Major Scales 101

Being able to connect major scales is the building block of knowing your way around the neck when soloing. Learning your scales is a simple process that only takes a few days to learn and will benefit you for the rest of your guitar playing life. First you need to learn each of the major scale patterns. Once you’ve memorized the scales you must learn how to stack them. When you learn to stack them and see how they overlap, finding your way around the fret-board will be simple!

First a little theory. For something more in depth, I recommend visiting the music theory master class. I am going to try my best to explain this to all of the beginners out there. There are 12 chromatic notes in modern day western music. Each note is separated by a half step interval, just like the frets of a guitar (the distance between 2 adjacent frets is a half step). Each major scale is composed to 7 notes. A major scale is composed with this formula:

  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step

 

Keep in mind that a whole step = 2 half steps. So in C major (no sharps of flats in this key), the notes would be:

  • ​C (whole step to)
  • D (whole step to)
  • E (half step to)
  • F (whole step to)
  • G (whole step to)
  • A (whole step to)
  • B (and a half step back up to)
  • C

 

Whoa!~ Now, isn’t that easy?! You can now make a scale in every key now, provided that you understand how sharps and flats work. Well, now what you ask. Well, my friends, let me show you how to play a Major scale on the guitar. We are going to stay in the key of C today. It’s the easiest to start with because there are no sharps or flats. Now here is what you have to do as a player. You must memorize all of these scale forms. DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT try and memorize all of these at once. A famous violinist once told me that the trick to memorizing something and getting into your long term memory is to work on it for 10-30 minutes each day for 4 days straight. So, spend 10 minutes a day learning a scale shape for four days in a row. Memorize one scale form and then move to the next one in sequence.

Now that you understand what you have to do, here comes the next step. Each scale form has a root note. The root is simply the key the scale is in. So, if we are in C major, then the root is C. Simple. Below are all of the scale forms. The roots are RED on the charts.

 

Here is what a C major scale, in root position (pattern 1), would look like in tab from C to C:

 

Now what do I do with all of these patterns I just memorized, you are probably asking? It is easy. Stack them on top of each other using the roots. All of the patterns are in order. So, take pattern two and place it on top of pattern one. Line up the root note on the D string. And that is how easy it is! Do you see how the scale overlaps? Same notes, just a little higher in pitch. Now, pattern 3 attaches onto pattern 2 at the root. Just keep going like that. It is that easy!

What you have to do now is connect all of these scales. Just stack the roots and watch how nicely the scales over lap. This is why it is important to learn all of the patterns individually. It makes them easy to stack. Once you learn how the patterns connect, you can solo in any key, in any position. If we are in the key of D major, then just pick a D on the neck and slap down the pattern that fits around it. Then start soloing. All in all, connecting scales is really easy, just take your time and practice. Good Luck!