How to play guitar scales with proper fingerings

Out of all the incorrect ways to play guitar, improper fingerings is probably one of the most common bad habits we create. This is because the correct way to play doesn’t come naturally at first. When you approach a new scale or lick it is important that you play it with correct fingerings. This will help you learn faster and it won’t hinder you in your future studies. Correct fingering is closely related to positions on guitar. Let’s take a look at the definition of guitar position.

A guitar position is determined by the fret number your first finger is on. If you lay your first finger on the fifth fret then you are in 5th position. This is important because when you correctly finger a scale you should have one finger per fret. So if your first finger is on the 5th fret, your middle finger will be on the 6th fret so on. There are a few exceptions to this.

The first exception is when you switch positions during a scale. Certain scales require you to slide down a fret to play them correctly. You are still playing with 1 finger per fret, but you changed the set of fingerings to fit the new position.  The scale could also require a slide up to a new position. This does not change the rule of one note per fret, it just changes the position you are in.

The second exception to this is when a scale requires a stretch that cannot be handled with sliding to a new position. You may alter your fingerings to be able to play these scales because they cannot be played one finger per fret. The fingerings for these are not important until you are more advanced, but this exception does exist. Now let’s take a look at what people do that is incorrect.

The most common incorrect finger I have seen is when a person refuses to use their pinky. Yeah, I know the pinky is the weakest finger. This is not a good habit to create and should be avoided and fixed. Another problem I have come across is when people play with one finger. They slide that finger around. Don’t waste the energy. This is bad, it slows you down and you waste 3 fingers. Maximum efficiency is what we are aiming for.

On the topic of maximum efficiency I would like to mention that while you practice scales you should be conscious of how far you take your fingers off the strings. The closer you keep your fingers to the strings the smoother you will play, and it will help with speed greatly. Try this exercise: put your palm of your hand on your leg. Tap your leg starting with your pinky rolling your other fingers in order one at a time. First keep your fingers close to your leg and tap as fast as you can. Then I want you to lift your fingers as high as you can and try to tap as fast as you can. Which one is faster and easier? Paying attention to how close you keep your fingers is an important part of playing guitar.

We have covered the basics to correctly finger guitar scales. You keep your fingers one finger per fret unless it is one of the exceptions and keep your fingers close to the strings. These may not come naturally, but be patient and it will get easier to the point where you don’t have to think about it anymore. Practice smart!

Guitar Scales – Modes Shapes

In this Post I am going to show you the patterns for the major modes. If you have not read the post called “Introduction to guitar scales – modes” I recommend you read that first. I put all the fingerings on each diagram so you can see how you finger it. I put an R on each diagram as well which indicates the Root of the key. All these scale patterns are based off of the G major Scale.

When you memorize these scale patterns I suggest you then transpose them to every key. Become very familiar with these scales in all 12 keys. Let’s get started and jump into it.

guitar scales

This is the Root position major scale, also called the Ionian Mode. You start this with the second finger.

guitar scales

This is the Dorian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Phrygian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Lydian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the mixolydian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Aeolian Mode, Also known as natural minor.

guitar scales

This is the Locrian Mode.

By the time you place all these shapes you should be an octave higher playing the first scale again. Do not worry about memorizing each scale shape in 1 day. Learn the major scale First, once you have that memorized then memorize the Dorian. Keep reviewing these scales even if you have them memorized already. These scales need to become second nature to you.

Keep in mind. Guitar makes shapes easy to move. For you to play in A-major just move these scale shapes up a whole step. That is what makes guitar unique from many other instruments. These patterns will never change, but the position you play them in will. Good luck!

Introduction to guitar scales – Modes

Seven 0’clock, and the alarm clock starts screaming. Ionian Mode rolls out of bed to get an early start on the day. He starts by making his wife Dorian Mode a couple pancakes and wakes her up by the smell of the pancakes so she can eat them in bed. Ionian then goes to wake up their 5 kids to get ready for school. He first wakes up his daughter Phrygian who is a sweet little 7-year-old girl. Then Ionian wakes up his 2 sons Lydian and Mixolydian. Mixolydian is their oldest son and he shows many traits like his father. Then Ionian finally finishes waking up the horde with yelling for their daughters Aeolian and Locrian to wake up. Now that everyone is awake they continue to live their day.

What does the above story have to do with modes? Well it is quite simple. A mode is a family of scales. They have a parent scale which all of the scales come from.  As mentioned in the above story Ionian (Major) Scale is the father of the mode family. All of the other modes contain exactly the same notes as the father. In other words, each mode has the exact same biological Make. There is only 1 difference between these scales.

The note these scales start and end on is what determines the mode. You have the major (Ionian) scale, if you start the major scale on the second note and end it on the second note then it becomes a Dorian Scale.  If you continue this process and start the major scale on the third note and end it on the third note it then becomes a Phrygian scale.  Pretend you are playing musical chairs. There is 1 black chair and 6 white chairs. The black chair is the root chair. You start walking around the chairs and the music stops. You sit down on a white chair. This chair is one of the modes of the major scale. The music starts to play again so you walk around over and over, stop! You sit down on the black chair. This is the major scale chair.

