Guitar Lessons: Scales & Learning the Guitar Fretboard

It’s true that knowing guitar scales and learning the guitar fretboard is invaluable for taking your playing to the next level. A knowledge and understanding of your instrument opens up a wide variety of creative possibilities (e.g. soloing, improvising, etc.) for how you actually play your instrument.

In the past, we’ve explained the theory behind guitar scales and we’ve also took a more in depth look at how to build a major scale. This information is essential to your growth, but we’ve never really had any guitar lessons that look at the ways you can actually learn guitar scales and learn the guitar fretboard.

In this guitar lesson on scales, let’s look at a three ways or techniques you can use to learn guitar scales and learn the guitar fretboard:

1.) Memorization

You can always use a chart of the guitar fretboard notes and stare at it for hours memorizing each note on every string. You might have also heard that if you want to the learn the guitar fretboard you will memorize a bunch of guitar scale patterns up and down the neck. However, these are probably the worst ways to learn guitar scales if they are the only methods used.

The problem with only using these methods is that you memorize a bunch of patterns and note names but you have no idea how these patterns and notes interact with one another. My guess is that you might already be doing this. If you are, it’s not all bad, but let’s look at a couple more methods that you should be utilizing as you learn guitar scales and learn the guitar fretboard.

2.) Triads

Triads are a group of three notes played simultaneously. Triads are made up of one note with a third and fifth above it. So for example, in the key of C major, we have a scale that looks like this: C D E F G A B C. We could group together notes C, E, & G to make up a triad. We could also group together notes F, A, & C to make up a triad. And so on…

There are different types of triads. There are major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads. When you first start learning triads, you should start learning your major triads up and down the neck and in different positions.

When you learn triads, you see how these groups of notes interact with the other ones. You can see that by making one note in the triad sharp or flat you change the entire sound of the triad. When you learn triads in combination with guitar scales, you are better able to see how the individual notes relate with one another. We’ll have to save a more in depth discussion on triads for a later time.

3.) Sight Reading

Among guitar players, sight reading from a piece of sheet music seems kind of like a lost skill and not all that necessary. However, sight reading forces you to internalize the guitar fretboard. So when you see a note on a piece of music, you have to see where that note is on the guitar fretboard. If you’ve never read music, there are some wonderful resources out there that use sight reading for learning the guitar fretboard. One that I’ve used and will recommend is Berklee Press Modern Method for Guitar Volume 1.

4.) Guitar Scales Method

Probably one of the best way to learn guitar scales is to use a guitar scales method. These methods combine all the elements that we’ve discussed and more into a method that allows you to master and learn the guitar fretboard. It gets past just mere memorization and into a way that allows the guitar fretboard to make sense to you. Craig Basset’s Guitar Scale Mastery System is one of the best methods out there available to learn guitar scales and master the fretboard.

What are some ways you practice learning the guitar fretboard? Post your comments!

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.