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Guitar Theory 101 // Lesson 3 // The Major Scale

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The major scale contains 7 notes and forms the foundation for all other scales in western music. The seven notes of the major scale are a subset of the 12-note chromatic scale, which contains all of the notes used in western music. You’ve heard the major scale and already have it memorized vocally—it’s the “Do Re Mi” song from “Sound of Music.”

The major scale is best described by the distance (the number of steps) between each of its notes. The pattern to remember is this:

Whole Whole Half, Whole Whole Whole Half.

Read it out loud and memorize it, because you’ll use it for many years to come!

The easiest scale to remember is the C major scale, since it is the only major scale containing no sharps or flats. The C major scale goes like this:

C D E F G A B C

If you were to play the C major scale on the A string of your guitar, it would look like this (start on the 3rd fret and end on the 15th):

C Major Scale (5th String)

Now count the number of frets between each note of the C major scale.

Notes# of FretsSteps
C to D2 FretsWhole Step
D to E2 FretsWhole Step
E to F1 FretHalf Step
F to G2 FretsWhole Step
G to A2 FretsWhole Step
A to B2 FretsWhole Step
B to C1 FretHalf Step

 

Read the “Steps” column from the top to the bottom and you get: Whole Whole Half, Whole Whole Whole Half! If you memorize this pattern, you can play any major scale on any string—for instance, if you start on the third fret of your E string, you’ll have the G major scale:

 

G Major Scale (Sixth String)

Whatever note you begin and end your scale on is the “key” of the scale—so if the scale starts on a B, it’s a B major scale. Here’s a handy major scale pattern that starts on your low E string and runs throw two octaves (two major scales). It’s a good one to memorize because you can use it easily to figure out notes when necessary. I numbered the notes of the scale, beginning with “R” (the root, or key of the scale).

Your starting fret will be determined by what key you want to play in—a G major scale will start on the 3rd fret, while an A major scale will start on the 5th.

Major Scale Pattern

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