You may be asking what the difference between a guitar scale and a mode is. The difference is a Scale is a group of notes played in Ascending and Descending motion. A mode on the other hand is a Scale derived from another scale. A mode is part of a family. It has a father and siblings.

There is one more lesson to be learned from the first story. The Gender of a Scale is important. Is it a major scale or a minor scale? In the story above all the major scales have been labeled as Males. Likewise, all the minor scales have been labeled as Females.  This is important to know because you will be using these scales over chords and different keys. I recommend you memorize the names of the major scale modes, the order in which they go and if they are minor or major scales. To learn the scale shapes for all the major scale modes please check out my other blog post on mode shapes here. Below is a list of the major mode names in order.

Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian.

How to practice guitar Scales

Everyone says practice makes perfect, but believe it or not some practice habits are better than others. If you are going to put time and effort into something wouldn’t you want maximum use out of it? I am going to share some of my experiences with you that have helped me achieve the best results when I practice guitar scales. I will also discuss how you can start applying these principles to your practice.

My first recommendation is to prepare. If you sit down without knowing what you want to practice you are wasting time. When you finally decide you will practice example number 5 out of book blah you then have to find it and set it up. Yeah those 30 seconds adds up over 50 years. Save time by preparing for your practice.  I suggest that you put together a playlist of songs you want to transcribe and put them on a CD. This way you have around 12 songs that you want to transcribe on 1 CD. There is no need to switch CDs every time you want to hear a different song.

My second Recommendation is to stay focused. I use to have a problem with getting off track and I would start doodling around. I have found that when I start jamming out I end up wasting time that I would have use for something more productive. Getting sidetracked also causes you to lose concentration.

My third Recommendation is to spend the time to master it. Steve Vai claims he would spend an hour doing one thing such as vibrato for an hour. He claims that when you do it for an hour concentrating deeply on that 1 technique you will find new ways to approach it. I am not saying that you need to do this, but spend time with stuff you learn. Something I do when I play an Etude is I require myself to play a section perfectly 20 times before I move on to a new section.

My Fourth Recommendation is to repeat what you learn every day. Say you learn a new scale. I suggest you review it every day. Review it over and over. The longer period of time you review it every day the stronger memory it will be. Of course, you will be constantly learning new ideas so you don’t need to review it forever. You can choose a week or 2 to review it every day. This can a valuable tool to use with scales, songs, chords or anything new to you. Keep reviewing it.

My Fifth recommendation for enhancing your practice is to take breaks. There are researchers out there that claim you don’t retain nearly as much information after a certain period of time. This time period varies depending on the researcher, but it is good to remember. What I suggest is separating your practice into sections. Spend a little time practicing your scales then take a break, come back and practice your etude, take a break then come back and transcribe.

My last piece of advice is to enjoy what you are practicing. Even if you don’t really enjoy it, pretend you do. People learn something that they like much easier than they learn something they dislike. If music is not fun, then make it fun. This is the best way to maximize your practice time.

How to do you apply all of these tips? Well I would pick one of them and apply it. Once you feel comfortable with your change then add a new change. Remember, not everyone is exactly the same. We are all different and we will find different things work for different people. Take this advice; make it your own knowledge.

Introduction to Guitar Scales – Chromatic Scale

Out of all the guitar scales available, the chromatic scale is the most important because it is the foundation of music.  The chromatic scale contains every musical note, chord, and all the scales possible.  Once you have learned to play the chromatic you only need to take away notes to create every scale possible. Once you have a scale you subtract a few more notes to get an arpeggio.  The chromatic scale is also a great way to learn the note names all over the fret board.

To help you learn the fret board better I suggest you play these guitar scales slowly while saying the note names out loud. Speed is not important for these guitar scales. Focus on learning these scale shapes and the names of the notes. You should play these scale shapes on different areas of the guitar neck and different strings.   You should also play them both ascending and descending.  Let’s jump into it and learn these scale shapes.

chromatic scale shape 1

When you play this chromatic scale shape ascending you should start with your first (index) finger and you will slide up one fret with your 4th (pinky) finger. When you play it descending you should start with your 4th (pinky) finger and slide down with your first (index) finger.


chromatic scale shape 2, one string

You start this chromatic scale shape with an open string. You can and should practice this shape on all strings; I chose to make the chart on the G string. You can continue this shape past 1 octave.

chromatic scale shape 3

This chromatic scale shape works backwards on the neck. When ascending, you will slide up on the high E string with your 4th (pinky) finger. Descending you will slide down with your first (index) finger.

You can use these scale shapes for future reference to help you visualize a new scale.  All guitar scales are formed from these scale shapes. You can take any of these scale shapes and take away a couple of notes then you will find that you have all your guitar scales in these 3 chromatic scale shapes.  From here you need to learn which notes need to be omitted.

As you continue on your journey do not forget these scale shapes. The chromatic scale will always be a very important part of music. There is no end to things you can do with the chromatic scale. As you see, you can use the chromatic scale as a reference point for learning and visualizing, but this guitar scale also comes in handy in soloing as well. Check future lessons for more lessons that utilize the chromatic scale.