Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Beginner Guitar: the only 3 scale positions you'll ever need to know

So you've recently picked up playing the guitar and are ready to take it to the next level and begin soloing like Randy Rhoads. We've been there and we know how much of a headache it can be to figure out what scales you need to know, what's important and what's not. You'll find weird names for them and each source you look to for info has a different take on it. It's actually very simple and we hope to make it very easy for you. My philosophy? Forget all the names and mumbo jumbo, all you need to know is where to put your fingers on the fretboard.

Position 1: the primary position of the minor scale.

Notice how I didn't label the notes? That's because it's all relative and doesn't really matter. No matter what key you're in, you're going to use this same position and move it up or down to the right key. The darkened circle is the root note, that's the starting point so to speak. But you can play any of these notes in any order over the root key and it'll sound great. This is the position that blues players play in most often, though they usually omit a couple notes from the minor scale and keep it to 5 or 6 notes. If you were playing in the scale of E minor, the darkened dot would be on the 12th fret.

Position 2: an alternate position.

The shape of this position is similar to the first one. It starts on the A string as opposed to the E string. There are of course notes within the scale on the E string but you'll find those later. The darkened dot is the root note or starting point, but you can play these notes in any order. If you're playing in the scale of E minor, then the darkened dot is going to be on the 7th fret.

Position 3 of the minor scale: the fun one, when you're ready to really rock out.

There's often a part during the guitar solo, usually in the middle or towards the end where you really want to kick some ass and show them you mean it. It starts off in the lower notes but quickly builds up and goes up the scale and eventually climaxes with some wild bend. This is a position you're going to want to get used to and have fun with using. If you were in the key of E minor for example, the darkened dot is E and would be the root note, and is on the 7th fret. So find that part on the fretboard and work your way backwards if you're wanting to do a run up. You'll see that in this scenario the scale starts on the 3rd fret. It goes 3 5 7, 3 5 7, 4 5 7, 4 5 7, 5 7 8, 5 7 8. Start at the bottom with your pointer finger, middle finger and pinky for the 3 5 7 and work your way up the strings. Pick all the notes, or hammer-on and pull-off, do a combination the 2, it's all up to you.

Practice these scales over and over, start at the bottom and work your way up, then go back down the scale. Once you get these down, over time you will build an understanding of where all the scale notes are on the fretboard and how they relate to each other. You may even discover some new positions of your own.

And all those weird names for the different scales? For the most part they're the same scale, the difference only has to do with what key you're in. Playing the E minor scale over E minor, you know what that sounds like. How about playing the E minor scale over A minor? Give it a try. E minor scale over C minor? Give that a try. Give all possibilities a try and you'll find what sounds good to your ears and what doesn't. Always remember: there are no rules in music. Anyone who tells you there's a right or wrong way has missed the point.

One last thing, here are all 3 positions laid out on the fretboard for the E minor scale so you can see how it all works out and where they are in relation to each other. (Click on the image if it's not displaying properly)

The blue dots are the 3rd position I spoke of, the red dots are in position 2 and the yellow dots are in position 1, the main position. As you can see there is some overlap with these positions and you can go from one position into the other very quickly. There scale notes are in more places than I selected here, but I wanted to just focus on these areas. From this image you should be able to guess where the scale notes are on the rest of the fretboard that I didn't cover. As you know, the notes repeat themselves every 12 frets ( a different octave of course).

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