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Lead Guitar Scales – Which to Choose?


Of all the lead guitar scales that are available to choose from, which one should you choose to solo in?

Well, for starters, there may be fewer lead guitar scales to choose from than you might be thinking there are! Many guitar teachers will tell you that you need to learn all seven modes, and learn how to solo in each of the seven.

Now I’m not going to argue that the modes are a valid way of looking at guitar scales; because clearly many great players have used this approach successfully.

However, I DO think that approaching the guitar with a modes-based mentality is outdated, and that there is a more efficient way.

Modes came out of classical piano theory, and they work great on the piano.

The problem comes when people go about applying piano theory to guitar theory…

Clearly, the guitar fretboard is a vastly different environment than the piano keyboard. So, picking lead guitar scales to play with should work differently as well.

In the Guitar Scale Patterns course, I teach just three main positions to solo from, and by using these three positions (patterns) you can very effectively cover the entire fretboard in every key.

Specifically, the two most important scales off the 6th string (I call this Root 6): the major scale and the relative minor scale. The third pattern I use is nearly identical to the Root 6 relative minor, it is the Root 5 relative minor. You’re actually playing the exact same notes as the relative minor scale, you’re just starting in a different place.

I don’t know about you, but personally I far prefer only having to remember three lead guitar scales than seven!

Lead Guitar Scales – Which to Choose?

So, let’s get back to the original question: which of the lead guitar scales should we use when soloing?

With just three options to choose from, this becomes a much simpler question to answer. Typically, I will make my selection based on where I want to be playing on the fretboard. If I want to start off the solo in the lower range, then I pick the relevant pattern that is represented in the lower part of the fretboard, and often towards the end of a solo, I will end up in the higher regions, in a different pattern. There are various ways of connecting these scales, which I get into in the course.

My all time favorite of the lead guitar scales is the relative minor pattern (root 6); the minor scale is simply beautiful on the guitar both for its sound and how the fingerings line up. The minor scale is easier to solo with than the major scale, even though many people teach you to solo using the major scale.

If you find the fretboard complicated and confusing, then you really need to checkout the Guitar Scale Patterns course. Choosing lead guitar scales does not have to be a complicated process; it can be intuitive and straightforward, if you approach it right.


Just a quick note to let you know that I have enjoyed both of your videos immensely.

I have been struggling with the theory aspect of guitar for almost 40 years now.

For the first time in my life, I am starting to make sense of the scales, chords, modes, intervals and how they all relate to one another and work together to make music a fun and enjoyable experience once again.

I have never considered myself to be a person of inferior intelligence, but the confusion that I had with these concepts has led to an endless amount of frustration on my part.

Thank you for taking the time to put this together, and explain it in a way that  the average person can understand.

For the first time in my life, every aspect of my playing is improving faster than I ever thought was possible.

Please keep up the good work and keep me informed of any future projects.


Dave Wedra, South Carolina

If you want to know what Dave is talking about, you can find the Guitar Scale Patterns course here. You’ll never approach lead guitar scales the same again!

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  1. I need scale patterns for classic lead guitars he is not a beginner he has been playing rhythm and bass for 28 years

  2. Hello Jonathan,
    You are a great teacher, and I am giving you an A++. Your style of teaching is universal that any one can grasp the way you explain. You really want your students to learn and that is establishing a legacy. I spent on bundles of guitar books and it did not help me at all but one single 4 pages manual that illustrates the music theory in diagram and that is it and you are on your own. but you explained the missing link to me on your Guitar Scale Pattern. Without you I already gave up, its been three years playing on and of with the scales and it did not do me any good. I asked myself, What is next after learning the scales? I think I am not the only one with that question. I found the answer in the Guitar Scale Pattern and Unlocking 145. Thank you for now and time for me to watch my favorite Decoding the Bass Guitar. My dream, that one day I can play a solo in a 5 or 6 string bass guitar. Thank you again and more power to you.
    Joseph Vitug.

