Essential Latin Guitar Scales

Latin Guitar Scales you need for know  (Great for improvising)

Harmonic minor played over Am – E7

The A harmonic minor is a natural minor scale with a sharp 7th degree. This scale has a dark and moody feel and is characterized by a minor third interval which gives it a lot of tension. The chord progression A minor to E7 is often used in Latin music like the Nuevo Flamenco Styles of the Gipsy Kings and Ottmar Liebert and you will often hear it in their music.

    • Think Minor plus #7
    • Dark and fiery
    • Minor third interval

Phrygian Dominant – over E7(b9) chord

This is an extension of the harmonic minor idea. An E Phrygian scale is an A harmonic minor scale starting on E. So we have E F G# A B D E.  Use the same notes as the scale above but starting on E and/or over an E chord.

    • Also fiery and dissonant
    • Minor third but different bass root.

Lydian – open D tuning – over the flamenco Rodeña 

If you play a D major you can use the D Lydian mode which is D E F# G# A B C# D. You can think of playing a D major scale with a G#. Another great guitar Lydian scale is F Lydian which is all-natural notes starting on F G A B C D E F.

    • Major scale with a sharp #4th degree.
    • Smooth and ethereal.

Pentatonic – over E minor Santana feel

The minor pentatonic scale works well on Latin Blues or Latin Rock contexts. Try it over a Latin groove Em to Bm7, See also my post on Minor Pentatonic scales here

    • Blues Rock 

Dorian – Am7 to Bm7  Entre Dos Aguas 

The A Dorian scale is an A minor with an F#. Listen to the first section of Entre Dos Aguas by Paco De Lucia to hear his wonderful use of this scale. You can also use it over an Am6 chord with a Boss Nova feel.

    • Minor feel but more chilled 

Mixolydian – over D7 Bossa Nova Eg: Girl From Ipanema

If I am soloing over a dominant 7th chord I will often go to the Mixolydian mode which is a major scale with a flattened 7th degree. For example, G Mixolydian is G A B C D E F G (G major normally has an F#).

  • In Girl From Ipanema in the second section, we have a B9 a D9 and an Eb9. Over these chords, I play B Mixolydian, D Mixolydian and E Mixolydian respectively.