Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar

A Poor Man’s Guide to Jazz Guitar Scales

A Guest Post by Marc-Andre Seguin

Hello and welcome to a little “crash course” on jazz guitar scales, and many thanks to Michael, who has had an big impact on my life and my playing (more than he knows!)

The whole point of this lesson is to:

  • learn scales;
  • apply them on the guitar fretboard;
  • … in a jazz context. (Yikes!)

Improvising blues licks and rock solos can be done relatively easy on the guitar (“Hey, look at that 5th fret pentatonic fierce AC/DC lead!”) … but trying to make sense of scales as chords go by (fast) in a jazz context is a totally different ball game.

Remember your first jam session, the moment the bandleader pointed to you and went “Guitar solo!” on a blues in F or even Autumn Leaves?!? Yeah, me too. I was embarrassed enough already, struggling through complicated chords for strumming, I didn’t need the spotlight!

Ok, enough with the bad memories: let’s cover the M.E.D (minimum effective dose) so you can start walking before you run, without getting inundated with music theory. At the end of this post you’ll know exactly which scales to practice and how to master them.

Materials: Three Scales

To make things simple here, we will focus on three types of scales to fit with the three most common chord types in jazz. Our scales of choice are the major scale, the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode. The fit the major chords (or maj7), the minor chords (or min7) and the dominant chords (“plain” 7th) respectively.

For now, each scale will only be conceived of on the fretboard with one fingering. No need to stress out with positions and alternative “boxes” on the instrument. You’ll learn that *one* fingering and then go up on the next string with the same fingering. This will yield more or less the same digits patterns (which is very practical for playing without thinking later on).

It goes without saying, anything and everything you learn here can (and should) be applied in different keys. The guitar is wonderful this way: just learned something in C major and want to play it in D major instead? No problem! Move up two frets!

The Major Scale

Here’s the fingering for the major scale, in the key of C. Notice how we are starting with the 2nd (middle) finger of our fretting hand.

For now, only play the scale up to the 7th degree (sounding: DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI) and back down slowly until it sounds good. Repeat with the three starting string we’ve provided in the TABS, always starting the C note with your 2nd finger. Then see if you can play around in different keys.

It is extremely important that you only play to the 7th degree and NOT attempt to relate this back to any known scale position. You can always do that later. Continue reading “Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar”

3 Octave Scales

In this lesson, we will combine 3 scale forms to produce fingerings to play scales across 3 octaves. The scale forms are standard fingerings used to play major scales. First we will look at 3 major scale fingerings.

*Note: White notes are the roots of the scale.

Root 3rd fret

Root 10th fret

Root 15th fret

Visualizing all 3 scales at the same time on the fingerboard, we end up with the following.

Continue reading “3 Octave Scales”