‘A’ Diatonic Minor Scale

The diatonic minor scale is very similar to the pentatonic scale that you’re probably familiar with by now. The only difference is that you’re adding the two notes the pentatonic scale leaves out. In the A minor example in the video, these two notes – the ‘color’ notes – are B and F. In the scale pattern, that’s the II and the VI notes.

Diatonic Minor Scale for Guitar

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about with the II and VI, you might want to checkout my bass and joyo pedal electric  guitar lesson on I, IV and V. It’s quite a fundamental one in my opinion, and really helps open up the guitar.

But onward and upward! Today we’re talking about the diatonic minor scale. Please add this one to your practice routine – its a very important scale – more so than the major scale, as the guitar favors the minor. Piano teachers (and most guitar teachers) always start you off with the major scales (most commonly C major), but that’s because piano is geared for that. Guitar isn’t. Guitar is an extremely minor-friendly instrument.

Besides, A minor is the first scale that was ever invented. Not C major.

How do I know that?

Simple. When you start counting your marbles, do you start at 3? Nope, you start at 1.

So, the first scale was simple – A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

NOT C, D, E, F, G, A, B – that just wouldn’t make sense, would it?

Anyways, there’s your guitar scales trivia for the day – let’s get on with the lesson!

Watch the the lesson on Youtube

If you’d like to learn more about guitar scales and how they fit together all across the fretboard, I recommend checking out my Guitar Scale Patterns course.

Comments or Questions? Leave one at the bottom of the page! And make sure you practice your diatonic minor scale lots today!


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  1. these scales are great it is takin some time to get use to but this one seems easier,some what hard for my pinkie/Jonathan can you show me the I believe its the pantonic scale up by thenut of in E

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  2. Two questions Jonathan:

    1. What song/chord progressions is it applicable to ? eg. Rock, Fusion,Country,1,4,5, Major/Minor chords?

    2. Are there other positions, eg. 1st pos.,2nd pos. etc. ?

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  3. Hi Tom – this scale is applicable to every style of music you can imagine. This is a standard minor scale – occasionally you find scales that are more common in certain types of music – ie the pentatonic scale is often called the blues scale – but many indigenous wind instruments are also tuned to the pentatonic scale.

    So in short – you can use this scale in any type of music. The difference would be in how you play it – ie your licks and riffs etc.

    You can play it over major or minor chords, as long as you’re in the right key.

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by other positions – this scale is repeated all over the neck, as is the pentatonic, and every other scale.

    You can also move it around, depending on the key you want – ie start the exact same pattern on the 3rd fret and you have G minor instead of the Am example given above.

    Hope that helps a little. I’m in the process of working on a full length lesson on scales and how they relate to each other, which will answer a ton of these questions.

    Cheers!

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  4. this is a coolest site i like listening to explain the theory i know the neck from the open E to the 12 fret and my block diagrams and i’m self taught but checking out the lessons you have on here explains the why’s that i didn’t know and book don’t have it jonathan hey keep it up. its the coolest to open the email and see the next lesson

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  5. Thanks Justin – that’s a good point. Yes, you can play the diatonic minor in different positions – we’d call those modes.

    So if you started it on the C as Justin suggested, you’d be starting in the third mode.

    One of the most common of these is instead of starting at the 6th string, 5th fret, start it at the 5th string, 12th fret (also an A). I call this the pentatonic minor from root 5, although if you extended it downwards onto the 6th string, you’d end up with the same scale starting on an E, which is the 5th, therefore the 5th mode.

    I go into this in more detail at http://www.GuitarScalePatterns.com, and there’s a free cheat sheet you can opt in to receive there which shows the differences between these scales, and where to find them on the fretboard.

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  6. hi jonathan,i purchased your guitar scale patterns ,could you please tell me how i get the cheat sheet you use on this video,cant seem to find it anywhere.

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  7. you rock man I love getting good e-mail. I’ve played for years “self tot” why is this a minor scale,all the notes are,whole no sharps or flats,i.e whats the dif between major and minor scales?????

    yer lessons rock,cheers bry

    Reply

  8. Hey Bryan – sounds like you might like to checkout my Guitar Scale Patterns lesson (http://www.GuitarScalePatterns.com) – it really digs into this. Briefly though, the minor scale and the major scale use the same notes, they just start in different places. They are very closely related to each other.

    ‘A minor’ has no sharps or flats because it is the relative minor of the key of C, and C is the only scale that has no sharps or flats. There’s nothing special about it though, it follows all the same rules the other scales do. Hope that helps. 😉

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  9. You have given me a lot to work with. The lessons have been great.
    I have both unlocking I IV V and the Scale patterns and go back to
    them often. Is there a difference in a blues scale vs. a jazz scale?

