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Justin Guitar - Free Guitar Lessons

SC-001 • The Major Scale

Justinguitar.com on Scales

The major scale is the cornerstone of all western harmony. It has seven notes (plus the octave in practice), which in solfege are the syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti and Do. If it doesn't sound like that, something is wrong...

The good ol' Wikipedia has lots of the technical information well presented on the Major Scale. And if you really want to understand how they are constructed and why the work, you might want to check out my eBook Practical Music Theory.

All other scales are thought of in relation to this scale so it is a very important to get this scale understood very well. Learn it, study it and look at the relationships between the notes and the chord tones.

I have presented it here with the common CAGED chord tones in red so you can clearly see the relationship between the chord shape and the scale. It is a lot easier to find the scale around the shape, particularly when changing scale a lot (like in jazz) or playing modally.

The is no need to learn more shapes to play modes - modes are only these same scales but with tonal centre that is not the root. This will be discussed in another lesson, but for now, just get these shapes down really well.

Fingering

With each scale I have discussed my preferences for fingering the scale. There are many approaches and so long as you have a logical one, it will be fine. I have thought about these things a lot and think I have a compelling argument in favor of each finger decision, but please contact me (via the forum) if you disagree - I am certainly up for discussing it (how sad... get a life...).

I will also add the alternative shapes and fingerings that I know are in common usage and my reasons for choosing the ones I do. There is no right and wrong.

Practice

All these CAGED shapes have 17 notes (3 notes on each string, except for one string which will have only 2 notes). This gives you the perfect number for practicing scales with a metronome because if done correctly with 4 notes between each metronome click (16th notes, semi quavers) you will always arrive back on the root note on the beat :)

Scale Formula

The scale formula for the major scale must be memorised, as you will use it often to work out chord tones. The formula describes the interval distances between each note of the scale.

T ^ T ^ S ^ T ^ T ^ T ^ S 
(T=Tone, S= Semitone)

Tips for learning scales quickly, easily and perfectly

• DO IT SLOWLY AND GET IT RIGHT
Don't make any mistakes. Play it 4 times perfectly at a very slow speed and you will find you can speed it up without making mistakes and developing bad habits you will have to correct later.

• USE YOUR FINGER TIPS
Do not let your fingers "fold", use the tips the whole time, and definitely NO barres at any point. Ever.

• ALWAYS START AND END ON THE LOWEST ROOT NOTE
T his will help train your ears into hearing the sound of the major scale, very important. So start on the lowest (pitched) root note, play up as far as you can, then go back down as low as you can, and then back up to the root note.

• LEARN THE PATTERNS (SHAPES) ONE AT A TIME
It is very important that you get all five of these patterns down... eventually, but please start with one at a time - much much better to be able to use one scale shape and play a solo than play five up and down and not be able to do anything with them :)

So what is all this CAGED stuff?

There was lots of confusion about the bracketed letters next to these scale shapes so I have made a series of lesson to help you out...

The CAGED system puts every scale shape around a chord shape. Look at that first one below and see how the red dots for a kind of chord that looks like an E? that is why it has the E next to it - because it fits around a E shape barre grip. Each shape has a CAGED shape and a position number....

Get all the information you need about CAGED at TB-031 • The Caged System

Root Notes???

A root note gives the scale it's name. Look at any of the scales and arpeggios (and most chords) on this site and you will see an R on some notes. This is note that gives the scale it's note name.

For example
Look at Pattern 1 below and notice that the R is on the 6th string (played with the second finger). Whatever note you put that one becomes the name of the scale. So place your second finger at the 3rd fret and you will play the G Major Scale (because the note on the 3rd fret of the 6th string is the note G). Place the second finger on the 8th fret and you will play the C Major Scale (because the note at the 8th fret of the 6th string is the note C)

Video Lesson Series

There are 3 videos about playing the major scale on YouTube. The first explains why you should learn them. The next shows you how to play all the five positions shown above. And the last has some cool ways to play them so they sound less like scales :) But you ought to check out the information on this page first!

SC-020 • The Major Scale - How And Why
SC-021 • The Major Scale - The Five Patterns
SC-022 • The Major Scale - Melodic Pattern Basics

And if you are really serious...

If you really want to get these things learn well then it would do you good to check out my DVD Master The Major Scale, which gives you a structured routine to not only playing the scales but learning how to use them too :) I have used the method shown in the DVD many hundreds of times and it has really improved many peoples playing. Also see the great reviews on the web site forum. Remember I won't sell you stuff that I don't believe in 100%...

The Scale Shapes


Major Scale Pos 1

Pattern 1 - CAGED: E shape

This is the most commonly learnt Major scale pattern. It is pretty easy to play. You should learn and get really good with this scale before you start to learn any more. Please.

When you practice make sure you start and end on the lowest root note (the red one with the R in it) because it will help you hear the true sound of the scale. When you play, play the notes in whatever order you like!

Alternatives
None that I know of. This is it.


Major Scale Pos 2

Pattern 2 - CAGED: D shape

This is sometimes referred to as the Dorian pattern because the lowest note is the second scale degree - but you're going to start on the root note and hear it as the Major scale, aren't you? :).

* - this note should use the 4th finger when the scale is descending and the 3rd finger when it is ascending. I believe this is the best fingering and keeps you hand in the best position.

Alternatives
The most common alternative is to move the two notes behind the root (strings 3/4, played with first finger) to strings 5/4 and playing them with the little finger. I don't see this as a bad way of doing it but this way the third of the chord is closer to the chord shape (which is how I see scales).


Major Scale Pos 3

Pattern 3 - CAGED: C shape

This is sometimes referred to as the Phrygian pattern because the lowest note is the third scale degree - but you're going to start on the root note and hear it as the Major scale, aren't you? :).

Alternatives
None that I know of. This is it.


Major Scale Pos 4

Pattern 4 - CAGED: A shape

Don't forget to start on the root note, not the lowest note...

Alternatives
The most common alternative is to move the last note on the second string (played with 4th finger) to the first string (then played with 1st finger). I prefer this position because it is very common to add that note (it is the 4th degree of the scale) to make a suspended sound and this is the place where you would add it.

Other alternative is to add a high B note to the top of the scale, but then it becomes a 3NPS (Notes Per String) scale which is another system that we are not doing here...


Major Scale Pos 5

Pattern 5 - CAGED: G shape

This is sometimes referred to as the Aeolian pattern because the lowest note is the sixth scale degree - but you're going to start on the root note and hear it as the Major scale, aren't you? :).

* - this note should use the 4th finger when the scale is descending and the 3rd finger when it is ascending. I believe this is the best fingering and keeps you hand in the best position.

Alternatives
The most common alternative is to move the note behind the root (strings 3, played with first finger) to strings 4 and playing it with the 4th finger. I don't see this as a bad way of doing it but this way there is a consistent method to fingering the scales - in relation to the other shapes above.

 

 

 

Help!

If you need to ask a question about this lesson - there is a topic set up specifically to help you with this lesson. To help you find it easily you can click the following link and it will take you right the topic. You'll be able to see questions that other people had and ask your own questions! Hopefully one of the very helpful members of our community will be there to help you soon, I do go there and answer stuff too - but there are just too many questions for me to answer alone!

So click this link to get help with this lesson!