Guitar Scale Routine

7 Day Guitar Practice Routine – Day 4 -Scales

In Guitar Blog, Practice and Technique, Scales by Craig SmithLeave a Comment

Welcome to Day 4 of my 7 Day Practice Routine for Guitarists!

Today we’re going to focus on something a little obvious. SCALES. Don’t click away just yet. I know it can be a daunting and often boring part of your guitar practice routine.. but seriously… Scales need some love too and they can be super fun.

In case you missed the previous articles, you may want to check out:

Day 1 – A 7 Day Guitar Practice Routine – Intro & Warmups
Day 2 – Modal Workout for Guitarists
Day 3 – Arpeggios including Diatonic 7th’s and Sweep Picking

The Full Book is Done!

The 7 Day Practice Routine For Guitarists eBook

What is a Scale?

By definition, “In music theory, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale”

Or in lay terms, alphabetically from A to G., For example, the C Major Scale:

The Major Scale is the foundation for all other scales, chords arpeggios.. really anything you’re going to do on the Guitar (or any other instrument).

The Major Scale:

  • Has 8 notes in alphabetical order.
  • Has a set interval pattern (the space between scale tones) for every key:
    Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half
  • If you’re completely new to music theory think of a whole step as 2 frets distance on the guitar and a half step as 1 fret.

There are always half steps between the notes B-C and E-F.

The Circle of Keys:

The Circle of Keys (often called the Circle of 5ths) is a kind of music calculator to determine the notes in any Major Scale.

Download the high quality printable Circle of Keys .PDF

Circle of Keys


circle of keys

Note: If you already understand how to use the circle, just scroll down!

The Major Scale consists of 7 different notes and one octave note in alphabetical order.
For example a C Major Scale is simply: C D E F G A B C

The formula for a Major Scale is:
Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half

Remember that a whole step (Whole Tone) is equal to 2 frets distance, while a
half-step (Semi-Tone) equals only 1 frets distance. With this knowledge, you could build a Major
Scale off of any note, providing you stick with the above formula.

When you apply this formula starting on the note C proceeding through the musical alphabet you can see how this works:

C to D is a Whole Step.
D to E is a Whole step

E to F is a Half-Step
F to G is a Whole Step
G to A is a Whole Step
A to B is a Whole Step
B to C (octave) is a Half -Step

Being able to figure out scales in this manner is a valuable tool that can be applied to any
instrument. For the guitar, it is a slow process that can be averted by the use of patterns and

How the Circle Works (Sharp Keys):

Starting at the top of the circle with the Key of C Major notice the natural sign indicating a key
signature of NO sharps and NO Flats. This means that if we start a scale on “C” ascending in
alphabetical order, we end up with C D E F G A B C without having to change anything to
fit into the Major Scale Formula.

7 Day Guitar Practice Routine #3 - Arpeggios

As we travel clockwise in 5th’s to the next note “G” we add 1 sharp note. The first sharp note is
F# indicated by the arrow pointing clockwise. After we add the F# we end up with a G Major
Scale: G A B C D E F# G.

Continuing on to the next key clockwise we get the key of D Major. D Major contains 2 sharp
notes, F# and C#. Remember when we need to add a sharp start on F#, follow the arrow
clockwise and add the next one in 5ths.

We end up with D E F# G A B C# D.
Try playing these notes on the guitar and notice how our Major Scale Formula remains intact.

Proceeding to our next Key, A Major we add another sharp for a total of 3. Starting on F#
following the arrow clockwise and adding C# and D#.
A Major Scale: A B C# D E F# G# A

Can you see the pattern forming here? Some important points to remember:

  1.  The Major scales always contain 8 notes in alphabetical order.
  2. We always start on F when adding sharps and then add additional ones in 5ths,
    or clockwise following the arrow.
  3. The finished product ALWAYS falls into our Major Scale Formula: Whole, Whole, Half,
    Whole, Whole, Whole, Half.

The Flat Side

We build “flat” Keys in much the same way that we did with the sharp side of the circle,,,, but
with two important differences:

  1. Bb is the first flat note.
  2. We add our flat notes counter-clockwise (in 4ths) indicated by the arrow above Bb.

For the key of F Major we add 1 flat note. The first flat note is Bb. So our F Major Scale looks
like this: F G A Bb C D E F

Our second flat KEY “Bb” has 2 flat notes: Bb and following the arrow counter-clockwise
to Eb. Our Bb scale looks like this: Bb C D Eb F G A Bb.

