How to play the E minor scale on guitar (5 shapes with tabs)

The E minor scale is one of the essential scales to know on guitar. If you’ve already learned the notes in the first position of the guitar, the next step is to learn the same set of notes throughout the fretboard. This lesson covers the 5 scale shapes for effectively playing the E minor scale on guitar.

If you still aren’t confident about naming the notes on the guitar, I recommend checking out these 7 tips to learn the notes on the fretboard. 

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

E minor scale theory

To help you understand the E minor scale, let’s first go over some music theory before playing it. The E minor scale has the notes E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D. These notes come from the minor scale formula which has specific steps between each note (whole, half, whole, whole, then half, whole, whole step). See the formula with the E minor scale notes below.

E minor scale formula

You can also think of the notes in the minor scale in terms of intervals related to the root note. The intervals in a minor scale are unison (with the root note), perfect 2nd, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 6th, and minor 7th.

Another method that you can use to learn any minor scale is to memorize the key signature. In this case, the E minor scale has 1 sharp which is F# (same as the G Major scale).

Note that this scale is also known as an E natural minor scale or E aeolian scale, which is not the same as the melodic minorharmonic minor, or Dorian scale. See the difference between minor scales here.

How to read the scale charts

For the charts below:

  • Charts on the left side show you the scale notes and charts on the right show you the suggested fingering.
  • The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E) and the top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E). 
  • The green circles represent the root note of the minor scale and the blue notes are every other scale note.
  • Circles to the left of a chart represent open strings.

If needed, check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

5 E minor scale shapes

This section shows you the E minor scale in five different areas of the fretboard. Each scale shape includes the music notation including guitar tabs. You’ll see how all of these shapes connect afterward.

E minor scale shape 1

E minor scale shape 1

For the notation below, the numbers above the notes suggest what fingers to use for your fretting hand.

E minor scale shape 1 notation

E minor scale shape 2

E minor scale shape 2
E minor scale shape 2 notation

E minor scale shape 3

E minor scale shape 3
E minor scale shape 3 notation

E minor scale shape 4

E minor scale shape 4
E minor scale shape 4 notation

E minor scale shape 5

E minor scale shape 5
E minor scale shape 5 notation

You can also apply these minor scale shapes by shifting them to any key. Make sure to rearrange your fingers wherever necessary.

All the E minor scale notes on the fretboard

Finally, here are all of the E minor scale notes on the fretboard below. This is essentially all of the scale shapes connected.

E minor scale shapes combined

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

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

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

👉 Get it here!

3 tips for memorizing the minor scale shapes

Here are 3 quick tips to help you memorize the 5 minor scale shapes.

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

Look for patterns such as what strings repeat the same fingering within a shape. 

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

For example, in shape 4 we see that the 1st, 2nd, and 6th string follow a 1, 2, and 4 finger pattern. The 4th and 5th string follow a 1, 3, and 4 finger pattern. The 3rd string has the unique finger pattern of fingers 1 and 3. Knowing where note patterns repeat will help you build a mental map of a scale shape.

3. Connect shapes around the ones you learned

After learning one of the scale shapes well, either learn the shape that comes before or after it to see how the notes connect 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.

Wrapping up

Learning the minor scale shapes will help you gain a better understanding of the guitar as you learn to play the same set of notes throughout the fretboard. Although it’s easy to stick to a comfort zone or one area of the guitar, learning these shapes will challenge you to approach the instrument with a fresh perspective.

Also, learning the scale shapes gives you confidence in choosing the right notes when playing melodies or when improvising. They will help you to create musical ideas more naturally and allow you to play more comfortably throughout the fretboard. 

If you want to dive deeper, I recommend checking out this post on how to practice scales on guitar.

📘 Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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