Colorful Scales and Sweet Harmonies for the Advancing Guitarist

The whole-tone, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales on acoustic guitar can bring intriguing mystery and bittersweet emotion to your music.

Looking beyond the standard major and minor scales, can reveal a wide range of colors available to bring different shades of emotion to your music. The same holds true for harmonies outside of the common triad. Here are a few ways to bring intriguing mystery and bittersweet emotion to your acoustic guitar playing.

thelonious monk
Thelonious Monk

Whole Tone Scale: Perfect Symmetry

One of the most interesting scales to play on guitar is the whole-tone: a symmetrical collection of six notes, in which each pitch is a whole-tone (major second) apart. The scale is known for its ambiguous, dreamlike quality and has been used to great effect by composers such as Claude Debussy and jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk.


The whole-tone scale might not appear too frequently in roots music like blues, folk, and country, but it’s great to have at your fingertips. You can play the whole-tone scale on any chord with a major third—a major triad, dominant-seventh chord, major-seventh chord, etc. Choose the whole tone scale starting on the root or third of the chord. You can also incorporate the whole-tone scale in a solo on the 12-bar blues. In this Weekly Workout, you’ll learn how to visualize the scale on the fretboard and get it under your fingers—and, most important, how to use the scale in context.

Booker T and the MG's
Booker T and the MG’s


Making Fancy Chords with Pairs of Sixths and More

In popular Western music, chords and chord progressions are typically derived from the major and natural minor scales. However, you can use any scale to generate unusual chordal ideas. In this lesson, Adam Levy teaches how you can make harmonies from pairs of sixths using not just the natural minor but also the harmonic and melodic minor scales. All are in E minor but can be transposed to any other minor key.

For the adventurous, in this Weekly Workout, Ron Jackson shows how to build complex and colorful chords from the harmonic and melodic minor scales—great ways of breaking away from using the same old boring chords. These materials can provide not only interesting fretboard exercises but abundant color for your guitar arsenal.

Book cover for Guitar Scale and Mode Mastery: 12 technique-building lessons

To dive more deeply into scales, check out Guitar Scale and Mode Mastery, available at

Acoustic Guitar Editors
Acoustic Guitar Editors

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