Your First Three Guitar Scales

We could have called this post "Your First Three Blues Scales" or "Your First Three Metal Scales" or "Your First Three Classic Rock Blues Metal Scales." These are the three scales you need to learn first and for some people, this may be enough. Heck, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour built a whole career around the Pentatonic scale, so maybe one scale is plenty.  

The first thing to make clear here, is that you don't need to worry about Phrygian Dominant scale, tapping the Lydian mode and the Hungarian Minor scale until later and maybe never! Both theoretically and practically, these exotic, filthy sounding beasts are always described in terms of, and related back to, the more standard major and minor scales. For one thing, you need to nail the basics first, and for another, don’t overlook the wealth of serious rock sounds you can generate with the 3 basic scales below. 

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

It’s extremely likely that this is the very first scale you learned or will learn. It’s the quintessential scale of guitar - rock, blues, pop, folk -- whatever. And not least, metal. The Minor Pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes, (hence the ‘Pent’ part of the word - think pentagon) and is usually played across 2 octaves. Here are the intervals that make up a minor pentatonic scale:

1 b3 4 5 7

The "b3" means the flattened third note of the scale. So the notes are the first, the flattened third, the fourth, fifth and seventh. So, in the key of G, the minor pentatonic notes are:

G Bb C D F

If this is starting to freak you out, don't worry. You don't actually have to understand how the formula for the scale works or even know the names of the notes. But it is important that you understand where the pattern starts (on the "root" note, which is G) and that you memorize the visual pattern of the notes.

On the guitar fret board, you can play the G minor pentatonic from the third fret of the E string as shown below. This is known as the first position of the scale. This pattern is one you want to memorize. If you move up the fretboard to the 5th fret, you can play it in A. Move down two more to the 7th fret and you can play it in B. The pattern across the strings stays the exact same.

Screen Shot 2021-10-25 at 7.52.35 PM

The formula, of 1, b3, 4, 5, 7 is always the same. Any minor pentatonic scale is formed by jumping those intervals. It is just the specific notes that change, depending on where you’re starting from.

Which leads to the next important point. There are 5 patterns for the minor pentatonic scale on guitar. The patterns connect to each other and can be used to move further up or down the fretboard. It will take some time to practice and memorize these patterns. But it is time well spent. Once you are able to play the scale patterns with confidence you can explore creating riffs that go up and down the fretboard, moving between portions of the scale. 

Here are diagrams of the additional patterns in G.

G-minor pentatonic

You might notice that the right hand side (lower) part of each pattern connects to the left (upper) part of the next scale. For example Position 1 connects to Position 2 which connects to Position 3 and so on.  

This next diagram shows how the five patterns are connected. 

When you're first learning, focus on learning each pattern in turn rather than trying to connect all five patterns at once. But after you've got them memorized, you can start to see how you can easily go from from one pattern to the next creating tasty riffs. 


Once you know the minor pentatonic scale in G, you can solo alongside almost any rock, blues or metal song that is in the key of G ("Evil Ways" by Santana or "Charlie" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and the notes will sound good. You can even stick primarily to one or two of the patterns and you'll do ok.  Similarly, once you know the pattern in A (from the 5th fret) you can jam along to classics like Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" or "Black Dog" or "Angie" by the Rolling Stones.

Be sure to practice the scale in a few different ways:

  • With a totally clean sound, nice and slow, to highlight your accuracy levels and develop clean smooth picking and articulation, while learning the scale pattern of course
  • With an authentic, distorted heavy metal sound, varying your levels of palm-muting and speed to develop a bit of rock inspiration, sound and authenticity.
  • In both its lower octave (beginning somewhere on frets 0-12) for heavy, chugging riffs, and in its higher octave for soaring, sweeping solos!  
  • Once you've mastered the pattern in G, try moving up two frets to play the pattern in A. Or down two frets to play it in F.  

The Blues Scale

I know not everyone digs the blues. In fact, you might consider it antithetical to prog rock or modern metal. But there’s a bit of a hidden secret in the way that a blues scale can be effectively used in any guitar playing. So, first thing’s first: what is the blues scale?

The blues scale is the minor pentatonic scale, plus one additional note - Which is the b5 (flat 5, or flattened 5th). This is where playing style and articulation need to take hold. If you pass through this interval in a bluesy lick, on a crunch sound, then yes, it’s going to sound like blues. But if you stick it in a heavy palm-muted riff on a high gain sound, then it’s going to create some glorious metallic filth!

