Course Introduction: How To Play And Use Scales

This is a unique, extrodinary and in depth guitar course concerning the use and understanding of scales, a one of kind distance learning opportunity designed for serious guitar students, educators and musicians. This course revolves around playing, working and understand the scales theoretically (music theory), physically, and from a playing standpoint. Once that is accomplished the focus then shifts to understanding and execution of the scales in a musical situation. In other words, once you learn a new scale, learn about the music that scale makes. Approach each scale with the good common sense and practical skills you've developed to this point, paying attention to the fingering of each scale and to the musical sound.

A study of scales must introduce you to scale forms, fingering patterns and the mechanics of the neck. If the course of stops there, the material is dry, dull and often of little or no use. In my method I have incorperated 3 areas of musical study critical to your success.

Course Overview


Chromatic Scale: Spelling And Formula

A scale derives that sound, and is defined by the distance between the individual notes in the scale, this is called a scale formula. The Chromatic Scale, is the scale that contains every one of the 12 possible musical notes in order. In the Chromatic Scale, the interval (or distance) seperating each and every note from the next note is called a half step. Half steps are found between any two adjoining notes in the Chromatic Scale. To your right is an interactive graphic, play and listen to the graphic several times, saying the nams of the notes silently to yourself. If you have a keyboard play the Chromatic scale exactly as we are playing it in the graphic.

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Graphic Organizers

Below is a graphic organizer (strong visual reference) of the chromatic scale. Learning to visual information, with the use of rich visual input, is a secret that professional educators, highly creative and effective people share. Many players and teachers will say that using charts and diagrams is a crutch or a 'cheat', everything I have read or seen in my 30 years as an educator strongly supports the use of visual references and graphic organizers. It's a fast track to learning and after all, using visual input is no secret, remember flashcards?

Since all notes in the scale are seperated by a half step, the scale formula is written like this:

half - half - half - half - half - half - half - half - half - half - half - half


Sliding On One String

A Chromatic Scale could be played on the high "E" string (the thin string) by playing the open "E" note followed by a note on each and every fret, ending with the "E" note located on the 12th fret. Because all consecutive note in the scale are seperated by the same distance, a half-step this is all called a symetrical scale. As you listen to and then practice this exercise, pay close attention to the sound of Chromatic Scale.

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As an aside, this method of sliding up and down on one string is so often overlooked but intentionally playing things on one string can be a very effective and fresh approach -this type of one string playing feels logical, intuitive and highly functional in a basic and logical sort of way. In scale playing however, the law of the land is position playing.

Position Playing

In your study of scales you'll be playing the guitar in reference to various position, commonly called position playing. In position playing each finger is assigned to it's own fret. All notes that arise in a particular fret are played by the finger which has been assigned to that fret. The diagram below, shows this of position playing in relation to the first position, or Position One. Since frets are labeled with roman numerals, this would be correctly called position one.

Playing Exercise

The Chromatic Scale can easily be played in the first position, (position one) by employing open strings while working your way across the neck. Below is an interactive graphic, the diagrams' viewpoint is of standing facing the guitar, so in the diagram, string six, the fat string, is the furthest to the left. The black dots represent the notes you'll be playing and are labeled, always think of the notes as being in order as you play them going up in pitch (ascending) and going down in pitch (descending).

Listen to and watch the animation once or twice before playing on your guitar. Speed is not important when you learn this, but make sure every note lasts for the same amount of time when running through the scale. Work with this diagram until you are smoothly playing and hearing the entire scale.

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Video Lesson

The following video discusses how the Chromatic scale also makes an excellent finger exercise and ear training drill. As you practice, play along and work with the video, remember the 4 rules of picking practice:

  1. The legato sound -strive for a smooth, connected sound -as if you were singing the notes.
  2. Play atempo -played with a strong and easily discernable rhythm.
  3. Stay in position -each finger is assigned to its own fret and plays all the notes on that particular fret.
  4. Alternate picking -alternate downstrokes and upstrokes throughout the scale -play the entire scale with a smooth down - up motion of your picking hand.



Chromaticism is the name given to musical ideas, lies and passages that are derived from (and sound like) the Chromatic scale. In this course, I will continually refer to great works of various genres and idioms because good melodies, interesting ideas and muscal sound effects don't belong to any one style, they belong to the world of music.

With that being said, the Chromatic Scale can clearly be heard at the beginning of the beautiful and haunting melody taken from the opera Carmen (1875 -Georges Bizet), the tune below is written in a Habanera style which is a highly rhythmic style of song and dance named for Havana, the Cuban city associated with the form. The Habanera style was embraced as a compositional vehicle in both Europe and the Latin classical music (romantic period) world as even in blues, jazz and New Orleans style rock songs. The classic Habanera bass line, heard in the recording below is one of the defining features of the style.


For another Chromatic melody consider the famous and fascinating Flight Of The Bumble Bee. In this excerpt we hear the Chromatic scale in all its musical glory creating a moving, swirling, almost maddening sound. When ever your learn a new scale (or any musical concept), try and learn what kind of music that scale is used to create, what kind of musical effects that scale is capable of. For purposes of these exercises look at the Chromatic scale as the "master" scale of these exercises, lending its' unique sound to the melodies. Of equal importance is the fact that these examples are derived from our fingering pattern for a Chromatic Scale, in position one, beginning and ending on a Root Note of "E".

End Of Introductory Lesson