A guitar scales chart can be useful because guitar scales and modes can be fingered in so many ways it will make your head explode! A single vertical position alone can garner myriad ways to play the same scale. Throw in surrounding vertical areas, horizontal and diagonal approaches as well as unique fingering patterns and you’ll start to see how many possibilities exist.
To attempt to know them all is beyond impossible. And, is it really necessary? Here’s the simple answer: Absolutely not. What you need to know is whatever system of fingerings will enable you to see the neck in its entirety. Below you will find several guitar scales charts that cover the 13 most popular guitar scales you should know.
Seriously, there are a LOT of scale fingerings to choose from here, but notice we used the phrase “to choose from” as opposed to “to know” or “to learn”, or worse, “to memorize.” This collection of guitar scales charts is meant for you to peruse and choose from.
Find a system (or two) that feels good and works for YOU. Find one that makes the most sense when it comes to what you want to play both physically and stylistically. You may discover certain scales work better for you within one approach as opposed to another for another scale. As you explore all the options you may even come up with a system all your own!
Guitar Scales Chart: Diatonic Modes
Ionian is the modal name for the venerable major scale–a melodic and harmonic bearing device that has been the backbone of Western music for over five hundred years! The resultant organized group of notes breeds a simple, yet timeless sound that has created an innumerable amount of music. What ties each and every melody and/or chord progression composed in major is the overall good vibes. If that wasn’t enough, the major scale is also the parent scale to six other scales known as the church modes–many of which will be explored throughout this course.
The following three segments will find the major scale thriving within a laid-back country-rock vibe in C, a straight-ahead jazz feel in G and a completely rockin’ three-chord progression in F. The upcoming lesson set will set the stage for what’s to come here in 13 Scales and Modes That Matter so be sure to listen up.
As you’re about to see in this guitar scale chart, the modes are much more than just scales starting on specific degrees of their parent scales. Every mode has a color unto itself that can be used by you to paint myriad audio images. While this course will examine each mode through its relationship to whatever parent scale from which it came, the real bread & butter is in the mode’s own formula. Let’s start with Dorian.
The Dorian mode is the second mode of the diatonic modal system also known as the “church modes”. Therefore it’s built on the second degree of the parent major scale, which in this case is referred to as the Ionian scale. In order for Dorian to be part of the system, the notes have to be exactly the same as the parent major scale’s notes. To do that a major built on the 2nd degree of the parent scale will have its 3rd and 7th degree lowered a half step. The resultant formula is as follows: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7.
Sometimes it takes just one note to define a mode or a group of mode’s sounds. Phrygian, the third mode of the diatonic series is a perfect example of this with its flatted 2nd degree. Check it out: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. That b2 also is half of the defining tritone, which is set between b2 and 5. All in all, Phrygian has a borderline dark side, but a deceptively catchy feel, too.
Phrygian is so connected to that b2 it goes as far as almost negating the root-based chord Phrygian produces, which is a minor triad or m7 tetrad. Both chords do not deliver the Phrygian vibe because the b2/b9 element is not present. This is the first example of a mode whose sound is best recognized by a progression or vamp. One that has a bII to i instance of some sort.
The following two segments will set Phrygian in a metal and Latin rock setting, both of which make use of progressions that exploit the bII.
Continuing the journey through the major modes this next series of segments focus on the Lydian mode. Built on the 4th degree of the Ionian mode we hear a return to a major based sound. The formula is as follows: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7. As you can see Lydian is only one note different than Ionian but the one alteration, the raised 4th degree, makes a huge impact. First, it’s the second half of the defining tritone interval that starts at the root of the scale. Sound-wise the #4 adds spice to major that in many cases trumps the Ionian mode even when the chord you’re playing over is the tonic.
The two style examples here will set the Lydian mode in settings where the sound plays an important role in helping along with the already forward-minded vibe. The first segment is a modern rock vibe that’s part indie and part 80’s Brit-pop and altogether fresh-sounding making it a perfect launchpad for a major-based sound that has a kick. The following segment is set to an uptempo straight-ahead jazz beat but with more aggressive sounding chords giving it a more fusion-y vibe. With the presence of the #11 in the first chord and the 13th in the second chord, which is the key signature’s raised 4th, you have no choice but to go with Lydian straight through.
