Bryan Sutton Teaches the Bluegrass Guitar Keys You Need to Know

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You must learn to walk before you learn to run. When it comes to flatpicking, you must first learn your scales before learning to shred.

  1. The Major Scale

Most people, even non-musicians, recognize the Do, Re, Me, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do pattern of a major scale. The most common keys in bluegrass are G, C, D, A, E and F – so it’s always a good idea to learn those first.


  1. The Major Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is another scale that you should try to nail down early on. The five notes of the pentatonic scale are actually all part of the major scale, so while you are learning these scales, it is important to pay attention to how they integrate with one another on the fret board.

  1. The Minor Pentatonic Scale

Like the major pentatonic scale, the minor version only has five notes, but it is built around a natural minor scale instead of a major scale. It is important to learn these scales, because you’ll want to use them when you’re ready to improvise over a song in a minor key – but you can also integrate minor pentatonic licks into major key songs.


  1. The Mixolydian Scale

This one is a scale with a tricky name but a simple concept. The mixolydian scale is essentially a major scale with a lowered (or flatted) 7th. For example, instead of playing G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G in the key of G, you would play G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G. The flatted seventh is a common interval that you will hear in rock and blues as well, so it will be important to familiarize yourself with this modified major scale.

Words of Wisdom…

Make sure that as you are learning these scales, you are also learning the note names and sounds, as well as the shapes. As Bryan Sutton says in his lessons at ArtistWorks, “you can run scales all you want, but our goal here is to make music.”

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