Major Scale

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Major Scale Guitar

Forming the Major Scale

The major scale (in any key) can be formed through a sequence of tones and semitones. Tones and Semi-Tones are examples of intervals between notes. A Semi-Tone on a guitar would be the distance between two notes that are one fret apart on the same string, while a tone is the distance between two notes that are two frets apart.

You can form a major scale by playing a series of notes from the root of the note (or the key of the scale) that are tones and semi-tones apart according to the following formula.

Major Scale Formula: Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

Using this formula it is very easy to form a major scale on a single string of the guitar.

For example, in the Key of E major, we would start on an E (say the open position of the first string) and could form the scale as follows:

E Major Guitar Scale

Learning the Different Positions of the Major Scale

As well as understanding how to form the scale, it is important to learn the major scale in a number of positions on the guitar neck. In learning scales on the guitar, there are typically five positions of each scale that can be learned. It is important to try to practice and learn each scale in all five positions so you can play the scales in a natural and intuitive way without having to think about the fingering while you are playing.

I tend to recommend to try to start with two positions of the scale first and learn this well. This will give you enough knowledge to start to improvise with the scale and enough versatility to start to change scales at different points in a solo. After becoming versatile with 2 positions of the scale, you can then move on to practicing the scale in all five positions.

The two most commonly used positions of the major scale are the positions with the root note of the scale under the second finger on the sixth string and the position with the root note under the second finger of the fifth string.

The scales are as follows:

Major Scale Positions Guitar

Once you are familiar with these positions, you can learn the other positions of the major scale as follows:

Major Scale Positions Guitar

Numbering the Notes of the Major Scale

In learning a scale such as the major scale it is very useful to see the notes of the scales in terms of scale degrees or numbers. Starting with the root note being numbered 1, each successive note is a number higher until you get to the root again.

This is best illustrated with an example. Here we will use the notes of the C major scale, but the same concept can be applied in any key.

The notes of the C Major scale and their numbering, or degrees (in roman numerals) is as follows:

C Major Scale:       C  D   E    F   G  A   B    C
Numbering of Notes:  I  II  III  IV  V  VI  VII  I

As a lot of the harmonic effect of music is based more on the positions of notes in relation to the notes around them, rather than the actual note being played, it is useful to learn the see the notes of the scales in terms of their numbers rather than the notes.

For example, if you are playing in the key of C major, if you play an A, it is more useful to see this note as the 6th note of C major rather than the note of A.

You should try to become familiar with the number of the notes in the scales when you learn the scale positions presented above.

Forming Chords from the Major Scale

You can use scales to form families of chords. Each note of the scale will have a number of chords that can be formed from it using other notes of the scale.

To see how this happens, take a look at our article on forming chords from scales. This article will take you though how to form the most common chords that are based of the major scale.

Lets take a look here at what the results of this are. These are the chords for each of the degrees of the scale as well as an example in C major. The same concept applies to all the keys and will form the corresponding chords for that key:

Chords Formed from the Major Scale

You will often find chord progressions where all of the chords are the chords formed by a certain major scale.

Using the Major Scale

I tend to see two main uses of the major scale. A lot of chord progressions are formed from the major scale as discussed above and there is also a lot of harmonic theory based on creating progressions and harmonies based on the scale.

In your soloing, common uses of the major scale include using the scale to improvise solos on a progression where all the chords are formed from the scale (as detailed above). You can use the one scale to form an entire solo here.

Additionally, if you are changing the scales you use in your soloing regularly like is common in jazz and fusion improvisation, the major scale is commonly used to play over any major chord, major 7th chord or major 6th chord.

Backing Tracks

You can practice your soling and improvisation with the major scale over our major scale backing tracks.

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  16 Responses to “Major Scale”

  1. hi, first thanks, it is great that musician,s like you take the time to do this work, as soon as i figure out a few things, i will gladly buy something or contribute,, i am new at guitar, and can play the pent, minor in all postions, trying to learn the maj, i struggle understanding your pic’s maybe it is because you dont show what fret you are starting on, and or maybe because of the added notes above, below and around the root notes, anyway it is probaly me, have learning issue, and depend mainly on visaual’s. thanks though, i still find it amazing that you take the time, if you have or can recomend what to buy so i can see it, ie scale’s maj, minor, i know how to build them thanks to you, but am very slow, jack

    • Hi Jack,

      In terms of the fret numbers, the scales can be played with the root note starting anywhere up the fretboard. Where you play it then indicates the key of the scale. I’ve seen a bit of confusion about this, so I would recommend taking a look at the section I added to the page:

      titled “Update: Reading the Neck Diagrams”. I think this might clear this up for you.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Dont know what , your comment is waiting moderation, means, maybe im to green for this site,,

    • That’s because I moderate comments on the site before they go live. Mainly just because as a website owner you get a lot of spam comments that are off topic, trying to sell things or get links and are not even posted buy a human, but by bot. :(

  3. Whats up! Its me again. Do you have a guitar tab section? Please make some, cause your the best when it comes in explaining :) Thanks!

    • Hi Michael,

      I don’t currently have a guitar tabs section. Something I’m thinking of getting into is posting some videos of covers, with finger style/classical or lead guitar. If these became popular I might end up tabbing them out too.

      Would probably be a fair way down the track though.

  4. What do the black dot indicate? Is each string played one at a time? Do you move down up each string playing one finger at a time? What if there is no dot do you strum the open string? Help!

  5. So when forming a major scale as you did in the example does it actually start
    Root Note -Tone – Tone – Semi Tone etc.?

  6. Great instruction, thank you. One thing that I don’t get, on the major scale diagram root on the 6th string, red dot- fine. Root on the 5 string – red dot on the 4th…? Could you clarify.
    Thanks. Charles

  7. Hello,

    Been playing guitar on and off for years, but now am trying to learn all the theory behind the madness. I agree with the other posters in regards to your teaching; very good!

    I had a couple of questions in hopes you could hopefully help me with.

    1. When it comes to the major scales, can any position (1-5) be played anywhere on the neck, or does each position have specific frets that they need to be played?

    2. I have the A minor Pentatonic scales position 1-5 down to a T. My question is – if I wanted to play an E minor pentatonic scale, would I just start in the key of E? Sorry I know this is a no brainer, but I just wanted to make sure.

    Thank you for your time.


    • Hi Brian,

      Both of these questions are actually related to each other, for both the Major scale positions and the minor pentatonic positions, you can play them at any fret and the fret you play them at will indicate the key of the scale. If you play them at a fret where the red dots on the diagram are an A then they would be A major, if the red dots were an E then they would be the E major scale, …

      So to play the E minor pentatonic, you position the minor pentatonic pattern so the red dot is on an E.

      Hope this helps.

  8. where is the scale chords and frets, every time i searched scales on guitar it doesn’t show what i’m suppose to play, why can’t any one make clear, i have gone in lots of website, you tube, google images etc. where exactly is the scales, i searched guitar scales but nothing is showing me what i am suppose to play. where and how do you find the exact scale chords. i am very unhappy about this, it should be so easy for people who already know but they make it longer and harder to understand, they should just put chord, fret and string of it without making so much explaining.

  9. Waiting to use the back track, it cud b 2nit, just saw it,..

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