There are a few go-to scales that will provide the goods in myriad styles. One such example is the 5th mode of the major series, Mixolydian. Another simple formula is closely related to Ionian the formula is as follows: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7. Just like Lydian the single alteration does a world of good and brings about a hugely important sound. More often than not when a song set to a rock or blues-rock vibe is said to be in major it’s actually a Mixolydian tune as the melodies will have a b7 as opposed to a natural 7th and you’ll find many instances of a major chord built on the b7th (bVII) throughout.
In these next four segments, you’ll experience the Mixolydian mode in styles such as funk, jazz, blues, and southern rock. Every one of these styles, as well as others, relies on the existence of Mixolydian. Case in point: Could you imagine “Sweet Home Alabama” in squeaky clean major?!
Coming off the 6th degree of the major scale we get the Aeolian mode whose formula is as follows: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. With the b3rd in the formula, we make a return to a minor-based scale sound. Like Dorian, it can be played over applicable minor chords that are built from other degrees of the overall key signature such as ii and iii. That said when in doubt it’s best to go with Dorian, but in the end, your ear should be the final judge.
The Aeolian mode, like the Ionian mode, has an important second identity. It’s also known as the natural and/or relative minor scale. Just as the major scale breeds the major key signatures so does the natural scale breed the relative minor key signatures. This makes the Aeolian mode and its formula all the more important to your overall theoretical understanding.
The following three segments will put Aeolian in appropriate style settings such as rock, metal, and a down-tempo slow jam. The latter is especially revealing in regards to the textures Aeolian possesses.
Guitar Scales Chart: Minor Scales
So far we’re six modes into our 13 guitar scales chart count and we’ve covered the major modes that truly matter. For the rest of course we’re going to explore modes outside the diatonic system. In fact, every scale but the last two will be modes from the other two systems that matter–melodic minor and harmonic minor. Starting with the parent scale we look at the melodic minor system first. The formula for the melodic minor is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7.
The melodic minor scale, in a classical context, runs a unique course. While it ascends as the formula just stated, it descends as a natural minor scale. In the context we’re are going to examine it in, which is the one that matters for modern applications in improvising, the scale formula will not change under any circumstances. What goes up will come down just the same. In some circles playing melodic minor in this way calls for identifying it as “jazz minor” to distinguish between the two.
The next two segments will throw melodic minor into a funk jam and a fusion setting. As you’ll soon hear melodic minor has a quirky quality to its sound and will serve as a very cool alternative to other more common minor applications.
Lydian Flat 7
Next up is a guitar scales chart featuring the melodic minor mode and one that very much matters in playing over altered dominant chords as well as basic dom7’s. It especially works great over those bII7 chords you always see a half step above a maj7 chord. Lydian b7 is built from the 4th degree of melodic minor and its formula is as follows: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7. As the name suggests this mode is relative to the Lydian mode, which coincidentally is built from the 4th degree of its parent scale (major or Ionian). And, speaking of names this scale is also known as the Lydian Dominant mode or the overtone scale.
The non-irony is you’ll see that many other modal names are based on the major mode names. This fact makes it important you digest those formulae (including the purposefully omitted Locrian mode whose formula is 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7) so you have a heads up to a new formula before you even touch your guitar.
As for the defining tritones pair found in all melodic minor modes, in Lydian b7 you’ll find them between 1-#4 and 3-b7. Thinking back to the previous statement where it was said these tritones are a whole step apart you might be apt to challenge what you just read. Well, before you take any action dig this little tidbit. Tritones are the only interval that can invert and still be the same quality. If you invert the second pair of tritones mentioned here you’ll get b7-3 and that is a whole step below the tritone between 1-#4. Pretty sneaky, sis!
This next mode is the second of the two modes we’re looking into that are built from the melodic minor system. The altered scale, also known as super Locrian or diminished whole tone, is built from the 7th degree of melodic minor and it is one that sets its own rules in regards to formula. So far all formulae we have examined thus far have been heptatonic and each sequential degree has been present. Simply put, there have been seven notes with no skips. Well, that’s about to change for this puppy.
The altered scale is spelled like this: 1 b9 #9 3 b5 #5 b7. Now, you might be saying to yourself “huh?” and that’s fair. As I hinted this scale walks its own path. Let’s look back at the Locrian mode’s formula (1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7) that was doled out in the text for Lydian b7. It’s basically every degree lowered with the exception of the 4th. Looking at one of the alternative names for the altered scale, super Locrian, the formula for the 7th mode of melodic minor could be spelled 1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7. The problem is twofold: There’s no musical purpose for a b4 (just seeing it in text form is weird!) and it doesn’t do the sound justice. A b4 is enharmonically a major 3rd, which has an immense purpose in music. So much so it negates the possibility of its musical opposite. That said, that note is identified as a 3rd making this scale a dominant type since there’s also b7th degree. That leaves that b3 degree to deal with. That is heard as a b2 tension, which is commonly identified as its octave extension, b9. As for the dual altered fifths, you could also name those degrees as #11 and b13, which are altered extensions of the 4th and 6th degrees. But, then there are no 5ths in the formula! Fine, do this: 1 b9 #9 3 b5/#11 #5/b13 b7.
