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The Major Scale

Part 1 - Major Scale Theory For Beginners.

The first thing to understand is what the major scale is all about. It's generally considered the "parent" scale that most Western music is derived from and will be key to understanding the modes, chord progressions, song writing, etc.
The formation of this scale is a combination of half (H) and whole (W) steps. A half step would be the distance between 2 notes right next to each other on the fretboard. 3rd fret on the 3rd string to 4th fret on the 3rd string = half step. A Whole step is 2 frets.
Our major scale in EVERY key looks like this - W,W,H,W,W,W,H. That's the "formula" for the major scale. First lets look at the Chromatic scale (every note in a row going low to high).

C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C - repeat -

Notice sharps (#) and flats (b) are the same notes or at least the same pitch/fret.
For example C# and Db are both on the 9th fret of the 6th string.

The 6th string open is E. So going 1 fret at a time the notes on the 6th string are - E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E (12th fret). That E is the "octave" of the lower E. Up on the 24th fret would be the next octave E.

So if we take our formula and start on C - C is first, then we go a whole step to D, then a whole step to E, half step F, whole G, whole A, whole B, half C. The final half step brings us back to the first note - C. That's the C major scale and notes in the key of "C". Here is the fretboard with all the notes of the C scale on every string. To get a feel for playing the major scale on 1 string start on the C on each string and play up the scale.

For more on keys see Diatonic Chord Theory and songwriting.

Part 2 - Playing the scale.

Our first goal is to make sure you have the major scale covered over the whole fretboard. I have a system with 4 main positions, 2 vertical positions, some in-between positions and a few alternate endings. We'll work with the key of C.

The scales are in tab but I also have a scale/fretboard chart with the notes. Here the notes are in NUMBERS. This is very important! As you practice the scale in each key you should learn the actual notes and say them as you practice. For advanced improv we want to think of numbers however. One - seven. Each one equals a different scale degree and therefore a certain sound. So you want to become familiar with with not only the scale pattern but where each individual note/number lies.

Scale Tones

1)Chord Tones

Let's look at what each number/scale degree means. Again it's the same in every key so once you get one key down it will be easy to move things to a different key.
So we have - C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, C=8/1 - the octave (8) is the same as 1. Okay, 1 is called the "root". 1, 3, 5, are the notes that make up the major chord. In this case they are C, E, G = C Major Chord. So 1, 3, 5, are called chord tones. They will give what's called the most "restful" sound. The 1, 3, 5 is also called the Major Triad and Major Arpeggio. Even though they are the same a chord usually means a group of notes you are going to let ring out together while an argeggio means playing the notes one at a time. "Major Triad" is any reference to the 1, 3, 5 of any key played any way but using only the 3 notes, no octaves.

A "C Major Seven" chord is the 1, 3, 5 PLUS the 7. In this key that's "B". Also can be the C Major seven Arpeggio. So the 7/B is a chord tone also but it's not as restful. It tends to want to pull to the "C". Restful in this sense means the note sounds like you could stop on that note and let it ring and to your ear it will sound like a good place to stop.

"Tense" notes give the sound of wanting to move to a different note, usually a chord tone. That would be called a "resolution". Usually the chord tone will be 1 or 2 frets right above or below. Of course this is somewhat subjective. You need to find out for yourself by playing and doing improv. As an example, learn the scale and try playing some notes. Start on the C note and then play some other notes. Stop on another note besides the C. You may notice your ear wants to hear you go back to the C (root/1). This is a "pull". Play a few more notes and then go back to the C and stop there. You ear will hear a "resolution". This will come together in time the more you play and practice.

2)Tensions

Our other non-chord tone notes are called "tensions". This is covered more in the chord section but is just as important in improv. Compared to chord tones these notes sound "tense" and want to "pull" back to chord tones. The 2 (D in this key) tends to want to fall back to the root or up to the 3 but I love the sound of that tension as it is. The 4 has a strong pull one fret down to the 3 or two frets up to the 5. The 6 is pretty stable but does have a pull to the 5, down 2 frets. Although these notes have a pull to chord tones that doesn't mean you have to resolve them to a chord tone. Eventually your ear will learn to hear tensions as interesting sounds that don't need to be resolved. They are restful in a different way. Only learned through playing!
When playing these notes pay attention to what scale numbers they are and you will develop your own feel for this stuff.
For starters the most important note to memorize is the ROOT. The most restful note. It's a good starting and ending point when first starting improv.
The goal here is to be able to hear a melody in your head, recognize what scale numbers they represent and then play that melody on your instrument. When you switch keys the notes will be different but the numbers in each position will be the same.

Scale Positions

Major Scale - 4 Main Positions, Middle Positions, Alternate Endings.

4 Main Positions. Each position starts on the 6th string with the FIRST FINGER on a chord tone - 1, 3, 5, 7. C, E, G, B. Four positions, four chord tones. Get these down first then move on to the other positions. The tab is shown, the numbers below the tab are the fingers to use, 1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky. There are also 2 scale charts, one showing the scale degrees and the other just showing dots where the notes lie on the frets.

Memorize the positions, the scale degrees/numbers and the name of each note. If you are not familiar yet with what notes are in each key or what the notes on the fretboard are then this is a good way to learn. Play the scale for a while memorizing the note names then the scale degree number. There are no sharps/flats in this key.

C - 1 D - 2 E - 3 F - 4 G - 5 A - 6 B - 7 C - 8/1

Pos. 1 is an open position (5 fret stretch). It starts with the first finger on the ROOT on the 6th string. Notice the G(5th note of the scale) gets repeated on the 2nd string 8th fret. This keeps the 3-note-per-string symmetry. Just be aware of it during improv. If you don't want to play the G note twice just skip one of them when playing up or down the scale.

Notice in the tab there is a 2nd version with an alternate ending. It's good to practice it both ways. If you take the alternate ending version the notes DO NOT repeat at all so beginners should work on that first to develop some melodic sense without having to deal with double notes.

If you wanted to play pos. 1 in the key of G, you would find G on the 6th string (3rd fret) and start this pos. on the 3rd fret of the 6th string.
The notes you would get are - G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.

Next is the arpeggio.

Remember these are the 3 triad chord tones - C/1/Root, E/3, G/5. I'll show where these notes all lie within this scale position.

These can be used in many ways.
Shred It - playing all the notes or a fragment of the arpeggio fast using sweep picking when needed (sweep picking is picking 1 note per string using all down strokes or upstrokes) as used in the 3rd arpeggio.
During Improv it can also be used as a guide to where the chord tones lie. When playing the scale you keep in mind where the arpeggio notes are and when you want a "restful" chord tone sound use one of the arpeggio notes. You don't have to play the whole arpeggio every time you use it. Be creative. This is why learning solos is very helpful, it will give you ideas to use and expand on. Or steal:).

The first arp uses a string skip after the 3rd string. This is a useful pattern I'll return to later.

2nd has an awkward 3rd finger-pinky stretch but the top 4 strings shape is very useful.

The 3rd arp is more of a lick I use to get a fast triad arpeggio sound. By omitting the low E it's easier and has a very cool "drop-2" sound. I'll get to drop-2 chords eventually. The up/down pick strokes are shown and one pull-off.

Major Scale Page 2

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