  3. Thanks Joseph!

    After you know where the scale patterns are, it becomes a life-long quest to learn them better and better, and to learn how to relate to the intervals in each scale in your soloing etc…

  4. Hi Jonathan,

    I feel I’m practising the Minor Pent scale without believing that it would help me play lead. After reading most of the comments in various blogs I’m more confused/

    My aim is to be able to play ‘a ‘lead’ part interspersed with the singing part. It usully involves playing notes that agree with the singing part either during the singing and also when you do a solo, again using the same notes, when there is a break in the singing.

    I hope I’ve described it accurately.Would the minor pent scale enable me to do that?

    Be grateful with your comment.

  5. Hi Niumaia, the pentatonic minor scale is a perfect start for playing lead. Many famous solos have never gone beyond that simple scale pattern – and yet they sound great. Have a look at the videos at this link: http://www.riffninja.com/improvising/ and you’ll see some examples of what can be done using just that same scale pattern.

  6. Improvisation on minor scales keeping aside modes is obviously a new concept and sounds great.

  7. Hi Jonathan, Yesterday I purchased your I-IV-V for which I will leave feedback (dont worry its amazing lol) after I am doe watching it completely.
    Anyway, I am “kind of” beginner Guitar Player, up to now, I played (and am still playing) the violin. The music I will be playing will NOT be pentatonic scales, ONLY Major and Minor scales ( Dont want to waste your time to explain why). However, all online and courses cover only the Major and Pentatonic scales and their positions. I now ONE minor position but have no clue where to position my fingers. It seeems that you are the only one goiong into minor scales, so I guess I would like to purchase this. Before I do, my question is: will I alos get to know where to place my fingers when playing scales?

  8. Hi Chaim, yes, I do cover the diatonic minor scale, and yes, I will show you how to play them and where to place your fingers. Sounds like you’re in the right place! 🙂

  9. Hi Jon

    When you say relative minor – are you talking about the minor pentaonic scale? That is the ones I used the most since i have been receiving your emails and such.



  10. Hi Mick, the relative minor could be either diatonic or pentatonic, as they both come off the same root note, and they are very, very closely related.

  11. Hi Jonathan I enjoy reading your emails. I personally have learned these scales u refer to and can create solos that my friends enjoy. I also know the majority of my notes on the fretboard and play in the correct key. What I struggle with is playing notes that match the particular chord beinng played by the rythym guitar player. Doing this by ear works but is somewhat unreliable. In short I would pay for a down loadable course but I dont want to spend money on a course that does not match my present level of develepment. Ps I also play beginner bass and would love to receive info on bass guitar. Thank you for the info you provide keep up the good work.
    Surrey, BC

  12. I think it is great that you can come up with a method to simplify playing guitar. But let’s not involve the ancient Greek modes. They are essential for the musician today as they were to the musicians yesteryears ago. Each brings out a particular mood from the listener. And knowing this occurrence, the composer can decide on the mode to use for the mood the composer wants his composition to instill onto the listener. Music=moods=modes, if modes on the other hand were innovations of the time, yes I would agree they are outdated.

  13. I can only endorse Dave Wedra’ comments above. Thanks Johnathan. Rex (76yrs young)

  14. Got your Scales Pattern Course, and just using these three, I can actually solo, just keeping to notes in those scales. What stlll is a challenge is to switch to different pentatonic patterns seamlessly. Don’t quite get that one yet.

  15. Hi Scott, there are many different scales you can use, but if you’re just starting, I would recommend working with the Pentatonic Minor scale. IMO, it is by far the best one to get started with. Cheers!

  16. I only know and play the basic blues scale as well as the minor and major scales starting at the root notes and are stuck trying to solo with them. What should I move on to now?

  17. Hi Scott, with those scales you mentioned, you already have all that you need to create some great solos. I highly recommend learning to do more with what you have already, rather than trying to add new patterns into the mix. Start learning some riffs and how they relate to that pentatonic pattern, and begin working them over with a jam track…

  18. hi sir… can you please give a guitar pattern or scale that suit to me as a begginer… because its hard for me to make a solo… adlib. but when it comes to rhythm its very easy for me. thank you sir and God bless you.

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