What Guitar Scales and Modes Should You Learn: Bite-Size Guitar Podcast Episode 31

Episode 31 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at guitar scales and what scales you should learn first. There’s a lot of advice out there on learning scales, but the scales you choose to learn will play a big part in how enjoyable they are to learn and how useful you find them.

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Useful Resources

Check out these lessons and guides to help you get started learning scales.

Check out these Scales Resources for diagrams and resources on the most common guitar scales you might want to learn.

Podcast Episode 31 Transcript

Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 31 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.

In this episode, let’s have a look at guitar scales and which ones you should consider learning. If you’re not interested in learning guitar scales, that’s fine, but if you are interested in learning them, some scales are better to learn than others.

By the end of this episode, you should have a clear idea of which scales you might want to spend some time learning and how to figure out which guitar scales are ideal for you to learn.

Different Scales for Different Guitarists

If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ll know that I don’t like to give one-size-fits-all answers like so many videos and lessons give. Everybody wants to learn different things and everybody has different needs as a guitarist. So a one-size-fits-all answer just doesn’t cut it.

It’s the same with guitar scales. So many lessons will tell you, learn this scale first, then learn this one and this one. That type of advice might work for some people, but it won’t work for everybody. It’s not the best possible advice.

The right path for you depends on the type of music you want to play and what type of guitarist you want to be.

So the first point I’d like you to keep in mind is that there isn’t a set list of scales you must learn or a specific order you should learn the scales in.

Whenever a YouTuber or guitar teacher tells you that you should learn X first, they’re probably telling you that because that’s what worked for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s best for you.
So let’s look at how to figure out which scales are the best for you to learn.

Scales Used In Music

The starting point to figure out which scales you might want to learn first is to take a look at the music you listen to and want to learn how to play.
The best scales for you to learn are the scales used regularly in the music you play.

Let’s say as an example that a lot of the music you listen to uses the Harmonic Minor scale. If you listen to typical advice, you’ll be told not to learn the Harmonic Minor Scale until you’ve already learned the Major scale, the Pentatonic Scale, the Minor Scale, and maybe a couple of modes.

But if the music you want to play makes use of the Harmonic Minor scale, then learning that scale now will help you learn those songs faster, you’ll get more comfortable with using the scale, and you’ll enjoy learning the scale more knowing that you’ll make great use of it.

I can’t overemphasize this point. The scales you’ll regularly use in music are far more enjoyable to learn than scales you won’t regularly use. If you know learning a specific scale will help you learn your favorite songs faster, then that’s the perfect scale for you to work on. Don’t leave it for later on because somebody told you that you need to learn X Y and Z scales first, learn it now.

What Scales Does a Song Use?

So your job is to take a look at the music you listen to and figure out what scales that music uses. This might seem like a daunting task if you’re a beginner, so I’ll explain a couple of different ways to do this.

The first way is to learn some basic music theory. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to dig into theory. For those who are willing to learn some theory, it’ll make your life easier later on when you want to analyze your favorite songs.

Once you learn the basic music theory on how scales are built, you’ll be able to take a look at any song and figure out exactly what scales are used. I have guides on the website explaining the basic theory behind scales in the simplest way possible, so check them out if you’re interested in learning this way.

An easier way to figure out what scales are used in a song is to use a program called Guitar Pro. This is how I figured out what scales were used in songs I wanted to play before I learned music theory.

Guitar Pro includes some tools you can use to analyze a song or a section of a song and it will tell you what scales are being used.
If you have Guitar Pro, open up the song you want to learn and highlight a section of the guitar track. Go to the Tools > Scales menu. You’ll see an option in this window called ‘Find Scales from Selection’. Click it and it will analyze the parts you have highlighted and tell you what scales were likely used.

I’ve included step-by-step screenshots on the page for this episode if you want to see how to do this.

Guitar Pro scales finder step 1

In the above screenshot, you highlight the section you want to analyze, then go to the Tools > Scales menu. This is what that menu option brings up.

Click the ‘Find Scales from Selection’ button and it will list possible scales as shown below:

Guitar Pro scales finder step 2

You’ll see a list of scales with the most likely scales showing at the top. If you see a scale with 100% accuracy displayed, that’s likely the scale used.

In the above example, we can see that the scale run used in the song uses the A Major (or F# minor) scale. As you learn more about music theory, you can figure out whether this is correct or if the song is using a mode.

Once you get used to using this tool, you’ll be able to use it to figure out why certain solos or parts stand out in a song and you’ll be able to use it to analyze the music you listen to.

Guitar Pro is an incredibly handy program I recommend for all guitarists, so check out my review and guides on how to use Guitar Pro to see why I recommend it. I credit Guitar Pro for much of the gains I’ve made over the years in my development as a guitarist.

