The Major Scale on Guitar

A Step-by-Step Approach To Play The Major Scale Along All The Neck

In this tutorial, we're going to study the very foundation of music: the Major Scale. Its sound is sculpted in our brains since preschool, and for a reason.

In Western music, the Major Scale is the scale from which every other musical concept is derived: chords, modes, intervals, and so forth.

You should invest plenty of time studying the Major Scale and know it inside out because you'll need it throughout your whole musician life.

Major Scale Structure

The Major Scale is straightforward to see on a piano keyboard. In the key of C, the C Major Scale is composed of all the white keys.

C major scale on piano

On the guitar, due to the layout of frets on the neck, things are a little bit more complicated but don't worry, we're going to break down this big topic in little easy steps.

The formula of the major scale is shown here below:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

As you can notice, we have 1 whole step (that is composed of 2 semitones or two frets) between all the notes except for degree 3 (E) to 4 (F) and 7 (B) to 8 (), where we have only 1 half-step distance (1 half-step is 1 fret on the fretboard)

The Major Scale On Guitar

A nice way to visualize the Major scale is to play it horizontally on one single string. Pay attention to the steps that are only 1 fret wide.

C major scale on guitar one string

You find more scale diagrams across all the fretboard in the ebook Scales Over Chords | Learn How To Play The Right Scales Over Any Chord

One of the difficulties of the guitar is that we have multiple ways to go from one note to another. We can move horizontally, shifting our left hand, or we can stay in position and going up and down the strings, or a mix of these two movements.

Conversely, on the piano, we can only move to the left or to the right, and here it's easier to see the various distances between the notes.

So, the best way to learn our Major Scale on guitar is to play it across all the fretboard, in small 1 octave patterns, with shapes that use different starting fingers: index, middle, and pinkie.

Then, once we've mastered all these small patterns, we'll connect them in order to play multiple octaves and run up and down the neck.

If this process seems difficult, don't worry, you'll soon notice that there is a clear logic that connects shapes and fretboard layout.

The C Major Scale: root on 6th (E) string (fret 8)

For the moment, let's consider only the 3 lowest strings: E low (6th), A (5th), and D (4th) strings.

On the E low string, the C is located on the 8th fret.

Now we're going to play all the notes in the C major scale (C,D,E,G,A,B,C) trying to stay in position: this means that our left-hand does not move up or down the neck, but it will stay in place and we use all its fingers to fret the notes we need, following the rule:

One finger for fret

Depending on the finger we use to fret the first note (the C at the 8th fret of the 6th string), we'll generate different patterns (remember we want our left-hand to stay in position):

Root on 6th string, starting with middle finger

If we place the middle finger on the 8th fret (C), we can play the major scale with a shape that covers exactly four frets. This position does not require any stretch as each fret is easily reachable by one finger:

C major scale guitar pattern 1
  • Fret 7: index finger
  • Fret 8: middle finger
  • Fret 9: ring finger
  • Fret 10: pinkie

Root on 6th string, starting with index finger

If we start to play the C major scale with the index finger, a little bit of stretch is required. In fact, this shape is 5 frets wide, but it's really useful for playing in alternate picking or legato, as we'll see later in this article.

C major scale guitar pattern 2
  • Fret 8: index finger
  • Fret 9: index finger
  • Fret 10: middle finger
  • Fret 12: pinkie
  • Fret 10: pinkie

Root on 6th string, starting with little finger

The last shape we can build is the one generated by starting with the pinkie finger on the fret 8th. Unless you've never used your pinkie, it's not a too much difficult position, except for the little bit of stretching required on the D string.

C major scale guitar pattern 3
  • Fret 8: little finger
  • Fret 5: index finger
  • Fret 7: middle finger
  • Fret 9: pinkie

The C Major Scale: root on 5th (A) string (fret 3)

When we move up one string (up in terms of pitches), the shapes are the same we have just seen, just shifted 5 frets below. On the A string, the C is on the 3rd fret.

