Major Scale Introduction

Major Scale Introduction

If you could learn only one scale on the guitar, then the Major Scale is the one to learn. It is simple to understand, and almost all music theory comes directly from the Major Scale.

A major scale consists of 7 notes, and through a specific formula, we can construct a major scale in any key anywhere on the fretboard.

Major Scale Formula

The major scale is made from a pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H). A whole step on the guitar is two frets, and a half step is one fret. Using a predetermined pattern for whole and half steps, we get the major scale formula of W-W-H-W-W-W-H.

When you play it from the first note (the lowest pitched note) to the last note (highest pitched note), it will sound like the familiar Do - Re - Me song. If you play it from the high note to the low note, it will sound like Joy to the World.

Here is an example of how to make a C Major Scale on the A string. Focus on the distances between the notes and how it fits the formula.

c major scale

Step 1

Practice playing the pattern in the diagram above using just your index finger to play all the notes. When you can play it forwards and backward using one finger and feel comfortable identifying the correct whole and half steps, go on to step 2.

Step 2

Play along with the exercise below to increase your speed and familiarity. Each time the pattern completes, the tempo is increased by 20bpm. It would be ideal to continue to work on this exercise until you can play it with one finger at 120bpm.

Note: There are several options you can use in the blue bar below, including a metronome with a count-in option, playback speed control (click on the down arrow next to the play button), and fullscreen, zoom, and print (click on the three horizontal dots for these options).

Now that you are familiar with the formula W-W-H-W-W-W-H, you can use it anywhere on the fretboard to create a major scale in any key. The scale is named based on which note you begin the pattern. The example above starts on C on the fretboard, so it is a C Major scale and gives us the notes of C Major C D E F G A B.

If you started the pattern on an F on the fretboard, it would be an F Major Scale with the notes F G A Bb C D E.

With just the major scale formula and knowing the notes of the fretboard, you can create any major scale you want to. If you do not already know the notes on the fretboard, use the diagram below for reference.

Step 3

Practice making several major scales all over the fretboard. You should work on this until you can quickly and easily create major scales, visualize them on the fretboard, and have the W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern committed to memory.

Step 4 (bonus)

Can you play the C Major Scale on two strings? Using the fretboard diagram and the C Major Scale starting on the 3rd fret of the A string, see if you can play the scale on the A and D string. Does it sound the same? If so, then you have created a major scale on two strings. Congratulations!

You will probably find that it is much easier to play the scale on multiple strings, so you do not have to move so far up the neck. Typically scales are played on multiple strings, but for this lesson, it is important that you can visually see, play and identify the W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern horizontally, so we will not go any further into multiple string scales for now.

As I stated in the beginning, the Major Scale is where almost all music theory is derived. As you progress through your musical journey, you will come to appreciate how useful this scale is. So spend the time now and learn it well, your future self will thank you for it.