Lesson: Playing the A Minor Scale on Guitar
Learning to play scales is a great way for guitarists to expand their range of abilities and their overall understanding of music theory. Because it contains no sharps or flats, the A minor scale is a good scale for beginners to try to master, hearing each note in its purest form.
In this article, we’ll break down what notes make up the scale and demonstrate a few different ways to play it on guitar. Let’s get started!
Notes in the A Minor Scale
The A minor scale is made up of these seven notes:
You’ll notice there are no sharps or flats in any of the notes in the A minor scale -- just like the C major scale. In fact, it uses all the same notes as the C major scale, but instead uses the A note as its starting point. That noted, the A minor scale is the relative minor of C major.
Now that you know the notes that make up the scale, we’ll show you where to place your fingers on the fretboard to play the A minor scale, note-by-note.
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A Minor Scale Positions
One of the easiest ways to learn the A minor scale is by referencing guitar scale diagrams. These diagrams present a visual representation of the fretboard of your guitar. Learning to read guitar charts and diagrams can help you learn how to play scales and gain a deeper understanding of the notes and their corresponding frets.
In the examples below, each dot shows you which note to play on a specific fret and string. A dot with a note above the string indicates an open string, where no frets will be pressed down. The yellow dots indicate the root note of the scale. Each A note across the fretboard in these examples will be highlighted in yellow to indicate where the scale starts over again.
A Major Scale - Open Position
To play the A minor scale in open position, you will only need to play notes on the first three frets of your guitar. Use your index finger for notes that fall on the 1st fret, middle finger for notes on the 2nd fret, and ring finger for notes on the 3rd fret. Although there are some notes in the scale on the 6th (low E) string, it may make the most sense to start with the open A (5th string), in order to use the lowest possible A note as the root. From there you’d move up to the 2nd fret on the 5th string, B; and the 3rd fret, C.
A Major Scale - 5th Position
Another way to play the A major scale is in the 5th position. By moving up the fretboard to approach the scale from a different starting position, you’ll be able to hear these same notes in a higher register.
Let’s start with our index finger on the 5th fret of the 6th (low E) string, another A note. You’ll then use your ring finger for the 7th fret of the same string, and your pinky finger for the 8th fret.
One important thing to note is that when you reach the 3rd string, you’ll have to shift your hand to move your index finger to the 4th fret. When you get to the 2nd string, your index finger will shift back to the 5th fret.
Notice the difference in tones and feel, playing higher up on the fretboard.
A Minor Scale Tabs
Another approach to learning scales that might be more familiar to some guitar players is using tabs to understand the notes of the scale in order. While the diagrams above act as more of a roadmap, tabs are closer to step-by-step directions. Some people find them easier to comprehend. It’s just a matter of preference, but it’s a good idea to understand both methods.
Now let’s take a look at what the two positions we just reviewed would look like in tab form.
A Minor Scale - Open Position Tab
To play the A minor scale in open position, start with the open A (5th) string, and move across the fretboard, following the fret positions in the tab below:
A Minor Scale - 5th Position Tab
To play the scale in 5th position, start with your index finger on the 5th fret of the 6th (low E) string, and proceed as follows. Don’t forget about the shift to the 4th fret for just the 3rd string, using the index finger as an anchor.
A Minor Scale Exercises
Memorizing scales takes patience and repetition. Play through both of these A minor scale positions, in ascending and descending order, until you’re able to confidently run through the notes at a faster speed. You can also try playing along to a designated speed set by a metronome to work on your timing.
As you get more and more acclimated to the notes of the scale, you can use the scale pattern as a basis to work on other guitar techniques. For example, you can play through notes in the scales while incorporating alternate picking or fingerpicking techniques. You can also try playing the scales to different rhythms or coming up with your own original riffs that include notes of the scale.
Ultimately, scales can serve as valuable tools that will help train your finger dexterity and muscle memory. Explore some other types, such as major or pentatonic scales, and work them into your regular practice routine. Keep playing and keep practicing your scales with a free trial of Fender Play.