12b3356
C Major bluesCDEbEGA
D Major bluesDEFF#AB
E Major bluesEF#GG#BC#
F Major bluesFGAbACD
G Major bluesGABbBDE
A Major bluesABCC#EF#
B Major bluesBC#DD#F#G#

Here are two ways of playing the C Major blues scale starting on the 6th string below.

C Major blues scale – 2 octaves – shape 1


C Major blues scale – 2 octaves – shape 2


For more in-depth study on how to use this scale, check out how to play the blues scale on guitar.

Minor blues scale

The minor blues scale has the scale degrees, 1, b3, 4, #4, 5, and b7. For example, a C minor blues scale has the notes C, Eb, F, F#, G, and Bb. The minor blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with an added half step between the 4th and 5th scale degrees (see the formula below).

You can also think of the minor blues scale as the Major blues scale starting on the 6th degree. See the formula below.

Minor blues scale formula


Minor blues scale chart examples

Here some examples of the Minor blues scale starting on different root notes.

Minor blues scale1b34#45b7
C minor bluesCEbFF#GBb
D minor bluesDFGG#AC
E minor bluesEGAA#BD
F minor bluesFAbBbBCEb
G minor bluesGBbCC#DF
A minor bluesACDD#EG
B minor bluesBDEFF#A

Here are two ways of playing the C minor blues scale starting on the 6th string below.

C minor blues scale – 2 octaves – shape 1


C minor blues scale – 2 octaves – shape 2


This post also covers the minor blues scale shapes on guitar.

Easily look up scales with the Essential Major Scales Guitar Chart!

This chart shows you the 5 essential Major scale shapes on guitar and how to play the Major scale starting on all 12 root notes.

There’s no need to stumble on what notes to play… Get the Essential Major Scales Guitar Chart printable to motivate and guide you on your musical journey!

👉 Get it here!

What is the easiest way to memorize guitar scales?

1) Master one shape at a time

The way I recommend learning and memorizing any scale is to start memorizing one particular shape that feels most comfortable for you. Try to really get the shape under your fingers to the point where you don’t have to look at the chart. Use the first shape you master as a guide to learn the other scale shapes around it.

2) Look for repeating fingering patterns

Try to think of patterns such as what strings repeat the same fingering within a shape. For example, if a certain string set has a pattern of 1, 3, and 4, which other strings follow the same pattern? Or think of which strings only include 2 notes within a shape.

Quick tip: The notes on the first and sixth string will always be the same.

3) Connect shapes around the ones you learned

After getting one of the shapes down really well, either learn the shape that comes before or after it to see how the scale connects on the fretboard. Again, try to master one shape at a time and make sure you can play it without looking at the chart. This will make the process more approachable by breaking it down into smaller sections before moving on to the next shape.

What to do after learning a scale?

After getting comfortable with a scale, it’s important to try creating melodies or musical phrases with the notes in the scale. We don’t want to just play a scale mechanically but be able to make music with it as soon as possible.

A way to do this is by first humming or singing a short melody line and then try figuring out what those notes are on your instrument. This is the first step to being able to improvise on your instrument. The goal is to try playing what you want to hear. To learn more about this you can also check out this post on how to develop ear training.

You can also take a short melody or phrase and try shifting it to another key. You know you really have a scale down when you can play it in any given key and in any part of the fretboard.

I also recommend challenging yourself to play scales with good timing by using a metronome. Or you can play the scale in different patterns and sequences which I cover in this post on how to practice scales.

Another fun challenge is to try playing a scale horizontally, meaning on one string. Even though you wouldn’t naturally play it this way, this is to check whether you know all the notes that are included in a scale you’re working on. Just go through one string at a time and start playing the notes consecutively.

For example, if your learning the C Major scale, you would play these notes on the 1st string:

E minor or G Major scale notes shown horizontally on the 1st string

Wrapping up

In this post, we covered some essential guitar scales for beginners to practice. We learned the formulas that make up the notes of a scale, scale chart examples starting on different root notes, and how to apply them on the fretboard.

Learning a variety of scales gives you a wider palette of options to play with. Take your time with each scale so you can memorize the notes and get comfortable using it. This will make it a lot easier to shift to different keys later on.

After learning these scales, you can start to learn about other ones such as the melodic minor, harmonic minor or dorian scale.

For more ideas on how to use scales, check out these 9 tips to get better at improvising on guitar.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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