Spanish Guitar Scales – An Essential Guide

Spanish guitar scales have their own flavour and character that can be used in a variety of genres – Let’s explore them!

spanish-guitar-scales

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 4 essential Spanish guitar scales
  • How to distinguish each of these scales
  • Tips for playing over these scales
  • The chord shapes for each scale
  • How these scales are built

A Formal Introduction To Spanish Guitar Scales

Music is a vast and incredible landscape that spans every corner of the planet, and it is one of the many ways that different cultures express and distinguish themselves.

  • Music helps us show the world who we are and where we come from, and that’s an important concept to preserve.
  • This is what makes music so incredible – everywhere you travel will have its own sound.
  • If you’re looking to explore the depths of a culture’s personality, you can most certainly start with food and music.

This applies especially well to Spanish culture – a body of people who have always held their own character in the music world.

spanish-guitar-scales

When we think of Spanish music, it’s easy to just think of Flamenco guitar, Salsa and Tango music – but this culture of music goes far deeper than that.

  • Spanish guitar scales are used in various other styles of music, and have been for years.
  • Pop music has adapted the use of various minor scales based in Spanish music, and Heavy Metal guitarists have always held a taste for the harmonic minor scale’s sonic attitude.
  • It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and in this lesson on Spanish guitar scales we’re going to do just that.

This free guitar lesson is going to arm you with a bunch of new tools that will bring out new sounds, colours and flavours in your guitar playing (as well as your songwriting).

Let’s dive into what makes these scales unique!

spanish-guitar-scales

Spanish guitar scales: What Makes These Different?

The construction of any scale is what makes it unique from any other.

  • Many Spanish guitar scales hold small differences to the guitar scales we may already know, and we will explore those differences in this lesson.
  • When we say ‘small differences’, what we mean is that a scale may be different from another by only one note – but these small differences make a huge impact on the overall sound of what we play.

For example, the harmonic minor scale is different from the natural minor scale by only one note, but the differences between the two scales is easy to hear once you know where to look for it.

Don’t worry, we’re not leaving you hanging – You’re going to learn how to play the Harmonic Minor scale today.

spanish-guitar-scales

For every note difference in a scale, the chords must change as well.

For example: The seventh chord in a natural minor scale is a major chord.

In the harmonic minor scale however, the seventh chord is a diminished 7th chord because the seventh note of the scale is sharpened (raised one fret).

Pro Tip: Memorizing scale and chord structure really help us with memorization.

  • We highly recommend you grab some paper and take notes as we go through this lesson.
  • We also recommend playing through every example to help your fingers learn the differences between these Spanish guitar scales.
  • This will help your brain with memorization, as well as muscle memory.

Before we get into these Spanish guitar scales, there’s something you should know when it comes to soloing in any scale.

spanish-guitar-scales

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The Chords Determine What We Play

That’s right, guitar solo fanatics!

Your solos are determined by the chords that are being played underneath you!

You mean to tell me I have to follow the chords that are being played in order to sound good?

Kind of, but not quite.

  • You can most certainly shred the notes of a scale over its corresponding chords, and it won’t sound terrible – But it might not sound as good as it could.
  • Listening is one of the greatest components of music. Listening teaches us to follow what is happening around us for the best outcome of sound.

We can play the notes of a scale and, so long as it’s the right scale, sound good. We call these notes ‘safe notes.’

spanish-guitar-scales

For example: You can play the notes of the C minor pentatonic scale over a chord progression in C minor, and you won’t hit any wrong notes.

  • If you really wanted to add some flavour, you would listen for the chord changes and hit the corresponding notes as the chords come up.
  • If your chord progression starts on a C minor chord and moves to an Eb major chord, you’ll want to highlight that change in your solo by playing from C to Eb.
  • Playing with this type of harmonic awareness doesn’t just make us better guitarists – it makes us better musicians as well.

Pro Tip: A great way to practice these Spanish guitar scales is by jamming with a friend.

Jamming gives us the chance to practice our harmonic awareness in real time, and it also helps us build a sense of community with other musicians.

Even if you’re just starting out, jamming is a great way to build your skillset and musicality!

spanish-guitar-scales

Why Not Just Play The Scales We Already Know?

The beauty of music is in the variety!

  • One of the great challenges and mysteries we must face as musicians is that we can never learn it all.
  • It’s just not possible – The landscape of music is too vast for us to master every inch and corner of it.
  • This isn’t a bad thing, though!
  • In fact, this is what makes music so glorious and mysterious.

We should always push ourselves to learn outside of our comfort zone and push our boundaries as musicians. Learning new concepts will never steer you in the wrong direction.

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Knowledge is power, and that is especially true for music.

  • By learning new concepts like these Spanish guitar scales, we open up our ability to find new voices to express ourselves with.
  • Not only that, but we find new ways to write and play music.

Pro Tip: The phenomenon of fusing musical styles together has given birth to many new genres and sounds in music over the years.

A great example of this that you may not have heard of is David Maxim Micic, who fuses Balkan musical stylings with expressive instrumental Prog metal.

You can check out his masterpiece album “Who Bit The Moon” here.

Now let’s jump into the first of four Spanish guitar scales below!

Spanish Guitar Scales: Harmonic Minor

Let’s just get this out in the open quickly: This scale has got some serious attitude.

