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An Easy Guitar Scale Study: Major, Pentatonic Minor and Lydian Basics

In this article we will delve into a few different “starter” guitar scales.

That’s not to say that you have to be a beginner in order to benefit from this material, but rather it gives you an opportunity to study select scales in a more narrow and focused manner.

Thus, our focus will be on the following three variations:

  • Major
  • Pentatonic Minor
  • Lydian

But why these three? What’s the common thread?

First, there’s the matter of usability and applicability, which is especially true as it relates to the major and pentatonic minor shapes, both of which are incredibly common in western music.

They’re also highly applicable to today’s lead guitar technique.

The Lydian scale, more properly referred to as a “mode,” is a slight variation of the major scale, giving us an easy intro to the topics of modes, while staying within this lesson’s established context.

We’ll begin by picking out keys and forms for the major and pentatonic minor scales, then generating tabs for each one.

1. Tabbing the Major and Pentatonic Minor Scales

Any scale resource will do, but I’d recommend start at a place like All-Guitar-Chords where you can easily pull down scales in different forms and keys.

We’ll start with the major scale in the key of C, patterned at the eighth fret so that our root note is easily identified.

Major Scale

Here’s our resulting tab:

Theoretically this scale can continue in either direction. However, it serves our purposes better to start and stop the scale on root notes (high and low C) at the eighth fret.

Pentatonic Minor Scale

Let’s go through the same process with the pentatonic minor scale.

We’ll stay in the key of C and keep our pattern anchored at the eighth fret. The result is a familiar shape.

This bluesy sounding scale is made up entirely of two simple intervals; major seconds and minor thirds, signified by two and three frets of separation respectively.

2. Memorizing These Patterns

If you haven’t given yourself over to raw memorization, this is a great place to start.

These two scales contain some of the most common patterns and melodies that a guitar player can know, which means memorizing them will give you two highly useable structures to draw from in the future.

Start with the minor pentatonic since it’s the easier of the two.

Break it down into three parts:

  • Low E (three fret jump).
  • Next three strings (two fret jumps).
  • High B and E (three fret jumps).

It’s a fast‐moving shape once you get it in your head. At that point, you’ll just need to spend some time with it in order to get it memorized.

Here’s a structure memorization plan:

  • Play the shape top to bottom 10 times.
  • Play the shape bottom to top 10 times.
  • Play the shape five times, top to bottom and back to top.

This is where the “bottom” is the low E and the “top” is the high E.

After 25 runs, wait 30 minutes, then try it again and see if you can run through the scale from memory.

The exact same process can be used for the major scale, despite the fact that the interval pattern is much different and not nearly as uniform.

Break the strings up if you need to, otherwise it’s the same three memorization steps we mentioned above. If you’re learning the entire pattern, you might have to run through it a few more times, but the principal remains the same.

You can also listen for the “doe‐ray‐me” sound that the major scale follows. If you can’t sing that along with what you’re playing, you’ll know you’ve hit an off note.

3. Turning the Major Scale into the Lydian Mode

Our final task is to understand how to transform the major scale into the Lydian mode, and it’s easier than you might think.

The Lydian mode is simply a major scale with a raised fourth degree, or a sharped fourth note.

So, if we look at the notes in a C major scale: C D E F G A B C

The Lydian mode simply adds a sharp to the F note: C D E F♯ G A B C

Thus, our Lydian mode tab becomes the following:

The note at the ninth fret (highlighted in red) is our raised F♯ giving us our Lydian mode.

And there you have it. You’ve learned two foundational scales, memorized them and learned how to turn one of them into a useable mode.

Any thoughts, questions or comments about this lesson? Let us know in the comments section below.

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