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  10. Thanks for taking it nice and slowly, give some chance for it to sink into this old bit of grey matter. I was wondering the word, diatonic, from Greek or Latin whatever, as in poly, or mono, often the word translation gives a clue as to what the guts of the thing means. Have to try to get you some donation for this great service.

    Reply

  11. Very frustrating-the audio and the licks “freeze up” every few secs,making it very tough to follow-probably my comp,don’t know-any suggestions?

    Reply

    1. Hi Ron, yeah, it most likely is your computer, or internet connection. I’d suggest rebooting for starters, and then allow the video to buffer fully before watching it (you can see the light red line growing as it buffers). To do this, just hit play once, and then after it starts, hit pause for a bit.

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    2. definitely sounds machine oriented, not software oriented. couple of suggestions. how much RAM mem do U run. how long has it been since U deleted all temp files on machine. (will really slow down) run %temp% and prefetch separately and U will be amazed how many temp files R clogging the machine. hope this helps.

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    3. I get that with You Tube so much so annoying, amazed this thing hasn’t copped a sledge hammer some days, until as I often do if I don’t know something, just go to the web, and type the question, see what comes up. On this issue, the little white circular thing comes on and crunch it stops, the advice was, hit play, then pause, wait till the red line has moved a fair way across, then release the pause, I find this works, but how do you get it to fix it up if you want to play a list of stuff of where ever? The pause button method works.

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      1. Hi Jonathan,

        Why are you suggesting for playing anything from the key of C major also? Is it because Am is the 6th note of Cmajor? And for playing rhythm, for a diatonic scale, is there any fixed rule to choose the chords? As you have mentioned here C F G Am Dm etc.?

        Reply

        1. Try writing out both the Am scale and the C major scale. You’ll find they share all the same notes, just start in different places, and that is because they are relative to each other… so for soloing, yes, you can use them interchangeably. Checkout my Unlocking I IV V course for more info: http://www.onefourfive.com There’s lots in there on choosing the chords too…

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    1. the 1-IV-V would be C-F-G major chords, (in the C major scale) but the Vi chord as a minor
      (Amin) sounds great too. And I like playing the B on the G string, as
      the G string just rocks on this old fernandez that I have.
      This insight came from Jonathan’s I-IV-V course and really filled in some gaps for me.

      If you want to play the minor chords from A minor Key, the I, IV, V are Amin, Dmin, Emin with the Fmaj being the 6 chord, (VI)
      have fun…

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  12. I learned these scales many years ago and the best thing they did for me was to open my eyes and realize that it’s not as hard as it looks. Thanks Jon and keep up the good work. -K-

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  13. GREAT LESSON THE REASON BEING YOU ALWAYS GO THROUGH THESE SCALES VERY SLOWLY,ENABLING THE STUDENT TO SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING,AND PLUS YOU HAVE THE DIAGRAM ON THE SCREEN VERY GOOD. TO BAD I CANT SAY THAT ABOUT COLIN DANIELS OF RIFFNINGA,THIS DUDE TEACHES THESE SCALES IN A LIGHTENING FAST MANNER WHICH MAKES HIM A VERY POOR INSTRUCTOR,AFTER THE LESSON IM SEARCHING OTHER GUITAR SITES MAKING SURE THAT I GOT THIS SCALE PATTERN DOWN THE RIGHT WAY

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  14. Over time I have come to enjoy your weekly emailings more and more. I find your “mistakes” comforting and real, and lets me be less than perfiect at times and still enjoy my playing. Glad you can let your guard down and be real. Having said this, I look for some advice in my direction of play. This lesson was important as I’m acoustic yet loving the blues sound. I have also just purchased an acoustic bass and am headed in that direction as well. Two names that may not be considered “blues” artice, Waylon Jennings and Carl Perkins are two that speak to me musically. So, I guess it is a country blues I’m looking for and wish to persue with a gosple/spritual overlay. Weird? Maybe, but that’s the direction I’m led. So some advice on the bass and someone’s teachings reguarding same and please note your emailing reguarding guitar buying was a help as well. I plan to continue with both, my bass and acoustic guitar. I am a 62 year old chiropractor and this has become my outlet in my limited spare time. Thanks.

    “ODD”

    Reply

    1. Hi Dan, yeah, I make plenty of mistakes… in my view if you’re not making mistakes then you’re stuck in a rut and not progressing 🙂 The better you get, the mistakes just get less noticeable…

      I’ve actually got a course for the bass, which you can find here: http://www.bassguitartheory.com I think you’ll pick up a lot from it.