As we mentioned above, this harmonic minor variety of Spanish guitar scales is only different from the natural minor scale by one note, but it’s a big one nonetheless.

Let’s look at a comparison of these two scales below in the key of A minor. We are going to stay in this key alone for this lesson so we can spot the differences in each of these Spanish guitar scales.

Notes of the Natural Minor Scale:

A  B  C   D  E   F  G

I    II  III  IV  V  VI  VII

Notes of the Harmonic Minor Scale:

A  B  C   D  E   F   G#

I    II  III  IV  V  VI  #VII

spanish-guitar-scales

Did you spot the difference?

It may be small, but the difference sounds massive once you play through the two scales in the TAB above.

  • The only chord that changes from the natural minor scale to the harmonic minor scale is the 7th (major to diminished).
  • This diminished chord is what gives these Spanish guitar scales their sound and character.

We’ve illustrated the chords of this scale below for you to play through and master.

Pro Tip: If you’re a loop pedal enthusiast like we are, you can record yourself playing a progression of these chords using the diagrams below.

Use the tab above to play a solo over the chords you’ve tracked.

This will help you to understand the sound of the harmonic minor scale in a musical context!

spanish-guitar-scales

Spanish Guitar Scales: The Neapolitan Minor Scale

The neapolitan minor scale has a distinguished flair to it that isn’t heard elsewhere.

  • One of the biggest characteristics of these Spanish guitar scales is the ‘b2’ (bII) note.
  • This means that the first and second notes of this scale are a half-step apart from each other. This creates what we call ‘dissonance.’
  • Dissonance occurs when two notes clash with one another, usually from being a half-step apart.

Pro Tip: The first and second notes aren’t the only scale degrees that are a half-step apart.

This scale also has a #7 like the harmonic minor scale, which means the 7th note is also a half-step away from the first.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ll let you decide how it sounds in the TAB below:

guitar-scales

Pro Tip: You’ll want to assign one finger to each fret in this scale shape in order to play it with ease. Watch out for the step backward to the fourth fret on the high E string.

The chords of these Spanish guitar scales are a little bit different, giving this scale a unique flavour.

The chord types for the Neapolitan scale in A minor are as follows:

A minor | Bb major | C augmented | D minor | E augmented | F major | G# augmented

The augmented chords are the key here, and we want to make sure we make use of the Bb and G# notes to really pull out all the flavour in the right way.

Check out the chord diagrams below to jam this gorgeous minor scale.

For more on the neapolitan minor scale, check out this Wikipedia page here.

guitar-scales

If we don’t make use of these two important notes in this scale, we will end up sounding like we are playing in the Phrygian mode. Let’s discuss that scale now:

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

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Spanish Guitar Scales: The Phrygian Mode Of The Major Scale

The third mode of the major scale is the Phrygian scale.

  • This is a minor scale that also makes use of the b2 note to give it some dissonant flavour, and it’s great for all you metalhead shredders that want to find a new scale to play with.
  • These Spanish guitar scales do a great job of conveying the Spanish sound, much like the two we’ve already covered above.
  • This scale doesn’t make use of the #7 note, but rather emphasizes the b2 to paint some darkness into the mix.

Try running through this scale in the key of A minor, and make sure you assign one finger to each fret to keep your playing smooth!

guitar-scales

Think of this minor-style scale as though you were playing starting on the third note of the major scale. This is what we call a ‘mode.’

Modes are the scales that exist inside of other scales. Modes open us up to new musical possibilities and should be studied to help us expand our sound!

A cool thing to note is that modes express the individual notes of a larger scale, and help us understand all of the character that exists inside every scale we learn. This applies to Spanish guitar scales as well, so try experimenting to see what sounds you find!

Check out the chords of the Phrygian mode below:

spanish-guitar-tab

Spanish Guitar Scales: Phrygian Dominant

The last of our scales for today’s lesson is different from the Phrygian mode by only one note:

The third.

Instead of a minor third like in the Phrygian mode, the Phrygian Dominant scale has a major third.

Once again, these minor differences make for massive changes in overall sound and character. With that in mind, it’s important to master the differences between these Spanish guitar scales in order to really understand them all.

Let’s take a closer look at the last of these Spanish guitar scales in the TAB below!

tab-for-spanish-guitar

This scale is also seen as the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale.

This means that this scale begins from the 5th degree of that scale.

Whether you want to view this as the 5th mode of harmonic minor or a Phrygian scale with a raised third, this scale packs a dark punch that works great in everything from Flamenco music to Heavy Metal and Dark Ambient tunes.

Take a look at the chords below:

Pro Tip: Writing out chords in chord diagrams is a great way to get a better feel for the differences between them. Make sure you keep a pencil nearby while you practice so you can take notes!

Don’t forget – A practice journal is your best friend for tracking your progress through your guitar journey!

spanish-tableture

Where Do I Go From Here?

If you’re not done with this Spanish guitar scales lesson, we recommend trying the following:

  • Write your own chord progressions using the chords in this article and practice soloing over them
  • Write a song!
  • Jam these scales with a friend
  • Take these up with your guitar teacher for more education on how they work
  • Find new backing tracks to solo over!

Recommended Resources

If you loved this free guitar lesson on Spanish guitar scales, you’ll love some of our other content! We’ve pulled a few of our favourites for you below:

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