Spanish Guitar Scales for that Spanish Flavour!

There are two commonly used 'Spanish guitar scales', one of which is in fact a mode which is really a scale in itself as all modes are simply a variation of the major scale. Either way, this mode will definitely help you to add some Spanish flavour to your guitar playing. As I've said before, when talking about other guitar styles and scales, there isn't really any such thing as a 'Spanish guitar scale' or a 'Spanish mode' as such, at least not in pure musical terms anyway. There are however, certain scales and modes that are used in specific musical styles, which in this case is Spanish/flamenco guitar. The only mode really used in Spanish guitar playing styles is the Phrygian mode and as such it's often referred to as the 'flamenco mode'.

The 'musical scale' most commonly used in Spanish guitar playing is the Harmonic Minor Scale. Personally, I prefer the Phrygian mode over the harmonic minor for that Spanish flavour, making it my favourite 'Spanish guitar scale' of the two main options we have. The thing to do is try them both and use what sounds best to you. Alternatively, mix them up and use them both!

I've created 4 charts for the Phrygian mode showing finger positions and notes on both 'three-notes-to-a-string' and 'box/cage' style fingering patterns. All charts are in the key of 'F'. Just move each pattern to re-locate the tonic/root note (in red) to a different note to make that the new key.

The video below is of me messing around over the Phrygian mode. There's a few mistakes I know but it gives you an idea at least. It's completely improvised and you can easily learn to do the same (hopefully better) by learning from the charts further down. There's a link under the video to go straight to the charts. Once you're fluent in any scale or mode you can just play around using a variety of techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and sweep picking.

In the video I mix both the 'three-notes-to-a-string' and 'box/cage' fingering styles together as they naturally blend and overlap to ultimately form one scale or mode anyway.

It's in the key of 'F' as are the charts further down and the chords I play are 'F Minor' and 'A#/Bb Minor'. You'll see A#/Bb is one of the notes in the F Phrygian mode so that's why it works. Try other minor chords from the notes within the mode (notes are illustrated on the charts) and see how they sound. Some fit better than others so play around and try to create something for yourself that sounds good to you! 

To go straight to the Spanish guitar scale charts just click the links below or read on for more information on the history & development of scales, the various musical periods and the Spanish and modern classical guitar.

The Phrygian Mode - 'Spanish Guitar Scale #1'
The Harmonic Minor Scale - 'Spanish Guitar Scale #2'

The Spanish Guitar

Spain is renowned for its classical and flamenco guitar makers (luthiers) and for some of the most influential players of all time. The Flamenco Guitar and the Classical Guitar are very similar in their construction and also to look at but are both designed to play different styles of music. The flamenco guitar is designed to play the more traditional Spanish flamenco style of guitar playing while the classical guitar is designed to play standard classical music. Of course, both musical styles can easily be played on either guitar but the sound projected won't be quite right for the individual styles.

This is because Flamenco guitars are built to be lighter in weight with thinner tops than classical guitars in order to produce a brighter and more percussive sound. Flamenco guitar Luthiers also use less internal bracing to keep the top more resonant.

Along with the right type of guitar, such as a decent classical guitar as seen in the video further up, the 'Spanish guitar scale/mode' that follows will of course give us that true and wonderful Spanish guitar flavour indicative of Spain and their incredible flamenco guitar playing, as opposed to the more classical/Spanish guitar playing styles, also played in Spain and brought forward by the great Spanish classical guitarists Francisco Taregga 1852-1909 and Andres Segovia 1893-1987. 

Periods & Eras of Western Classical Music

There are a number of periods in history that define musical trends and influenced the development of the guitar. As you can see below, these periods overlapped as you'd expect because they wouldn't just start and stop at a certain year. They would slowly change and develop overtime from one period to the next. The periods and their years of start and decline are generally considered to be the following;

  1. The Medieval Period - 500-1400 AD
  2. The Renaissance Period - 1400-1600 AD
  3. The Baroque Period - 1600-1750 AD
  4. The Classical Period - 1730-1820 AD
  5. The Romantic Period - 1780-1910 AD
  6. The Impressionist Period - 1875-1925 AD
  7. The Modern Period - 1890-1975 AD
  8. The 20th Century - 1900-2000 AD
  9. The Contemporary/Post Modern Period - 1975-Present Day
  10. The 21st Century - 2000-Present Day

The History of Scales and Modes

It's the ancient Greeks who are credited to the earliest scale forms. These scales were named after the Greek's most highly respected tribes. They were the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian tribes that we now know as modes. These scales, later to become 'modes', all contained eight notes each including the octave as they still do today. Originally, these scales were written in descending order and were equivalent to the white keys of a keyboard. The Dorian scale descended from the note of E, the Phrygian scale descended from the note of D, the Lydian scale descended from the note of C and the Mixolydian scale descended from the note of B.

