How to Use the Guitar Scale Finder
To use the guitar scale finder, simply select the chord name, type and if you’d like the scale fingerings or degrees to show by using the dropdowns on the top menu. After you’ve made your selections click “Search” and the appropriate scale patterns will show.
You can find the guitar chord finder here.
Root Notes (or Starting Notes or Naming Notes)
Every scale will have a root note which will be the naming note of the scale as well as the note you will start playing the scale from. Our guitar scale finder color codes the root notes using a dark gray color.
How to Read and Play a Scale from a Scale Diagram for Guitar
The vertical lines in the diagrams found in the guitar scale finder represent the strings. You should at the very least know the numbers of your strings. From your low E (the lowest sounding and thickest string on your guitar) to high E (the highest sounding string and thinnest string) the numbers are 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. It’s a good idea to learn the names of your strings as well, but we’ll cover that later.
The lines which run horizontally represent the frets. The very first line will represent the nut only if the first line is before the roman numeral “I”.
Our guitar scale finder uses roman numerals as fret markers. So “I” means first fret, “III” means third fret and “V” means fifth fret. This helps you identify where the scale is to be played (position) on the fretboard.
If you are a complete beginner, it’s probably worth mentioning that you don’t put your fingers on the frets, but between the frets to get a sound. Also remember, you are not pressing buttons, you are in fact shortening the length of the string by forcing it to make contact with a fret. This makes the string vibrate faster when played and thus the pitch of the note is raised.
Make sure you’ve selected fingering from the dropdown menu of the guitar scale finder before clicking search. If you select degrees you will see the degrees of the scale, not the fingering you should be using. More on degrees later though.
Each finger on your left hand (unless you’re playing a left handed guitar) is given a number for easy identification.
- Index finger = 1
- Middle finger = 2
- Ring Finger = 3
- Pinky = 4
Your thumb isn’t given a number as you don’t use it to fret any notes. Well, most of the time. Some advanced fingerstyle players will use their thumbs for bass lines if all of their other fingers are in use. But that’s a pretty rare exception.
So you can see on the scale diagram, each orange circle has a number inside of it. This means you play that note with the indicated finger. So, if the number is 3, play that note with your third finger. If the number is 1, play that note with your first finger. The question you have now though is what order do you play the notes in.
The Order You Should Play the Notes in the Scale – And Let’s Play a Scale!
Simply put, you want to play starting from the root note, then ascend one note at a time working your way up to the highest sounding note found in the guitar scale diagram. Once you’ve made it to the highest note you work your way back down to the root note. Sounds simple enough, but I’m sure some of you are still a bit confused. Let’s break it down a bit further.
Let’s work our way through a scale diagram one step at a time. Let’s use C major in open position.
Find the root note in the guitar scale diagram and place your third finger down. This is a C note, hence the name C major. Now, the idea with scale diagrams is to work through all the notes on one string at a time from top to bottom (if the scale diagram is oriented vertically like the ones on this page).
So, you know where your first note is, but where’s the second? Well, there are no more notes to play for this scale on the string you started on (the fifth string) so we move up to the next string (the fourth string). This diagram indicates a “0” for the fingering and isn’t placed on a fret. This means this string is played open with no fretted note. So just play the open D string (also called the fourth string).
There are two more notes on the D string. We’ll work our way up the scale (up meaning to the higher sounding notes). Now play the same string (4th string), but push down on the second fret with your second finger. Next, still playing the same string place your third finger on the third fret.
Now we’re out of notes on the fourth string. Now we move to the next string. Play the open third string. Now play the second fret on the third string. Follow the diagram below.
Now we move the exact opposite direction down the scale.
Listen to the sound of the scale while you play it. Part of learning to play scales is about learning to hear new sounds.
How to Play Scales with Notes Below the Root
Let’s use the following scale diagram as an example.
With this diagram we’ll play up the scale, starting on the root, but when we go back down the scale we will go past the root note, all the way to the open sixth string, then back up to the root note. We always want to end on the root note otherwise the scale will begin to lose it’s sound as you’re messing with the tonal center. More on that another day though.
Keep Your Fingers Down!
New players and even some more experienced players will lift all their fingers from the fretboard when they go to play a new note. There’s no reason to do this in many cases if you don’t need to use a finger that’s already been placed for another note at that point in time. Lifting fingers when you don’t need to creates an extra unnecessary motion which takes time to execute. It can also deaden a note which you may otherwise want to ring.
It’s a good and common practice to never move a or lift a finger unless you have to. I think the tendency to lift fingers can come from the misconception or misunderstanding that buttons are being pushed like on a piano, rather than notes are being fretted and thus the length of the string is being reduced.
If you’re still reading you must be pretty keen! We’re going to move a bit beyond simply using a guitar scale finder and are going to get a bit more theoretical. At the same time this will remain practical and on the topic of playing scales.
The major scale is the most common scale scale sound, in western music anyway. No, not like country and western, but in the western world.
A scale is obviously a collection of notes, but it’s also a ladder of notes. Just as you should only climb a ladder one step to the next, you should do the same thing when playing and practicing scales. You play up and down them in a very specific sequence.
Tones and Semitones
Before you can understand what a major scale is and why it sounds the way it does, you’ll need to understand what a tone and semitone is.
A tone is the distance of two frets on the guitar fretboard and a semitone is the distance of one fret on the guitar fretboard.
What is a Major Scale Then?
Simply put a major scale is made up of the spacings:
That’s it! The notes don’t make a scale sound the way it does, the spacings do. Think on that for a while :)
So, if you start on a C note then play the spacings T T S T T T S you will have a C major scale.
If you start on G and then play the spacings T T S T T T S you will have a G major scale.
If you start on Bb and play the spacings T T S T T T S you will have a Bb major scale.
Starting to get it yet?
This doesn’t mean scale diagrams and patterns aren’t important, but understanding that all scale sounds are made of distances, not notes or patterns it one big step towards a greater musical understanding.
Why Should I Learn Scales?
All music comes from scales, including chords. This means if you are learning or playing a song, you are playing notes from a scale.
When you become fluent with scales you gain a greater understanding of how everything fits together and thus everything becomes easier. Learning songs becomes easy, memorization is easier and so on. It’s like anything else really, once you understand it, it becomes easier.
If you ever want to improvise you absolutely have to learn scales and a lot of them. There’s a common misconception that improvisation is random. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Improvisation is composition, but in real time. Composers don’t write random stuff down the same way an improviser doesn’t play random notes. Each note is carefully practiced, chosen and it’s context is understood.
It will be a good idea at some point to move beyond the use of a guitar scale finder and simply memorizing patterns, but that will take some time.
Thanks for Using the Scale Finder
Make sure bookmark this page so you can use the guitar scale finder later. Now go start practicing!