Proceeding a 4th counter-clockwise to Eb we now need 3 flat notes to complete our scale.
Following the arrow, we get Bb, Eb and Ab. The Eb Major Scale:
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb.

Things to note about “flat” keys:

  • The Major scales always contain 8 notes in alphabetical order.
  • We always start on Bb when adding flat notes and then add additional ones in 4ths,
    or counter-clockwise following the arrow.
  • The finished product ALWAYS falls into our Major Scale Formula: Whole, Whole, Half,
    Whole, Whole, Whole, Half.

You’ll find that over time the Circle of Keys will just happen for you naturally. I don’t feel the
need to make my students strictly memorize the circle because over time, it just well… happens.


As you learn to better speak the language of music, I think you’ll find yourself referring to the
circle on occasion to grab a key signature or double-check a piece you may be working
on.. eventually though, you won’t need to.

Remember the sharps always start on F and travel in 5ths:
1F# 2G 3A 4B 5C# 2D 3E 4F 5G# 2A 3B 4C 5D# E F G A# B C D E# F G A B# etc.,

The flats always start on Bb and travel in 4th’s:
1Bb 2C 3D 4Eb 2F 3G 4Ab 2B 3C 4Db 2E 3F 4Gb etc..

FAQ: Guitarists on Scales

Why do we need to practice scales as Guitarists?

If we as guitarists understand scales, we can easily learn the theory behind chords and other scales used to write songs, solos and improvise fluently in any style of music.

It also makes figuring out songs and solos from your favorite artists so much easier. Understanding the Major Scale and Key Signatures also enables you to read music in other keys besides C.

When we practice scales we’re building a framework, or sort of mental highway that leads to all of the “good notes”, other scales, arpeggios and chord forms.

It also makes improvising a breeze. Taking the guesswork out of jamming with your band, a backing track or other musicians is liberating. You can’t do any of that well without some scale knowledge.

Am I going to become some annoying Shredder Guy (or Gal)?

Technique is a tool, and a very important one. Understand that how “good” a Guitarist may be to anyone is completely subjective. Technique however, is not.

Technique can be measured. It is almost quantifiable. It makes every aspect of your guitar playing easier when practiced regularly.

Think of it as the most important tool in your Guitarist Toolbox. Sure you could hammer a nail with a rock, but having a good hammer is going to make every job easier.. forever.

How fast you play is optional. Whether you’re into Blues or Progressive Metal, it just doesn’t matter. Practicing scales will help you regardless of your chosen genre or how fast you want to get.

I learned all the modes in the last lesson, why do I want to practice these scales too?

We’re going to change it up today by using some different pattern types to confuse the right hand picking. Don’t get me wrong, 3 Note-Per-String scales are the cornerstone of many modern Guitarists playbook. …. But by adding in odd numbered notes per string we will develop a stronger right hand and also cover some of those weird little pockets across the neck for improvising and solos.

Think of it as the muscle confusion tactics taught by fitness professionals. Just when you’re blazing through one scale pattern with ease, we’re going to confuse those muscles by introducing a new, completely different picking pattern.

Scale Theory:

As a 25+ year veteran Guitar Instructor, I’ve always tried to make theory as painless as possible. Sure, you could just learn the patterns, but a little knowledge will go a long way to making you a better musician as well as just a Guitarist.

Major Scales and Modes:

I’ve already written a comprehensive guide to modes in last weeks routine:
The Modal Workout for Guitarists. Check it out then continue back here.

The Pentatonic Major, minor and Blues Scale.

You probably know these patterns. Typically they are among the first scales Guitarists learn… but did you know the theory behind them?

Minor Scale

If we take a regular Major Scale and start on the 6th degree we get the Natural minor Scale (aka Relative minor).

A <<<——Start minor here!

A minor Scale: A B C D E F G A
Simple right? thats it! You just made a minor scale.

Take that newly create Natural minor scale and drop a few notes so that your left with: A C D E G
After dropping the 2nd and 6th degrees of the A minor scale, we’re left with a 5 note scale – A Pentatonic minor.

In relation to the Key of A Major you might also think of it as: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7

Remember in the C scale we went to the 6th degree to create our minor? Let’s go back to the C and use these same notes but starting on C:

Now we have the C Major Pentatonic Scale! Boom, crazy simple right? Don’t over think it.. that’s really all there is to it.

You might also think of this in relation to C Major as: 1 ,2, 3, 5, 6

Back to A Pentatonic minor for a second: A C D E G

Now let’s ADD a note. The #4 (or b5) – D#/Eb

A C D (D#/Eb) E G

This new 6 note scale is the Blues Scale.

