The Most Popular Jerry Garcia Scales to Try in 2023

Table of Contents

If you’re curious about Jerry Garcia scales and how to sound like this famous musician, you’ve come to the right post!

Before We Begin

In order to understand this guide, let’s first start off with how we’ll present every scale here.

First, I’ll show the numeric representation of each scale.

These numbers are natural major scale degrees and we’ll alter them with sharps or flats.

Apart from that, I’ll show the tabs as well.

All of the tabs will be in the fifth position with A as the root note.

This way, you’ll understand the differences between each of these scales.

Additionally, it would be good to have basic music theory knowledge for this guide.

Understanding modes and what they are will be of help.

Jerry Garcia Scales

Natural Major/Ionian

The natural major scale, or the Ionian mode, is the basic structure of what Jerry Garcia did.

Compared to the usual minor-oriented state of rock guitar players, Garcia focused on the major side of things.

The scale needs no further introduction; it’s the scale without any meddling and modifications.

Half steps are between the 3rd and 4th and 7th and 8th (or first) degrees.

  • 1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Major Pentatonic

Up next, we have the next step in Garcia’s foundations.

The major pentatonic scale is just five notes instead of seven.

As weird as it may seem, removing notes from a scale does wonders.

Limiting yourself to fewer notes sometimes helps define a genre.

So, in the major pentatonic scale, you just remove the 4th and 7th degrees.

It looks like this:

  • 1-2-3-5-6

Minor Pentatonic

Up next, it’s the unavoidable one, the minor pentatonic scale.

Of course, just like most classic rock bands, Grateful Dead has its roots in blues music.

That’s why the minor pentatonic scale is another one of the scales he based his music on.

So if we’re modifying the natural major scale, it goes something like this:

  • 1-b3-4-5-b7

Blues Scale

And, of course, another essential element to Garcia’s music was the blues scale.

In fact, Garcia relied on a lot of chromatic runs.

Adding notes to other scales and modes wasn’t uncommon, but I’ll get to that after covering the scales.

Anyway, the blues scale is like the minor pentatonic with an added flat five.

This gives it that extra bluesy feel.

It looks like this:

  • 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7


Now we’re getting into the good stuff.

Mixolydian is often regarded as one of Garcia’s favorite scales.

This is the fifth mode of the natural major scale.

You could also call it a dominant scale since it builds a dominant 7th chord.

Essentially, it’s like a natural major scale but with a minor instead of a major 7th interval.

It goes like this:

  • 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7


The Lydian mode brings a different flavor to the music.

It’s as if everything becomes so “airy” and “spacey” for the lack of a better expression.

It has more brightness compared to the regular natural major scale.

And again, we have a scale just one note away from the natural major.

However, we just take the 4th degree and go up by one semitone.

This way, you get a half step between 4th and 5th degrees and 7th and 8th.

The scale looks like this:

  • 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7


Dorian is the second mode of the natural major scale.

In some ways, we could call it a more cheerful version of a natural minor.

Or, if you will, it’s like a parallel minor to the Lydian mode.

It’s not the most theoretically correct way to explain it, but we could look at it from that angle.

Dorian builds a minor 7th chord, just like the natural minor scale.

You have the minor 3rd and minor 7th intervals in it.

However, there’s the major 6th instead of the minor 6th.

This gives it a more bluesy feel or a more “rock ‘n’ roll” vibe, if you will.

At the same time, minor 3rd and minor 7th intervals keep the slightly melancholic vibe.

It’s also one of the best alternatives to the minor pentatonic scale.

When making it from a natural major scale, it looks like this:

  • 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7

What You Should Also Know

Things are far from simple when we’re talking about Jerry Garcia scales.

The problem is that you cannot just take one scale, mess around with the notes in a random order but in a given rhythm, and expect to sound like Jerry Garcia.

The issue here is what’s behind these scales.

What I’m aiming at here is that, to sound like Jerry Garcia, you also need to look at the songwriting practices.

Or in other words, one should also consider chord progressions and playing the aforementioned scales over them.

He also used different chord voicings and played specific notes over them.

The issue here is not so one-dimensional.

Additionally, Jerry Garcia constantly added some notes that weren’t part of the scale.

There are so many chromatic runs in Grateful Dead’s lead parts and in Garcia’s other music.

So there isn’t a specific scale that you could play.

Here’s one interesting guide on how to sound more like Garcia.

How to Play - Jerry Garcia's Favorite - "Space Scale"

Dorian With Added Chromatics

With this said, I’d like to add one more scale to the list.

I’ve left it for this last section since I first wanted to clarify what made Garcia sound the way he did.

So I suggest you take the Dorian mode and add chromatics in there.

We have two approaches here.

One is just to add a diminished 5th and get this Dorian-blues hybrid.

It goes like this:

  • 1-2-b3-4-b5-5-6-b7

The other option is to add a diminished 5th and a minor 6th.

This way, you’d get six consecutive chromatic notes, all while retaining a minor structure.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • 1-2-b3-4-b5-5-b6-6-b7

Although not the perfect way to sound like Garcia, these two could help you get there.  

Jerry Garcia Scales: Conclusion

I hope this article has clarified what scales Jerry Garcia uses and how to sound more like him!

As usual, if you have any questions about this or another guitar topic, let me know in the comments below!

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