So here are the intervals that make up a blues scale:

1 b3 4 b5 5 7

So, in the key of G, that would be:

 G Bb C Db D F

Screen Shot 2021-10-25 at 8.21.08 PM

Again, this formula, of 1, b3, 4, 5, 7 is always the same. Any minor pentatonic scale is formed by jumping those intervals. It is just the specific notes that change, depending on where you’re starting from. As an exercise now, test yourself by trying to write out what the blues scale or minor pentatonic scale would be in another key, maybe the other guitar friendly keys of E or D if you’re new to this. If you’re a bit more advanced, you could try the keys of G# or Db as a bit of a test. Then you can look up those scales afterwards to check your answers.

Here are diagrams of the full blues scale in each of the 5 positions for G.  Note that 5 of the notes are the same as in the minor Pentatonic scale. The root note (in black) is also the same. The only thing that's new is the "blue note" which gives the scale its blues tone. That note is marked, as you might have guessed, in blue. So think of the blues scale as the same as the pentatonic with an extra bonus note. 


Again, practice playing this blues scale in different ways:

  • Clean and slow for accuracy, learning and picking
  • Distorted and heavier, using palm-muting as you work on timing
  • Low down the neck and higher up, working towards both riffs and solos.

If you want to stop here with just the Minor Pentatonic Scale and the Blues Scale that's fine. Plenty of guitar solos can be covered with just those two scales. But for the more adventurous, here's the third scale we'll cover. It's a bit more advanced and has even more notes! 

The Natural Minor Scale

This is the ‘full’ or ‘complete’ minor scale (made up of 7 notes) from which the minor pentatonic and blues scales are extracted. The minor pentatonic is a kind of all-purpose, inoffensive, reduced form of the full minor scale for heavier, less melodic playing. For more melodic playing you’re likely to need the full version - The natural minor scale. This will give your riffs a more melodic appeal and additional possibilities and give your solos more melody and longer runs.

Here are the intervals that make up the Natural Minor scale:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

This time let's try it in A. This would mean the following notes:



Once again, this formula remains the same - every natural minor scale in existence is created using this formula. If you start this formula from B, it will yield the B natural minor scale, if you start it from D# it will yield the D# natural minor scale. Can you see the pattern here? Every scale in guitar playing is just a formula - It’s where and what the root note, or tonic, is that’s what is important, what gives the scale its name.

As always, remember that like everything else, practicing in a variety of ways from a variety of different angles is needed to really cement your technique, knowledge and ability.

  • Clean and slow for accuracy as you build your confidence
  • Add some distortion or palm-muting as you work on timing
  • Extend your range low down on the neck and higher up, for flexibility in building riffs

Have fun getting to know these scales, and make sure you also take a bit of time to notice how these scales all fit inside each other. They’re all versions and variations of the same thing. The Natural Minor is the full, melodic version, the Minor Pentatonic is the simplistic, heavy version, and the Blues Scale is the Pentatonic plus that extra note -- originally blues-intended, but perfect for re-appropriation in heavier rock and metal!

Go forth and shred!

Alex Bruce is a writer for Guitar Tricks

Fiverr and the Quest for Perfect Tab Files

GuitarPro - Redbone

If you don't understand the headline, this post is not for you. But for guitar and bass players who might not be able to figure out a song by ear, a tab file is a musical notation that makes learning songs easy. Tablature is a very old music system which shows where your fingers should be positioned to play a fretted instrument. Though not perfect, tab notation is much easier than reading traditional musical notation with clef bars, treble bars and all those squiggly lines.

In the 1980s, tablature became popular in guitar magazines and music books which published licensed transcriptions of guitar solos in a form that the average guitar player could read. With the rise of the internet 1990s, amateur musicians began posting thousands of their own text-based tablatures. In the early 2000's, Guitar Pro, a brilliant software application from the French company Arobas Music, took things to a whole other level by creating a tool that could not only create tablature files, but it could play the music it represented. You could create and playback all of the different instruments (guitar, bass, drums, piano...), and you could isolate, slow down and loop parts, making it easy to practice new parts.

I've beee using Guitar Pro almost daily for more than 10 years. If you're a musician, you should just click on over to the Guitar Pro site and get a free trial download. It works best on a computer (Windows or Mac) though it is also available for tablet and smartphones. 

While you can find most popular music in Guitar Pro file formats (e.g. .gp, .gpx, .gp5 etc) every now and then there will be a song I can't find or whose tab file is terribly wrong. So recently, I used the online task marketplace Fiverr to commission the creation of a couple of new Guitar Pro files. I was blown away by the quality of the work. 

