Why Learn More Scales?

by Ron Dickson

After learning a few scales and getting to grips with them, most guitarists then stop learning more scales as it looks like a significant amount of work for not much gain. However, this is not the case.

It is hard work learning the first few scales, but the teaching method must build on that hard work and not introduce more seemingly unrelated material. Each new scale we learn should be a variation of a scale we already know and our ears trained to hear that difference. This ear training is so crucial for learning a musical instrument. To open up our musical creativity, we should always listen to what we learn and how it differs from previous material.

The minor pentatonic scale is commonly one of the first scales learned on the guitar. It contains no chromatic notes (notes on adjacent frets) and is used commonly in rock, pop and blues music. The scale has five different positions, of which generally two are learned with a section from another position added on to be called extended versions.

Let us pick this apart to learn more about the development of this information rather than learning new information, using A minor Pentatonic scale as an example, probably the most common starting place we can extend our knowledge by:-

  • The A is on the 5th fret of the 6th string, commonly known as the pentatonic 1st If we move this shape and start on frets 1, 3, 7, 8, then we have also learned the F minor, G minor, B minor, and C minor scales by adding the knowledge of the different root notes
  • The next most common position learned is the 4th position which has its root note on the 5th The A, in this case, would be the open string or 12th fret. Moving to frets 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, we have learned B minor, C minor, D minor, E minor and F minor with the root notes on the 5th string.
  • We can continue with the roots on strings 4, 3, and 2.
  • Breaking these two pentatonic scale positions into pairs of strings gives 5 x 2 string patterns we can use to go along the neck instead of across
  • Knowing these pairs of patterns, we can then do single string scales on any string in any key
  • The Major version of the pentatonic scale starts on the 2nd note of the minor scale. So, thinking of the function of each note based on the Major scale, we have learned the Major pentatonic scales.
  • There are another three notes which we can use as a root note in the scale, giving us even more variety of tonal choice to use in our music.
  • Increase our knowledge by not using our 1st finger on the root note, the minor scale would then be the 5th position starting with our 3rd finger, and the Major scale would be the 1st position starting with our 4th
  • Apply not using the 1st finger for the root for all the other scale forms we have found and used.
  • Using the Major pentatonic scale, if we move the 5th note up one fret, we now have a new set of scales to start from the beginning.

As you can see from the examples, we are learning very little new knowledge. However, we have learned more about the application and developed a deeper understanding of this first scale. Therefore, we have gained a significant understanding and creativity by developing a scale further.

The same applies to the seven-note diatonic scale and its positions. However, we have seven notes with two single fret steps to carry out the above.

About the Author: Ron Dickson is a professional guitarist and teacher in Fife, Scotland. He is often found playing live music in Scotland’s Fife and Tayside areas and teaches guitar lessons in Glenrothes and the surrounding area.