During the middle ages, musicians of the Christian church used these modes in their playing but they changed them in various ways. Firstly, they changed their direction so they ascended instead of descended. Secondly, the notes that the scales started on were also changed. In addition to this they also changed their name from 'scale' to 'mode' as we know them today.

The changes made it so the Dorian mode ascended from D to D, the Phrygian mode ascended from E to E, the Lydian mode ascended from F to F and the Mixolydian mode ascended from G to G. In addition to this, if it wasn't already slightly confusing, was the fact that the old Greek Lydian scale that originally descended from the note of C, was renamed the Ionian mode and now ascended from C. Also, the original Greek Mixolydian scale that descended from the note of B now ascended from B and was renamed the Locrian mode, and the scale that started on the note of A was named the Aeolian mode. This meant that there were now seven modes in total with each one representing and relating to one of the white keys of the keyboard.

Today however, we only recognise five modes in musical theory as the Ionian mode and the Aeolian mode were predecessors of the diatonic major and diatonic natural minor scales respectively and therefore assume their titles. So, the Ionian mode is now represented by the major scale and known as such as it has the same step-pattern and the same sound. Like wise, the Aeolian mode is now known as and represented by the natural minor scale as they also have the same-step patterns and therefore the same sound. In addition to this is the fact that all modes can be started on any note and therefore played in any key.

The focus of our attention here though, for our 'Spanish guitar flavour', is the Phrygian mode and the Harmonic minor scale. These two scales can be seen as Spanish guitar scales when played over the appropriate chords. More information on modes and other guitar scales can be seen at guitar scales charts. 

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As I've said before I can't emphasis enough that the most important thing with all scales is not the theory, at least not in the early stages of learning to play the guitar. Just pay attention to the fret numbers and take one pattern at a time. Focus on getting your fingers in the right places and keep practising the pattern that you're learning until you know it off by heart and can play it without thinking about it. Then learn the next pattern up and merge the two patterns together before moving on to the next pattern and doing the same. With diligent practice, you'll become fluent and be able to play along to any musical genre that relates to whatever scale and chords you have learnt, which in this case, is Spanish guitar music.

Just learn from the Spanish guitar scale charts below and keep practising, it gets a lot easier over-time.

If you want to learn more about the theory of scales then read the information above, or also on this site at guitar scales charts, there's a lot of information there.

Below are the finger numbers for the 'Spanish guitar scale' charts that follow as well as any other guitar related charts whether for scales or chords:

1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger,

4 = little (pinkie) finger.

And the red notes are the root/tonic notes of the scale which in this case is 'F'.

Enjoy your practice!  

Note: All charts are in the key of 'F'. Simply move the mode or scale patterns up or down the neck to re-locate a new position for the root note/tonic to change the key.

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F Phrygian Mode
(Three Notes to each string with Finger Positions)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #1
Musical Styles - Flamenco, Fusion, Speed Metal 

Chords played over - Major, Minor, Minor Sevenths
Major Scale Comparison - Root-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-Octave
Intervals - S,T,T,T,S,T,T 
T = Tone (whole step/2 frets), S = Semi-tone (half step/1 fret)
Finger positions - index = 1 - middle = 2 - ring = 3 - little/pinkie = 4

The Phrygian mode is formed by lowering the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the major scale by one fret (one semi-tone or one half-step). When played over appropriate chords such as minors this mode has a real Spanish flavour that makes it perfect for flamenco and similar guitar styles and why it's often referred to as the 'flamenco mode'. I like to call it the 'Spanish guitar scale' though as do many others. The Phrygian mode is also used in fusion and speed metal solos and improvisation.

Scroll down past this chart for more playing options

Remember, all red notes are the root/tonic of the scale which is 'F' here.

Phrygian guitar mode for Spanish guitar

The minor chords illustrated above give that wonderful Spanish flavour when played alongside this Mode.