Check out my review of Guitar Pro here.

There are other ways of figuring out what scales are used in music, but the two methods I’ve covered here are a good starting point.

The main point to remember is that with some practice, you’ll be able to figure out what scales are used in any song, then you can decide whether you want to learn those scales or not.

Which Scales to Learn First

I recommend making a list of 10 to 20 of your most favorite songs and try to figure out what scales are used in those songs.

Then you can take a look at the list of scales used and figure out if there are any scales that are regularly used. If you find that most of your favorite songs use the same one or two scales, those scales are the first scales you should work on.

I’ll share my experience to help highlight why it’s so important to take this approach and start by learning the scales you’ll regularly use in your songs.

When I was a teenager, I really got into Metallica. The riffs were fun to play and the solos were a great challenge to learn. What I noticed when I took a closer look at Metallica songs is that a lot of them use the E Minor scale and a lot of the solos were based on the E minor Pentatonic scale

Whenever I would go to learn a different Metallica solo, I would almost instantly recognize the E minor Pentatonic scale without even needing to use Guitar Pro to analyze the parts.
It made perfect sense for me to learn the E minor scale first, then the E minor Pentatonic scale. Once I memorized those two scales, I noticed that it was quick and easy to learn almost any Metallica song. Some songs did use different scales, but if they used the E minor scale, it was a breeze to learn because my fingers were already comfortable with the scale.

This is why I recommend this approach, learning a scale really does help you learn songs that use that scale faster.

It’s common for bands and guitarists to prefer using certain scales or keys. You might find that a lot of the music a certain band writes uses a specific scale or key. If you find any patterns like that, start with those scales.

Being able to see how a song makes use of a scale is a powerful way to learn scales. Any time you want to learn a new scale, try to find songs that use that scale. I have scales resources that list some popular songs that make use of different scales, so check those resources out if you want to work on any specific scale.

So the main point from my experience is that I was far better off learning the E minor scale before any other scale because it was a scale I would heavily use in the music I played. For other guitarists, E minor might be the worst scale to learn first. The only way to figure out which scales are ideal for you is to look at the music you want to play.

Should You Learn Modes

I’ll talk more about modes in a separate episode, but for now, it’s worth talking briefly about modes vs scales.
You’ve probably heard guitar teachers talking about modes and you’ve wondered whether you should learn them or not.

The first thing I’ll say about modes is that they’re not something that every guitarist needs to learn. Modes aren’t for everyone.
Don’t feel like you have to learn modes.

The way to figure out whether you should learn modes or not is to look at whether the music you listen to and want to play uses modes.
For example, after learning a lot of Metallica songs, I found out about Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I loved their music and wanted to learn how to play it and write music in a similar way. Those guitarists make heavy use of modes and many of their songs are a direct result of using a specific mode.

So it made perfect sense for me to study modes and learn how to incorporate them into my playing style.
But if the bands and guitarists you listen to don’t make use of modes, then it’s not something you should feel pressured to learn. A lot of guitarists get confused by modes, so unless you listen to music that regularly uses modes, I don’t suggest learning them now. You may decide to learn them in the future, but it’s not important if the music you want to play doesn’t make use of them.


Okay, so let’s have a quick recap of how to figure out what scales you should learn.
The big takeaway from this episode is that the scales you should learn are the scales you regularly hear in the music you want to play.

If you find that your favorite band uses the D minor scale in most of their music, then that should be the first scale you should learn. It doesn’t matter if all of the advice you hear is to start with X scale. The right scales for you to learn are the scales you’ll make the most use of.

Write down 10 to 20 of your favorite songs you want to learn how to play and figure out what scales are used in all of those songs. You can do this using music theory, Guitar Pro, sheet music, or websites that tell you what key the songs are in. There are plenty of ways to figure this out, so find a way that works for you.

Once you know what scales you want to learn, read my guide on how to learn scales to put together an effective practice plan. Use the resources I have on my website to help you learn each scale. The effort you put into learning scales can have a massive impact on your development as a guitarist, so if you’ve been putting off learning scales, now is a great time to start.

Check out the links to useful guides, lessons and scales resources at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-31
I have a lot of resources to help you with scales because they’re a core part of music.

If you have any questions on scales you would like me to cover in a future episode, record your question on the page for this episode. I’ll be more than happy to feature you in a future episode.

If you’ve been enjoying this podcast, help me spread the word by sharing it on social media or letting other guitarists know about it. You can also leave a review on your podcast app.
Special shout-out to Pershing who left a great review on iTunes. I appreciate the kind words and I’m glad you’re finding the episodes helpful.

Thanks to everybody who is helping me grow this podcast so I can dedicate more time to creating episodes and resources for you.

See how you go this week working out what scales you should learn and I’ll talk to you next time.


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