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Guitar Scales

Updated on December 26, 2022
Jon Green profile image

For many years I taught guitar and music theory in college. Theory can actually be far simpler and more fun than you might imagine!

Understanding the fretboard

I've tried to keep this as simple as possible. Memorise each diagram as you go for the best results. The headstock of the guitar is at the top, where the thick line is.

The musical alphabet runs: A B C D E F G, then A again, but one octave higher in pitch.

Although musical notes follow the alphabet, the flats and sharps complicate things. Just remember there are no flats or sharps between B and C, E and F. All the other notes have them. Fret 2 on strings 1 and 6 could be called F sharp or G flat depending on your whim.

A A♯ B C C♯ D D♯ E F F♯ G G♯ A - using sharp notes

A B♭ B C D♭ D E♭ E F G♭ G A♭ A - using flat notes

  • A, B, C is the same place on strings 1 and 6
  • D, E, F is the same pattern, but over on the 5th string

Fretboard Map


Octaves - something to do with 8, right? There are 8 notes in a major scale (though only 7 different ones) and the last box shows an octave A. Using the 6th string A, you can work out where the next A note will be by using this interval. Then it'll work for all the other notes - look at the D octave example.

That's a great thing about the guitar world - things are easily transferable all over the fretboard.

A5 chord

A5 is shown - for B5 move up 2 frets, for C5 up one more fret, etc. These are also known as power chords, widely used in rock and grunge. Possibly used too widely.

On the right hand side I've named all the notes in sequence - this sequence is the same, regardless of where you start on the fretboard.

Note that all the sharp named notes could be called by flat names too.

Am pentatonic

The most common scale in rock - use for anything in Am and also C major. If the song has C, F, G7 in it this will work.

A to B is a 2 fret interval - so move this pattern up 2 frets and you will have Bm pentatonic. Use over D, G, A7

B to C is a 1 fret interval - so up another 1 fret gives you Cm. Use over Eb, Ab, Bb7, or Cm7, Fm7, Gm7.

Pentatonic literally means "5 notes". You are using the same notes as the major scale, but subtracting two of them - the two that can be difficult to use due to clashes with chords. So, using the pentatonic is in practice much easier than using the full major scale, and you always have the option of adding the extra notes in if needed.

My new hub on pentatonic scales has a complete neck diagram for the scale patterns.

E major scale

The last chart shows the E major scale.

Frets 12, 11, 9, 7, 5, 4, 2, 0

Break it down into sections when you are learning it.

You can transfer this pattern to all the other strings, and you will get the major scales that start from whichever note you start from - so using E A D G B E, the open string notes, you can play G major on string 3, D major on String 4, A major on string 5. Buy one, get five free!

  • Playing scales up and down the neck rather than across it has some real advantages.
  • You can see intervals between the notes more clearly
  • By using pull offs you can dramatically improve speed without much effort
  • You may find that finger strength is improved.


If you are playing around the fret 12 area - remember than fret 12 is the same as the open string in terms of notes. So counting down from fret 12 is very, very useful - on string 5 (A) you could count down 2 to find G, down 1 to find A flat, etc.

Strings 1 and 6 are both E - so here is another short cut. Fret 12 is an E again, so Eb is fret 11, D is fret 10 on both strings.

Practice tips: Try playing in short but concentrated sessions. Even 10-15 mins several times a day will really help you progress. I'll also be playing while watching TV.

Final Look at Pentatonic Scales

Firstly, make sure you can play the Am pentatonic scale shown in the diagram above.Your little finger is on a C note, at fret 8. Using this to navigate by, any song in the key of C will use this scale.

The beauty of guitar is that everything is transferable easily to all the other keys.

If you play this pattern with the top note of G (Fret 3) also Fret 15:

It fits all the chords in the key of G: G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F sharp m7b5.

Fret 5 top note = A, and also all the chords above moved up 2 frets.

Fret 6 = Bb

Fret 7 = B

Fret 8 = C

Fret 10 = D

Fret 12 = E


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