With that malarkey out of the way let’s see where these dual tritones are. You have the first one between 3-b7, which is the crucial one in terms of being a V7 chord application, and you will find the next one a whole step above between b5/#11-1. Told ya this scale writes its own rules!
Shifting gears we take a look at another guitar scale chart that serves as a parent to a modal system–harmonic minor. This spooky-sounding scale is perhaps the most minor of them all with its seductive texture, which is made possible by yet another unique formula attribute. Check it out, the formula for the harmonic minor is as follows: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7. Taking a close look you’ll see there is a tritone between 2-b6 just like Aeolian, but the interval to key in on is the step-and-a-half between the b6 and the 7. It is that stretch from b6 to 7 that makes the harmonic minor scale have that “thing”.
Just like Mixolydian is a major key signature’s dirty little secret, the harmonic minor is the shadow lurking behind a minor key signature. Remember, minor-key sigs indicate the natural minor scale (Aeolian mode) is behind it all. The problem is that scale doesn’t have the “X” factor the harmonic minor scale does and that’s the V chord it creates. That V chord in a minor context is big and it needs to be there. So while many tunes may look like their purebred natural minor tunes, just look to see if there’s a V chord (or extension thereof), and don’t be surprised if harmonic minor made a visit to the compositional kennel.
In these next three segments, you’re going to see how to apply the harmonic minor scale over metal, bossa, and surf. With a trio like that, you know this scale has got some juice!
The mode in the harmonic minor system that matters beyond reproach is Phrygian Major. Built upon the 5th degree of harmonic minor the formula is as follows: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7. With its defining tritone sitting between the 3-b7 you’ll see why Phrygian Major, also known as Phrygian Dominant, is at its most basic application a V7 chord mode. In that “mode” it works great for setting up a resolution to an i-7 situation. But, that’s not all Phrygian Major has to offer as you’ll soon see and hear. In the following three segments Phrygian Major will be played over jazz, surf, and Klezmer vibe. All three put Phrygian Major in completely different environments with the latter being the most fun in my book.
Guitar Scales Chart: Scales
These final two scales are just that: scales. They’re not modes derived from a parent scale or do they produce any modes themselves. What these scales do produce are musical clones of sorts since they are what is called “symmetrical”. Symmetry in music refers to a device–melodic or harmonic–that repeats itself in a way that comes full circle. Take this next scale, the whole tone scale, for instance. It’s made up of all whole steps so when you get to the end you just continue playing the same intervallic pattern. That allows you to start from any note and produce the same results. It’s an endless, symmetrical cycle of whole steps, and man, does it sound cool!
Due to the whole tone’s scale makeup, this means in practice there are only two of them. This is also due to the fact this is a hexatonic scale. That means there are only six notes as opposed to all the other scales we’ve checked out, which had seven (heptatonic). Play two whole-tone scales a half step apart and you’ve played all twelve pitches in our western system.
The formula for the whole tone scale is as follows: 1 2 3 #4 #5 b7. When it comes to tritones and the symmetrical factor there’s one for every degree! But, the one you should focus on for now is between 3-b7. Yup, one of the whole tone’s roles is a V7 chord scale. The first setting–a jazz vibe–will have the whole tone scale played in that role while the second style setting–fusion–will be a static situation.
By name alone, you can predict at least one attribute contained with the symmetrical diminished scale. That’s right, it’s symmetrical! Weighing in at 8 notes before playing an octave this scale is the lone octatonic formula, which by the way runs in a similar fashion to the altered scale. The formula is as follows: 1 b9 #9 3 #4/#11 5 6 b7. The symmetry here is the repeating half-whole step formula. And yes, the 3rd and b7th degrees make it a V7 chord scale, but like Phrygian Major, there’s more to it than just that.
The three styles you’ll explore symmetrically diminished it is funk, jazz, and the blues with the latter being a very cool way to inject some new life into your 12 bar improvisations.
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