These are excellent Guitar Pro (.gp) transcriptions of some admittedly obscure songs:

Come and Get Your Love is a campy early 1970s song that had a well-deserved resurgence in popularity after inclusion in the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. It's impossible to play this song and not have a smile on your face. The guitar chords are straightforward: Em, A, D, Bm repeated in the verse and the chorus.  The bass part is a pretty busy sequence of staccato 8th notes. It's quite a fun funky sound, replete with '70s fashion, wah-wah, cowbell, strings and even a sitar. There's a great story in the Wall Street Journal from earlier this year where Redbone bass player Pat Vega describes the history of the song and how he and his brother Lolly wrote it. 

Shama Lama Ding Dong is even more obscure. It was a hit by the fictional band Otis Day & The Knights as portrayed in the 1978 film Animal House. It's an homage to early R&B and rock songs of that era. Little known fact: Robert Cray plays bass in the film.

In addition to the Guitar Pro app, Arobas offers MySongBook, an online store where you can buy songs or a subscription. There are also many free Guitar Pro files available online at,,, UltimateGuitar etc. Or just google any song you're looking for.

Kudos to RaymondMusic on Fiverr who completed these perfect transcriptions. 

And here are a couple of great videos of these songs:

Leo Kottke's California Dunk Tank

Dunk tank

I'm not sure why it's called a "dunk tank" but I suppose it's better than a drunk tank.  Nonetheless, fans of Leo Kottke will be excited to learn that they can spend 5 days this summer learning from the master along with Steve Berlin, David Hildago and Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos.  The event takes place August 4-8 in Cambria  on the California coast.

Looks like a lot of fun and a pretty nice place to hang out.  If you're looking to improve your acoustic guitar chops, this will be a truly memorable vacation.

Studley Guitar Improvisation


Guitarist Greg Studley, who plays with the Pink Floyd Tribute band House of Floyd, has published a great new book called "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising with Knowledge."  Although the title is a bit of a mouthful, it's a good book for any player who is looking to go beyond the usual learned riffs to develop a more dynamic style to improvisation.  

Studley's approach is a thoughtful one and it's well-suited to anyone who has got stuck in the "Pentatonic rut" of playing same-sounding solos over every song using just one or two Pentatonic scale shapes.  Studley has developed a consistent structure and naming approach to make it much easier to learn everything you need to develop interesting and melodic solos.  He also ensures that your solos match the underlying chord changes and not just the oveall key of the song.  This enables you to build on the natural tension that happens during chord changes to make things flow better with the overall song.

Studley provides a "three step method" and a series of exercises that focus on getting familiar with root notes, then the scales before you dive into the uncharted territories of improvisation.  This structure ensures that you learn where to place your hands and you know what scale you're working from at all times and don't end up somewhere you don't want to be.  Through the course of the book, the techniques get increasingly sophiticated, incorporating arpeggios, bends, slides, hammer-ons, triplets, vibrato, syncopated rhythms and more.

Here's a video that demonstrates some of Studley's techniques for mixing two different pentatonic scales:

The book weighs in at over 200 pages, so you get a lot more detail with exercises for each chapter. And you can practice along to the backing tracks which can be downloaded from Studley's web site.  

And in related news, The House of Floyd will be touring Northern California beginning March through April, so if you're anywhere in the vicinity, be sure to check them out.  They've really honed their chops over the years, in no small part to Studley's great guitar playing.

iReal Pro Updated for Mac, iOS, Android

IPad guitar chords

Technimo has updated their awardwinning iRealb musical accompaniment application and re-christened it as iReal Pro.  The new version is available immediately for Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android.  iRealPro remains easy to use but adds several new capabilities including:

  • Customizable click tracks
  • Built-in chord diagrams for guitar
  • Easier song creation and editing
  • More custom mixing capabilities
  • AudioBus support for iOS 

AudiBus capability makes it possible to use iReal Pro in conjunction with other music apps on your iPhone or iPad, for example, combining iReal Pro with guitar audio from GarageBand, AmpliTube or AmpKit.

iReal Pro has more than 30 different accompaniment styles to chose from (Rock, Soul, Pop, Ballad, Bossa Nova, Funk Rock, Swing, Latin, Blues, Shuffle etc.) enabling a broad repertoire.  You can customize the accompaniment by changing not only the style, but the tempo, the key and the bass and piano instrumentation.  Also worth noting is there are hundreds of songs available on the forums including the typical Jazz standards, Blues, Beatles, Grateful Dead, Pop, Rock and more.  So even if you're more comfortable playing songs than creating them, there's a ton of material to tap into.  Take a look at the video below to get a feel for iReal Pro on the iPhone.

