It's a good idea to practice scales regularly to warm up before playing. Here are some scales that you can use to warm up before playing.

How To Practice Guitar Scales as a Warm Up

When practicing guitar scales as a warm up, be sure to play the scale slowly and place great emphasis on finger placement and accuracy. The goal isn't speed. The intention is to get used to co-ordinating both your fretting hand and your plucking hand.

Instead of thinking of practicing scales like a chore, use them as an opportunity to improve finger accuracy and tone. Here are some examples of scales you can use to warm up that sound great. 

Which Guitar Scales can we use to warm up?

You can practice major and minor scales to warm up. But in this article I will propose some other scales that are easier to finger than those scales. These are for me, more appropriate for warming up.

Problems with Fingering the Major Scale

The problem is that the three note per string pattern in the major scale generates some pretty wide stretches. You can solve this either by only playing in really high positions or just growing longer fingers.

What if we could find a scale that is as nice on the fingers as the major scale is to violinists, mandolinists and banjo pluckers?

Because of how those instruments are tuned (in fourths instead of fifths) the major scale is relatively straightforward to play. There are always an equal number of notes to play per string and there are no large stretches. Let's use a scale much like this on guitar for our warm-up.

The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is what we get when playing all the notes on the guitar that are between the octave. We noticed with the major scale that there are "gaps" in the scale notes, caused by the unequal distance between the notes. The chromatic scale has no gaps.

Here is how to play the Chromatic scale on the guitar. To perform the chromatic scale on the guitar, start at any note on the sixth string. Play each fretted note with each of the fingers, then switch to the following string, shifting the hand downwards by one position.

Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is fun to practice because it’s super easy to memorize and uses all the fingers. But its use is limited in Western Music.

The Whole Tone Scale

The Whole Tone Scale has a tone or a whole step between each note in the scale. The distance of a tone on the guitar is two frets. There are six notes total to this scale.

The Whole Tone scale is actually fun to practice on the guitar. This scale fingers perfectly into three notes per string and you can play it up and down the neck.

It's very simple to play this scale over three octaves. Unfortunately owing to the fact that there are two frets between every note on the scale, the stretches can be quite large. So this scale maybe isn’t a good choice for warming up the fingers.

Pentatonic Scales

Guitarists often start with the pentatonic scale, which contains five notes and is simpler to play than the major scale. The pentatonic "box pattern" is very straightforward to play on the guitar. It's also a classic scale used in guitar solos found in Rock music.

I love the sound of the pentatonic scale. Unfortunately, once you get past a certain point in your guitar playing, practicing the pentatonic scale gets a little boring: the fingering is trivial and there are no position changes.

However another pentatonic scale that deserves more attention is the Hirajōshi scale, or hira-choshi (Japanese: 平調子). This foreign-sounding mode deserves more attention and is sure to impress your friends when used in your latest hot lick.


Rare Example: The Double Harmonic Major Scale

So what scale should we use to warm up when playing guitar? I propose that we take a look at the gypsy scale. Or more academically, the Double Harmonic Major Scale. If we are stuck with a heptatonic scale, we might as well do one that has lots of semitones.

double harmonic major scale

This scale involves lots of jumping around the neck and no big stretches because of the nicely placed augmented second. And if you need to string together two octaves, you can just use a three note per string pattern and quickly continue on your way of playing two or four notes per string. And perhaps most importantly, the scale sounds cool.

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