The major scale is your starting point to learning guitar theory.
It should be the first scale you learn because it is THE basis of chords and other types of scales. The major scale is actually the basis of Western music as we know it.
If you learn the major scale and its applications, you will be able to understand how chords are constructed (it’s not that complicated 🙂 ), know why your favorite songs sound the way they do, play great arpeggios, and be able to write your own songs. And all this from one scale, not bad!
Before we start, please make sure you understand the concept of notes in music and on the guitar.
Now, let’s begin with what a scale actually is, shall we?
A scale is nothing more, than a group of 7 notes, each at a given distance of intervals apart, sounding in harmony when played together.
What are intervals on the guitar?
An interval is the distance between 2 notes on a scale, eg. the difference in pitch between 2 sounds. They are basically the building blocks of scales and chords.
Why are intervals important? Because scales are defined based on the intervals between the individual notes of the scale. This sounds fuzzy at first, so let's have a look at how intervals work on the major scale below.
Major Scale Guitar Basics
The major scale has a happy, upbeat quality to it. The intervals of the major scale are as follows:
1 W 2 W 3 H 4 W 5 W 6 W 7 H 1
W = whole step (or 2 fret interval)
H = half step (or 1 fret interval)
The above is meant to show you the intervals of the major scale. Since the root is on the E note (open low E string), this is an E major scale. Once we return to the root at fret 12, the E note one octave higher than the open E, the scale would start over again, so it can be viewed as a cycle.
Using just one string to play the scale is not really realistic, so we can transfer the individual notes and the intervals to the higher-pitched strings. You could work it out yourself, since you should already know the relation of strings, and it would look like this.
This time our root note is at fret 3 of the low E string, which is a G note, so this is a G major scale.
As you can see, once we reach the root G note one octave higher at fret 5 of string D, we start the scale over again, with the same intervals.
All ascending major scales rooting on the low E string have this shape, which means this is a movable scale. You’ll need to remember this scale shape and pattern of note intervals, as it’s the fundamental building block of chords and other scales as well. It helps to visualize the shape when you are learning it.
The above is actually the first of 5 shapes commonly used to play the major scale, which takes us onto bigger horizons.
As you now know, the major scale is made up of intervals. The above scale shape had its root on the E string, but it doesn’t have to be rooted there, it can be rooted anywhere, as long as you stick to the pattern of intervals the major scale requires.
Have a look at the below diagram, it shows the C major scale this time.
You can spot the root notes on all the strings, as well as the 5 shapes used to play the major scale. If this seems like too much, don’t worry, you’ll understand this in a sec.
Yes, the first time I saw that, I said WOW as well. It seems like a big mess at first, but it’s not. The above diagram is meant to show you the interconnectivity of the major scale across the fretboard.
- First, notice that I chose C to be the key of this major scale, as you can see by the gray dots (have a look, all of the gray dots are on C notes).
- Now have a look at the individual patterns, termed pattern I through V. Those are all major scale patterns, each one movable of course. The gray dots are always the root note of the given pattern (C in this case).
- Notice that the notes in each pattern are a given number of intervals apart, as specified by the major scale. This means that if we play any one pattern, we would be playing a voicing of the C major scale.
- If you look at the pattern of intervals horizontally across any given string, they will all exhibit the same major scale pattern of intervals. Connected the universe is, my young padawans :-)!
- If you learn the individual scale shapes from the above diagram, with the positions of the given shape’s root note, you’ll be able to root your major scale on any string, at any fret.
- These patterns repeat from fret 12, so the red dots across fret 12 are actually already a repetition of the red dots at fret 0 (open string), fret 13 would have the same notes as fret 1, and so on…
To make things a bit easier on your eyes, here are the individual major scale shapes in order:
pattern 1 is wrong totally
the G major missing an f sharp on the second string
Hi, the separate image for pattern 1 is not a G major scale, it is a C major scale.
I added some text to make that more obvious.
Very informative and easy to understand if you try to figure out yourself and not just throwing a sudden questions.
using pattern three as an example, if the first note is the open E string which I understood to be the root note of the scale making it a E major scale why then do you say the root note of the pattern is C and by extension in the Key of C ?
