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Common Scale Formulas

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Useful Scales

Scales are the building blocks to melody and improvisation. This chart is by no means all the possible scales but is what I consider the must-know practical scales for improvisation and composition. Many of them are especially useful in the jazz idiom.

To immediately hear what these scales sound like just play them on a single string. One string playing is also a great way to learn how to solo.

The common way to reference scales is to compare them against the major scale (Ionian). In other words what changes?

Scale Formulas


How To Read this %#@#$ Chart

Each scale has a "step" formula. Let's define this in relation to the fretted instruments which includes but is not limited to:

  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Banjo
  • Mandolin
  • Ukulele

Each fret = 1/2 step. 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd etc.

In other words adjacent frets on the same string of all fretted instruments = 1/2 step

On piano this would be adjacent keys whether white to black, black to white or white to white.

If you skip a fret on the same string then it's called a whole step.

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On piano you would skip a key.

As mentioned earlier a great and easy way to learn the sounds of these scales is to play them on one string.

Let's take the Ionian scale which is the basic do, re, mi major scale. Its step formula is


If you start on the 1st fret of any string and apply this formula you would play frets 1-3-5-6-8-10-12-13

No matter which string or fret you start at you will always hear the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do sound but in different keys.

A Dorian Minor Improvisation on the High E String

Aeolian Mode Improvisation Demo

Dorian Mode Improvisation Demo

Mixolydian Guitar Licks

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© 2012 Mark Edward Fitchett

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