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F Phrygian Mode
(Three Notes to each string with Notes)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #2
Musical Styles - Flamenco, Fusion, Speed Metal 

Chords played over - Major, Minor, Minor Sevenths

This chart shows exactly the same fingering pattern as the previous chart but the notes on the fret board are illustrated instead of the fingers used.

Phrygian guitar mode for Spanish guitar
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F Phrygian Mode
(Box Style with finger positions)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #3
Musical Styles - Flamenco, Fusion, Speed Metal 

Chords played over - Major, Minor, Minor Sevenths

This chart shows the phrygian mode in the box/cage style pattern which doesn't always have three notes to a string. Some people with smaller fingers prefer to use this fingering pattern because three notes to a string can often be too much of a stretch for them.

Phrygian guitar mode for Spanish guitar

Again, the minor chords illustrated above give us that wonderful Spanish flavour when played with this Mode.

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F Phrygian Mode
(Box Style with notes)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #4
Musical Styles - Flamenco, Fusion, Speed Metal 

Chords played over - Major, Minor, Minor Sevenths

This chart shows exactly the same fingering pattern as the previous chart but the notes on the fret board are illustrated as opposed to the fingers used.

Phrygian guitar mode for Spanish guitar
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This mode has a wonderful Spanish flavour that makes it the perfect Spanish guitar scale and a must have for all Spanish guitar enthusiasts out there. So get the Phrygian mode under your fingers and get practising.

Buena suerte! (good luck!)

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F Harmonic Minor Scale
(Three notes to each string with finger positions)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #5
Musical Styles - Jazz Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Classical & Spanish/Flamenco
Chords Played Over - Minor, Minor Sevenths, Major Fifths (power chord).
Major Scale Comparison - Root-2-b3-4-5-b6-7-Octave

Intervals - T,S,T,T,S,T+S,S 
T = Tone (whole step/2 frets), S = Semi-tone (half step/1 fret)

The harmonic minor scale can be played by lowering the 3rd and 6th notes of the major scale by one semi-tone (half step). It's an interesting and unusual sounding scale that lends itself well to Spanish and classical guitar and was particularly popular in the Baroque period. It's also a popular scale with classically influenced heavy metal, rock and jazz-rock musicians. It has a one and a half tone (one and a half steps) jump in places making it a little awkward for some guitarists like myself with short fingers, but it's not too difficult that some good practice can't sort out!

Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

Just like the Phrygian mode further up, and all scales and modes in fact, the harmonic minor scale has more relevance and meaning when played with chords that work well such as the minor chords illustrated above.

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F Harmonic Minor Scale
(Three notes to each string with notes)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #6
Jazz Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Classical & Spanish/Flamenco
Chords - Minor, Minor Sevenths, Major Fifths

This version is the same as the chart above but with added notes instead of finger positions.

Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The minor chords above give us that wonderful Spanish flavour when played with this scale. The next two harmonic minor charts below illustrate the minor seven chords. These also work with this scale to give us that Spanish flavour.

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F Harmonic Minor Scale
(Box/cage style with finger positions)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #7
Jazz Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Classical & Spanish/Flamenco
Chords - Minor, Minor Sevenths, Major Fifths

This is exactly the same Harmonic minor scale as above but with a slightly different approach to the way its played. The box/cage approach to playing scales is sometimes easier than the 3-notes-to-a-string approach that can often form awkward stretches if you have short fingers like me. Funny thing is, I prefer the three-notes-to-a-string-method as it can give you nice long melodic lines that allows you to move right up the neck. I think its best to go over both methods really as they all form one scale in the end anyway. That way you'll command a deeper understanding and fluency of the scales all over the neck. With diligent practice, over time you'll start to develop your own unique style to playing scales.

Harmonic Minor guitar scale

The minor 7 chords illustrated above offer a slightly different sound to play against the harmonic minor scale while still giving us some Spanish influence.

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F Harmonic Minor Scale
(Box/cage style with finger positions)
Spanish Guitar Scales Chart #8
Jazz Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Classical & Spanish/Flamenco
Chords - Minor, Minor Sevenths, Major Fifths

This is exactly the same as the chart above but with illustrated notes instead of finger positions.

Harmonic Minor guitar scale

Like the Phrygian mode, the harmonic minor has a Spanish flavour that makes it another good Spanish guitar scale for all of you Spanish guitar enthusiasts out there to get under your belt. So get the Harmonic minor under your fingertips too and get practising.

Buena suerte! (good luck!)

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