If I have one criticism of iReal Pro it's that it is very jazz oriented.  So even the rock and blues songs  inevitably sound like a lounge lizard jazz combo who wouldn't know how to rock if they were playing AC/DC.  I'm not sure what the best solution to this is.  Maybe some of the songs are using older styles, or maybe there's a need for more styles and rock instrumentation.  Hopefully this is something that iReal Pro can continue to improve.

Overall, iReal Pro continues to get better and better with every release.  It's a versatile tool for the practicing musician.  iRealPro is just $7.99 for iPad and iPhone via iTunes and $19.99 for the Mac.  Best of all, this is a free upgrade for all existing iRealb users.

Elmo Karjalainen's Brilliant Backing Tracks


I'm always on the lookout for good backing tracks.  Even if you have a band to play with, it's hard to get everyone together when you need to.  And you've still got stuff to work on between rehearsals and gigs.  I find that having some backing tracks makes it a whole lot more interesting to practice.  To keep it fresh, you gotta have some new takes on things. 

That's why I was so impressed with Elmo JK's backing tracks.  He's a blues/rock shredder from Finland and has created a number of impressive tracks.  They're way beyond your typical I-IV-V blues shuffle.  There's stuff in the style of Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, The Who, Joe Satriani, Jim Hendrix and more.  Check out the videos on youtube to see get some ideas.

 He's also recorded a great album called "Unintelligent Designs" and some extra tracks from that session called "Unintelligent Leftovers" (which sounds like what I had for dinner last night).  These are occasionally on sale, so definitely worth signing up for his email list.  That'll also get you a couple of free songs from the album.

I'm hoping he gets out on an international tour, but in the meantime, feel free to check out what he's got.

Stu Hamm at Guitar Workshop Plus

Stu hamm

Stu Hamm was another of the guest artists who appeared at Guitar Workshop Plus in BC this summer.  Hamm is a legendary bass player, famous for his own works as well as for playing with some of the greatest guitar players in the world including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Frank Gambale, Michael Schenker and others.  He helped create and popularize many new techniques in bass playing that enabled the bass to be more than just an instrument of accompaniment.

It was great to have him come out to Guitar Workshop Plus where he talked about his development as a bass player, played an impressive set (solo and with the workshop faculty) playing original songs as well as fantastic covers of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Going to California" among others.  He also spent several hours with the bass students.

Here's Hamm playing Vince Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy" (on request) on bass:

Gary Hoey at Guitar Workshop Plus

Gary Hoey - Squamish

Surf shredder guitar legend Gary Hoey was a featured artist this year at the Vancouver session of Guitar Workshop Plus.  He taught a session today and also played a show tonight featuring some classic blues songs such as "Going Down," "The Thrill is Gone," "Further On Up The Road" and others.  Hoey is not only a superb shredder, but he's a tremendous performer and a very nice guy.  He talked about how he learned guitar as a teenager, the ups and downs of his career, some of his musical influences and more.   Then for his final song, he brought out more than a dozen students in succession to jam with him on stage to "Redhouse."  The video clip below features teenager Matteo Kennedy of the band Abstract, from Comox Valley, BC.  

I've posted a few more videos from the show:

Free Berklee Songwriting Class

My brother was pestering me about taking some online courses over at Coursera.  They have classes through major universities including Berklee College of Music, which sounded interesting.  So I signed up for a songwriting course.  It's a six week course which includes online videos, quizzes and assignments.  I've written a few songs over the years, but never really put much effort or thought into it.  So why not give it a shot?

PattisonPattison toured with an obscure band called featherrain in the 70sand began teaching at Berklee shortly thereafter.  He seems like a genuine guy, with good ideas about song structure and storytelling and has written a number of popular books on the subject.   Pattison has also worked with a wide range of many pro musicians and producers including John Mayer and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith.  Plus he has a cool leather jacket. 

The course had over 65,000 participants the first time around and the latest edition has just started July 19.  So there's still time to get in on the action.  Best of all, the course is FREE!  There are also free courses on Jazz Improvisation and Music Production.

I'm not sure I understand Coursera's business model, but I'm not going to argue with a free course from Berklee.

