How to Learn Guitar Scales

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ Well the same can be said for guitar scales.

Most guitarists learn a scale here and a scale there over time. Maybe they learn the minor pentatonic scale in one position, a few major scale patterns, minor scale, harmonic minor scale and so on. They learn it in one or two places and use this is in all of their guitar solos. Eventually they get stuck in a rut and are looking for something new.

Well there is a much better way to learn scales and use them in your solos. Instead, how about a system where you learn a few simple shapes and everything can be related to those 5 basic shapes? That is what the CAGED system for guitar does. The CAGED system is way of ‘seeing’ the fretboard as a series of a few shapes and patterns that everything relates to. While many guitarists use it for chords, you can use it to break down the major scale into 5 small shapes to remember. Then all the minor scales, pentatonic scales and so on fit into these 5 shapes, or can easily be derived from them by simply altering one or more notes.

These 5 shapes relate the notes from the major scale to a familiar chord shape, making the shapes transposable to other keys. That’s where the true power comes in. Being able to play in any key by simply moving the 5 shapes up or down the fretboard.

This is like trying to memorize 1001 chords from those popular chord books, or learning a few simple rules on how chords are built and being able to create any chord you want at any time by applying the formula. Or for food lovers, would you rather mix together a bunch of ingredients (i.e. licks, scales) or would you rather use a recipe that has been proven to work in the past?

So before you start memorizing a ton of separate scales, you should seriously consider learning the CAGED system for understanding the fretboard, how everything fits together, and allowing you to find any scale you want at any time.