The root note there is not E, it is C. The black dot marks the root note.
Think of intervals when you look at the scale shapes as well, not just the shape.
Does Pattern 3 only work at the nut?
Hi, this pattern is in the key of C, so pattern 3 happens to fall to the nut. But all of these patterns are movable, based on which key you are in.
So for example, if you would use the key of D, you would move everything to the right by 2 semitones, so pattern 3 would start at fret 2.
Does that clear things up?
Question: The very first pattern mentioned above, before patterns 1-5, the one in the second picture which is the G major scale rooted on the low E string, is a movable scale, correct? You state that all major scales rooted on the low E have this shape. If that’s the case, why does the C major scale in pattern 2, which is also rooted on the low E string, have a different shape? I guess asked differently, why play 12th fret of low E and not stick to the original major pattern and play fret 7 on the A string (and then fret 7 on D instead of fret 12 on A, etc..)?
Hi, yes, these are movable shapes.
Pattern 1 and Pattern 2 are patterns meant to make remembering the position of notes in the scale easier.
You can see in the big pattern image, the one that includes all 5 patterns, that the patterns overlap.
You can choose where you want to play the given notes of the scale. It will depend on what is more convenient, nothing else.
If I understand, pattern 1 is the “movable” scale whereas the others are not.
All of the scale patterns are movable, not just pattern 1. That’s the advantage of learning a pattern. Learn it, and you can move it to whichever key you want to play it in.
Your pattern 2 on the g – 12 and b – 8 is the same note? Why is this?
Hi there, the word pattern might be misleading, as the notes are taken from the grand scheme of things, so all of the major scale notes on the fretboard. That section of the major scale does, indeed, have that repeating note. You should be mindful of this and use it to your advantage when choosing your fingering.
Each string has a relationship to each other.
Think about how you tune your guitar. Once you have your 6th string (thickest) correct you tune the string 5 open to string 6 fret 5. So there is a 5 fret difference between each neighbouring string EXCEPT string 2 which you tune to string 3 fret 4.
String 6 fret 8 and string 5 fret 3 are the same C (5 frets).
String 5 fret 7 and string 4 fret 2 are the same E (5 frets).
String 3 fret 12 and string 2 fret 8 and the same G (4 frets).
Hopefully this link will work. It will show you the relationship of each note on each string to all other strings.
wow.. it will helps me so much.. I am wondering about those intervals of the major scale.. you said said that the interval of major scale is 1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h 1 and it is nothing more than a group of 7 notes and it is true based on pattern 2, would please please help me whta would be the specific intervals of pattern 1, 3, 4 & 5?should I have to follow the interval pattern given to pattern 2 or there is other pattern of interval in pattern 1, 3 4 & 5? because I was confused sorry and.I hope you notice my comment.. I really wamt to learn thats why I read all of this from the beginning and I was feel grateful because I saw this website that will help me to le a rn about scales.. thank you so much and Godbless you always, from Philippines
To my understanding, the intervals are always the same for one given scale
Hi I’m very new to learning guitar and am really struggling with this, do yiu have any basic guidance to assist?
Where are the individual patterns, termed pattern I through V.
I have patter 3 down, but still struggling
Hi, this page shows the basic theory for reference, but it’s easier to learn from video lessons. Check out my beginner videos, there is one on scales.
Can you please me understand Pattern 3 and 4 of the Major scale C mentioned above?
Over there can see only 2 Root notes i.e. C and in other, I can see 3 Root notes. So, how to end the scale in the root note i.e. C?
Hi, you need to move out of the box and use a C note from the next pattern.
In your example of the major scale, the root note is a C note. If you change the root note what changes in the scale, besides the root note; of course?
If you change the root of a scale, you need to move the entire set of positions over accordingly. So if you have a look at the second image on the page, you’ll notice that it is in the key of G, so the root is G, and the image shows the 1st major scale position.
It’s simply moved over. So in the key of C, this position would start at the 8th fret of the low E string, but since we’re rooting from G, we moved the entire scale shape over.