Dansm's Guitar Scale Lessons
Which Scales and Modes Can I Play?
OK, after you learn all these modes, which scales and modes can I play over what chords? To determine what scale you wish to play, you must first identify the key you are playing in. To learn to identify a major key or one of the various minor keys, click the appropriate link. Once you know what key the song is in, use the following chart to identify the scale you can play:

type of key possible scales
major major
pentatonic major
natural minor natural minor
pentatonic minor
harmonic minor harmonic minor
pentatonic minor
melodic minor melodic minor


Note that for any given song, more than one key may be used. Some possible combinations of different keys are:
  1. two major keys (e.g. G major & D major)
  2. a major and a minor key (e.g. G major and E harmonic minor)
  3. two minor keys (e.g. G harmonic minor & D harmonic minor)
  4. two different minor keys (e.g. G harmonic minor and G melodic minor)
  5. etc.
If such a key change occurs, simply change the scale you are using to match the key.
Now, let's move on to some examples. Let's say we have a progression in G major:

GCAmD

We know from the above table that you have to play the G major scale over this chord progression. This means that you can play any mode of the G major scale. You do not play modes of the G major scale, then C major, then A minor, then D major. If you played those scales, your music wouldn't sound right, because your music is not in those keys. Therefore, as discussed, for progressions in G major, you can play modes of the G major scale.

Now we know that we can only play modes of the G major scale when we are in the key of G. But which modes do we play, and when? Basically, you can play any mode over any chord. If you had a C chord, you could play any one of the seven modes over it. Which mode you choose depends on the sound you want. You can play C lydian over a C chord and get a different sound than you would by playing a E aeolian. Both modes are in the key of G, but they will sound different over a C chord because each mode will require you to use different slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and bends.
Now, let's use the verse chords to the Eagles' Hotel California to study key changes. This example is very complex, but the only important thing is that you follow the logic of what scales go with what keys.

BmF#AE GDEmF#

From my page on minor keys that this progression is mostly in B natural minor. However, the F# chord requires B harmonic minor, and the E chord requires B melodic minor. Therefore, you will play the modes of the B natural minor scale throughout the verse, switch to modes of B harmonic minor during the F# chords, and switch to modes of B melodic minor during the E chord. This is an extremely complex example, but shows what stuff you can with chord progressions and scales.
As you can see, you need to experiment with playing different modes over different progressions and different chords. Make sure you use my RealAudio chord progressions to practice using different modes over different chord progressions. It will take a lot of time and effort to learn what to play and what sounds good, but by the end you will be a shredding master!
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1997 Daniel E. Smith.