Neoclassical Guitar Scales

Neoclassical guitar scales are really, really fun. By playing neoclassical scales on guitar, we can create some incredibly rich and interesting sounds in our playing an improvising. Lets take a look at some of these neoclassical scales and how we can use them in our guitar playing:

The Harmonic Minor Scale

The original king of neoclassical guitar scale, the harmonic minor scale has an unmistakable sound. The harmonic minor scale has the intervals:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

and if we were playing C harmonic minor, we would get the following notes:

C D Eb F G Ab B

Harmonic Minor Scale Tab

Guitar tab of C harmonic minor scale

Harmonic Minor Scale Fretboard Diagram

Two string harmonic minor scale on guitar

How to Use The Harmonic Minor Scale

You can play a harmonic minor scale over any minor chord with the same root note. For example, if you are playing over E minor, try an E harmonic minor scale.

It’s a very cool scale and one that you will have a lot of fun with!

Try combing the harmonic minor scale with some minor arpeggios with this guitar lesson

The Phrygian Dominant Scale

If you thought the harmonic minor had a cool sound, just wait until you hear this.

Named due to its similarity with the phrygian mode, the phrygian dominant can be thought of as a phrygian scale with a major third, creating the 1 M3 P5 m7 intervals in a dominant chord.

The scale has the intervals:

1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7

and if we were playing C phrygian dominant, we would get a neoclassical scale with the following notes:

C Db E F G Ab Bb

Phrygian Dominant Scale Tab

Guitar tab of C phrygian dominant scale

Phrygian Dominant Scale Fretboard Diagram

Two string phrygian dominant scale on guitar

How to Use The Phrygian Dominant Scale

To use this neoclassical guitar scale to maximum effect, play it over a major chord, ideally the V chord in a key.

So, if you were playing in the key of A minor, with the chords progression:

Am C Am E

Where the E chord is a V chord, we could play E phrygian dominant over the top.

The phrygian dominant scale is a neoclassical sounding guitar scale that works great over V chords and also any secondary dominant chords.

The Melodic Minor Scale

This scale is heard less often in metal and more often in jazz and classical, but it is still a great scale and we can get some awesome neoclassical sounds from it.

There are two ways to approach playing the melodic minor scale, the traditional classical way, and the jazz way. We will take a look at both:

Classical Way of Playing the Melodic Minor Scale

In the strict classical way of playing the scale, we play the melodic scale differently when ascending and descending.

When ascending, we use the following intervals:

1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

And when descending, we use the natural minor scale:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

If we were to ascending and descend through a C melodic minor scale, using it in the classic sense, we would get:

C D Eb F G A B C Bb Ab G F Eb D C 

‘Classical’ Melodic Minor Scale Tab

C melodic minor scale guitar tab

‘Classical’ Melodic Minor Scale Neck Diagrams

Two string melodic minor scale ascending

Two string melodic minor scale descending

Jazz (Rock) Melodic Minor Scales

The jazz (or sometimes rock) approach to this scale is to play it the same ascending and descending. So, we use the intervals:

1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

When ascending and descending. An example in C melodic minor would be:

C D Eb F G A B C B A G F Eb D C

Jazz Melodic Minor Scale Tab

C melodic minor scale guitar tab

Jazz Melodic Minor Scale Neck Diagram

Two string jazz melodic minor scale on guitar

How to Use The Melodic Minor Scale

Similar to the harmonic minor scale, the melodic minor scale can be used over any minor chord with the same root. For example, if we were playing in the key of C minor, we could play C melodic minor over the Cm chord.

Check out the definitive guide on How to Learn Scales on Guitar for help memorising and using these scales!

The Mixolydian b6 Scale

This scale is the grand daddy of neoclassical sounding scales over dominant chords.

As the name suggests, we have a mixolydian scale, with a b6:

1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7

So if we were playing C mixolydian b6, we would get:

C D E F G Ab Bb

Mixolydian b6 Tab

Guitar tab for C mixolydian b6

Mixolydian b6 Neck Diagram

How to Use Mixolydian b6

As you might expect, the mixolydian b6 sounds awesome over dominant chords. It creates a nice alternative to the mixolydian and phrygian dominant modes.

The Hungarian Minor Scale

This one is pretty exotic but again, has some great sounds. The Hungarian Minor is an interesting neoclassical scale, and has the following intervals:

1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7

An interesting feature of this scale is the #4 5 b6 in the intervals, creating a chromatic section inside the scale.

If we were to play this neoclassical scale in C, we would get the notes:

C D Eb F# G Ab B

Hungarian Minor Tab

Guitar tab for a C Hungarian Minor scale

Hungarian Minor Neck Diagram

How to play the hungarian minor scale on guitar

Notes on the Hungarian Minor Scale

As you can see from the tab and diagram, I opted to arrange this scale slightly differently than the others. The other scales use a 4 note / 3 note arrangement, which most of the time works great. However, with the Hungarian Minor Scale, that arrangement creates some really awkward patterns, so I instead chose the above pattern.

The above pattern is one way of approaching scales for location-soloing, which is a way of looking at scale patterns that is great for improvisation and gives more flexible melodic ideas than the two string scales we’ve been using.

Using the Hungarian Minor Scale

The Hungarian Minor Scale works effectively over minor chords, but not minor 7 chords, due to the 7 in the scale.

If played from the 5th, over a major chord with the same root note as the 5th, we get the Byzantine Scale, which has a very cool and exotic sound.

The Hirajoshi Scale

The Hirajoshi scale is another scale that has a great neoclassical sound to it.

Read more about the Hirajoshi Scale here

Which Neoclassical Guitar Scale Do You Like Best?

These scales all have distinctive and unique sounds, and you can have a lot of fun exploring them! Which one do you like best?

If you want to learn how to practice guitar more effectively, then try out free eBook – 48 Guitar Practice Secrets.

If you want to learn more about playing neoclassical guitar in general, then check out this article on how to play neoclassical guitar.

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