First off, I’ve never been one to recommend overdoing it with scales. There’s certainly nothing wrong with learning scales, but just the mention of a scale is enough to turn beginning guitar players away. Nobody picks up the guitar to play scales. We pick it up to jam, to play songs, to do what it is you do with a guitar.
That being said, scales have a purpose. They are an excellent way to learn where notes are on your fretboard, and playing them can help strengthen your fingers and improve your fluidity and speed. The key is knowing which scales to learn and how much practice you need to put into them.
Guitar scales for beginners should be contained to three scales: major, natural minor, and the blues scale. If you open a scale book and take a look at these three scales, you’re probably going to see them written in every key, and the first thought you’ll have is that there’s no way you have time to memorize all of those scales.
Well, you don’t have to. You only need to memorize the step pattern for each scale. Once you know the step pattern (or structure) for each of these scales, you can play the scales in every key. A step pattern is nothing more than the arrangement of steps or half steps (tone or semi-tones) between the notes of a scale. Think of the step of tone as two frets on the fretboard of your guitar (a half step is one fret).
Here’s the major scale pattern. If you apply these steps to any series of eight notes and name the scale after your starting note, you’ll play the major scale in the key of your starting note. The proper sharps and flats will fall naturally in place. To find the natural minor, simply start on the sixth degree of the major scale and play from that note to its octave. For instance, A is the sixth note of the C major scale. Play from A to A and you are playing the A natural minor scale. C# is the sixth note in the E major scale, so playing from C# to C# gives you C# natural minor.
The natural minor in steps looks like this.
The best way for a beginner to use scales is to play them as warm-ups or as a way of learning the fretboard. Below are five positions of the major scale on the guitar. Practice them in sequence and by combining positions. Make sure you augment scale practice with real-world applications like actually playing songs. This will help ensure you don’t get in a rut or start thinking of guitar paying as a chore.