Tip: All 3 of these scales are interchangeable within the key of C/A minor.

Sure some will sound better than others depending on the chord progression, but they all WORK.

5 Books Every Guitarist Should Own

5 Books Every Guitarist Should Own

Harmonic Minor

This is a fun one! If you’re into Classical Music, Spanish or the Neo-Classical Guitarists of the late 70’s thru 80’s, you’ll love Harmonic minor.

Back to our A minor scale for a second: A B C D E F G A
Let’s raise the 7th degree 1 half step. G —> G#

A B C D E F G# A

Now we have the A Harmonic minor Scale!

Melodic Minor

I think it’s at least worth a mention that there are 2 different ways to do Melodic minor. In Classical theory the scale is different ascending then it is descending. Sounds confusing right? It can be a little strange for sure.

Let’s check it out:

A Melodic minor Ascending is an A Natural minor scale with a raised 6th and 7th degree:

A B C D E F# G # A

Descending, everything is set back to the Natural minor like this:


I’ve seen heated (online) arguments about the usage of this “old” style Melodic minor. I’ve actually seen people say it is a myth or doesn’t exist. Ok, well.. my personal thoughts are that if it ever existed even ONCE, it is not a myth!

This old form was used widely through the Baroque era and into the early 20th Century. Somewhere along the line this methodology was dropped in favor of the modern Melodic minor scale more widely used today.

Note: The great Spanish Classical Guitarist Andres Segovia taught minor scales the “old” way with different ascending and descending notes. You can find them in his timeless Scale Book.

andres segovia

Modern (Jazz) Melodic Minor:

In the Jazz heyday of the 1940’s-1960’s Melodic minor was (and still is) widely used in improvisations to get a more sophisticated harmonic sound. I could do a whole other article on just that topic and it would still only be the tip of the iceberg… so for simplicity sake, let’s see what happened in the 1900’s.

Take your original C Major Scale:


Lower the 3rd degree 1 half step

E—-> Eb

C (Jazz) Melodic Minor:

C D Eb F G A B C

.. and yes… it really is that simple folks.

I’ve had students over the years ask me questions like: “ok, that sounds great for Jazz, but is it ever used in Rock or other types of Music?”

YES. It is used here and there in more pop-type genres. The shining example that always stood out for me was Neal Schon’s outtro solo on Stone in Love.

If you’re a Guitarist and don’t have Journey – Escape (1981), you should get it! There are tons of great solos and riffs on that record, but that melodic minor solo on Stone in Love is really something special.

Regardless, this last newer form of Melodic minor is the one we’re going to use for the exercises.

Recommended Reading: Melodic Minor Secrets, Don Mock

C Melodic Minor in the 3rd Position:

Melodic minor

Need more Scale Shapes? Get on my Email list for access to the Guitar Printables Library. My library is a work in progress, but does already include all of the 3 Note-Per-String minor scale, Pentatonic and Blues shapes.

The Practice Routine

For the actual Guitar Practice Routine, we’re simply going to do runs of each shape 10x each. I know what you’re thinking… 10x each, that’s it?

  • 10x each, x5 Pentatonic minor.
  • 10x each, x5 Pentatonic Major.
  • 10x each, x5 Blues.
  • 10x each, x5 Melodic minor.
  • 10x each, x7 Harmonic minor modes.

So… yeah, that’s 270 reps! It could take you anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on the speed. Some more tips:

  • I know I’ve said it before, but ALWAYS use a Metronome.
  • Go for 10 reps for each shape, but make them 10 PERFECT reps.
    For example if you mess up on the 10th one, do another or however many it takes to get 10 perfect ones.
  • Practice slowly. Only practice as fast as you can play perfectly.
  • Always alternate pick. After all, the whole purpose of this routine is to get the picking hand used to awkward string crossings and varying notes per string.
  • Break it up. If the routine is too long and you’re not quite ready, go ahead and split it over a few days.

Examples (Tab & standard) of the first shape in each series below. I’ve put them in a specific order for a reason. We want to do 1 shape, then move on to the 1st shape in the next series and so on.

The idea here is that right when you’re picking hand is getting used to the sequence, we introduce a new one with a different number of notes per string.

Pentatonic minor

Pentatonic minor

Scale Routine

Melodic minor

The 7 Day Practice routine For Guitarists Day 4 - Scales. Includes Guitar Printables.

The 7 Day Practice routine For Guitarists Day 4 – Scales. Includes Guitar Printables.

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