      Reply

  15. Its a great outlet, second best to spiritual life for me, but it is spiritual life as well. Sound is awesome, and watching human hands and fingers do it all always grabbed me, especially those super fast bits, like watching Jimmy Page, or Carlos Santana, or Frank Zappa, or anyone like that when the nirvana samadhi of guitar takes over and all those lessons melt away and then they just go off inside and take us mere mortals on some kind of astral musical travel. Oh yeah and blues, Rory Gallagher, never forget this concert at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne and no one turned up, well three other people. I thought he would cancel, but no, comes out with the battered but loved well and truly strat, plugs straight in, with no pedals, just a bit of amplified crunch and let it rip, with this awesome band, real hot spiritual blues. Everything rolls on at a hectic pace, but music is always there, like a well. Always has lots of fresh water. But in the beginning, its practise, practise, practise.

    Reply

  16. Hi Jonathan, What I would like to have have is a little better explanation about playing thirds, I was confused by the comment you made in reference to major thirds and minor thirds in what ever key you are playing. It’s a great sound, i just need a little more info. Thanks—Dave

    Reply

    1. Hi Dave, Have a look in the Licks & Riffs section in the navigation menu on the right of this site – you’ll find a few different lessons that talk about thirds specifically in there.

      Reply

  17. G-Day Jonathan, over 18 months later & I’m back here AGAIN revising & learning.
    THANKS so much for leaving this up & providing such High Value tutoring.
    ALSO I gain so much as I read through your Replies.
    The patient & courteous way you explain & direct people to other FREE lessons to cover their inquiries.
    You are a Good person Jonathan& I thank you.
    Regards,
    Rick.

    Reply

  18. Jonathon do you play any metal music. I’m an old guy and I need to learn what in metal as far as modes I need to learn. I know that doesn’t make sense I at work and trying to type this real fast. Thanks

    David

    Reply

    1. Hi David, I don’t play much metal, but the scales you need to learn are the same as for anything else. I know of several famous metal players that play the blues to keep their chops up. I’d start with the pentatonic and diatonic major and minors; that will bring you quite far. See GuitarScalePatterns.com for more on that.

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  19. Hello Jonathan, I was wondering if you have lessons for the other 4 modes of the scale, usually I like learning all modes but I can find the rest of the modes for the pattern you used.

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  20. As per usual with age and the velocity of emails received lately, I will have to put this in my ‘read later’ file and really get into studying it one night when I’m not so busy. If such a day exists. Hah, but I do eventually get through all of them, thanks jon and hope you enjoy my page Nandalal108 on You Tube. ROCK FOR RADHARANI, and beleive me, does she like to rock her socks off.

    Reply

  21. If you look at the 7th fret of the G string, you will also see the shape for the D minor scale (D, E, F, G, A Bb (6th fret of 1st string), C). The 4th degree’s minor scale can ALWAYS be found inside the tonic’s natural minor shape. 🙂 How cool is that?

    Reply

  22. Thanks for the lesson Jonathan. Thanks to you , I’ve nailed the pentatonic minor and
    can now progress to the diatonic without it seeming a chore . Cheers !

    Reply

  23. Jonathon thanks for the scale lessons I am able to play the A minor blues scale all over the fretboard eyes closed. Just waiting to free some money up to get the I IV V series and the scale series. You’ve made playing. a pleasure again. You rock

    Reply

  24. If you know your major diatonic scale an easy way to learn the minor diatonic is to know the minor scale’s third is the first for the equivilant major scale as such.

    A B ^ C D E ^ F G (A) (C maj)

    B C# ^ D E F# ^ G A (B) (D maj)

    C D ^ Eb F G ^ Ab Bb (C) (Eb maj)

    D E ^ F G A ^ Bb C (D) (F maj)

    E F# ^ G A B ^ C D (E) (G maj)

    F G ^ Ab Bb C ^ Db Eb (F) (Ab maj)

    G A ^ Bb C D ^ Eb F (G) (Bb maj)

    With 1/2 step between 2&3 and 5&6

    The ^ indicates the naturally occurring 1/2 step in the scale. I use the ^ to help me transpose to the other scales, I am just now learning music theory, it is helping to understand music much more.

    Reply

  25. Hi . When I play an Am diatonic scale over a blues progression (A7, D7,E7) the F doesn’t sound right. Why is that?

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    1. Hi Mike, that’s a great question. The F is the VI in the A minor diatonic scale. If you play pentatonic instead, you will notice the VI is skipped. In a blues progression using 7th chords, those chords still have a fairly strong major flavor to them, although they’re kind of fence-sitting and can go either way. However, because of that major influence, playing the F brings in a conflict. If you compare the A major scale to the A minor scale, you will find that it has an F# instead.

      So the solution here is to play pentatonic over a blues progression.

      Reply

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