From Guitar to Bass


I've never been a guy with a lot of natural rhythm; it's always been something I've struggled with.  Unfortunately, both bass players I play with have left their respective bands --one due to, ah, creative differences, and the other has gone back to his home of Australia.  So I decided to throw my hand in and attempt to learn to play bass.  I figured it would be good for me as a way to improve my rhythm.  And for some of the rock and blues songs we've been playing ("Come together", "Day Tripper", "Sunshine of your Love", "Killing Floor", "Early in the Morning") the bass line is pretty much the same as one of the guitar parts.  So how hard can it be, right?  I mean, it's only got four strings!

So I picked up a couple of used short scale basses and Roland cube amps on Craigslist and GuitarCenter.  One bass and amp are kept where I rehearse with my guitar buddy Rob, so I don't have to schlep gear every time we play, and the other set is at home.  

  • Jay Turser Violin Bass ($150 w/case) 
    A Hofner "Beatle bass" clone with a 30" scale that I picked up in white as seen in the photo above.  I've never seen another Beatle Bass in white, so I'm pretty chuffed about this.  
  • Ibanez Mikro Bass ($100)
    A really short 28" scale bass, also in white
  • Roland Cube 20XL Bass ($150)
    A solid practice amp, with built-in amp emulation and loud enough you can play with a drummer 
  • Roland Cube 100 Bass ($200)
    This is a discontinued model, loud enough to play a gig, but still only 35 lbs.  Lots of built-in effects so you can go from smooth Motown sound to Stranglers growl.  At $200 this was a steal.

I decided to go with a short scale bass which would be easier to transition from guitar.  It's still a bit of a stretch, but not too bad.  That makes it a different sound than the classic rock Fender P-Bass, but I figure with the effects and amp emulation, I can boost the low-end if I really need to.  For guitar players interested in picking up bass, a short scale bass makes a pretty easy transition.  The Ibanez Mikro is about the same size as a Fender Strat, so it fits nicely in the trunk of my convertible.  Alas, the Beatle Bass has to ride in the passenger seat.

I'm not giving up on guitar, but I'm going to see what I can do to learn some proper bass skills. Heaven knows you always seem to have more guitar players than bass players, so I figure it's a good skill to have.  It's certainly different from guitar.  But it's a cool feeling when you get a groove going with the drummer.  And so far, no pressure to do a bass solo.  

Any other bass players coming from guitar who want to provide advice?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if anyone has another short scale bass (Ibanez ARTB100, Eastwood, Gibson EB0 etc) in white they'd like to sell, I'm all ears.  

iReal b for iPad and Mac


A buddy of mine Robert introduced me to a very cool application with the somewhat awkward name iReal b.  The name's not too important, but what iReal b provides is a fakebook for tons of Jazz, blues and pop songs.  Unlike other fakebooks out there, iReal b lets you add more and more songs including hundreds from the iReal b forums or even create your own.

You can set up the charts for a song by setting the tempo, the chords for the verse & chorus, the breaks etc.  Then iReal b will play the song for you.  You can also easily transpose the song to different keys, slow it down, speed it up, loop sections etc.  This makes it great for practicing songs or sharing arrangements with others in your band.  You can also view different chord inversions and add on different style packs.

iReal b is a relatively young operation and so the application doesn't include all of the capabilities of older applications like Band-in-a-Box.  On the other hand, iReal b is a lot cheaper and it's available for iPad, iPhone and Android as well as the Mac.  I was also pleased to see the iReal b folks add new songs based on requests from customers, including 50 Blues standards with songs by Albert King, BB King, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters,  Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and others.

While the sound of the songs is not perfect (they sound a bit too canned for my taste), they are a good starting point.  iReal b is a good deal at the Mac app store for $19.99 and it's practically a steal for the iPad and iPhone or Android at only $7.99.

Guitar Player's Top 40 Licks App


Guitar Player magazine's Top 40 licks app for iPad is now on sale for only $1.99 compared to the regular price of $9.99.  This app was actually built by TrueFire the company that has delivered a slew of "50 licks" iPad apps for Blues, Rock, Jazz etc.  Think of this as a "greatest hits" collection of some of the best licks from different genres and styles.  There's video, backing tracks, tabs and some added classic articles and interviews right out of the pages of Guitar Player magazine's extensive archives.  The top 40 licks includes those in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dave Gilmour, Jimmy Page, BB King, Jimmi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and more. 

If you haven't tried TrueFire, this is a great way to test it out cheap and see just how good their applications are.  If you like it, pick up some of the others.  If not, it's less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Honestly, what are you waiting for?