Root on A string, starting with middle finger

With this shape, we can play the major scale without moving the left hand and without any stretch.

C major scale guitar pattern 4

Root on A string, starting with index finger

This position is more difficult than the same played at fret 8 of the 6th string because in this fretboard area the frets are bigger. Be sure to be properly warmed-up before approaching this shape. This is a so-called 3 notes per string shape, as we'll see when we'll connect all these patterns.

C major scale guitar pattern 5

Root on A string, starting with little finger

In this case, we have to use open strings because some notes of the C major scale are on the open string. This is one of the easier ways to play the C major scale on the guitar, because you can use open strings a lot.

C major scale guitar pattern 6

The C Major Scale: root on 4th (D) string (fret 10)

If you know how octaves work on the guitar layout, you already know that if you go 2 strings up and 2 frets up from the E low string, you find the same note on the upper octave. So the C on the D string is on the 10th fret.

Root on 4th string, starting with middle finger

This shape is 4 frets wide so we can use one finger for fret.

C major scale guitar pattern 7
  • Fret 9: index finger
  • Fret 10: middle finger
  • Fret 11: ring finger
  • Fret 12: little finger

Root on 4th string, starting with index finger

Like in the previous shapes, this pattern requires some stretching.

C major scale guitar pattern 8
  • Fret 10: index finger
  • Fret 12: middle finger
  • Fret 13: ring finger
  • Fret 14: little finger

Root on 4th string, starting with little finger

This is another easy 4-frets shape, that starts with the pinkie.

C major scale guitar pattern 9
  • Fret 10: little finger
  • Fret 7: index finger
  • Fret 8: middle finger
  • Fret 9: ring finger

Root on 3rd string, starting with medium finger

On the 3rd string that patterns changes a bit, because between the B string (2nd string) is 4 semitones (a major third) up from the G string (3rd string), unlike the other strings that are distant 5 semitones (a fourth).

C major scale guitar pattern 10
  • Fret 5: index finger
  • Fret 6: middle finger
  • Fret 7: ring finger
  • Fret 8: little finger

Root on 3rd string, starting with index finger

This is a pattern that uses 3 notes per string, it requires a big stretch so be careful with this. You'll not use this shape very often are there exists more comfortable fingerings, but it's good to know it.

C major scale guitar pattern 11

Root on 3rd string, starting with little finger

Finally, if we play the first note of the scale with the little finger, we get to the pattern below. Notice that we have to shift up the left hand when we are on the 1st string

C major scale guitar pattern 12

Connecting The Patterns to Play Multiple Octaves

Once we've mastered the major scale on a one-octave pattern, we can connect all the shapes to play along all the strings, in multiple octaves.

Below you find some common shapes, try to spot the single octave patterns you've learned so far!

If you know the CAGED system, try to find the CAGED shapes hidden in this patterns.

The following pattern is the most used C major scale shape. The left hand can stay in position and each fret is played by one finger.

C major scale guitar pattern 14

This pattern has 3 notes for each string, it's very helpful when you're using legato or alternate picking

With legato, you pick only the first note on each string and use a hammer-on to make the other notes sound. The fact that the shape is symmetric is incredibly helpful for this way of playing.

The same concept applies with alternate picking: having the same number of notes on each string makes the up-down-up-down stroke movement regular and smooth.

C major scale guitar pattern 15

In the following pattern we shift up or down the left hand when we are on the D string:

C major scale guitar pattern 16

Here we move the left hand when we are on the G string:

C major scale guitar pattern 16

This shape starts with the little finger on fret 8 of the 6th string; the left hand can stay in position, because we apply a small stretch to play the B note on the D string.

C major scale guitar pattern 16

In this fingering, once we are on the E high string, we shift the left hand along this string:

C major scale guitar pattern 17

This is another 3 notes per string pattern, with root on the 5th string.

Did you see the one octave patterns we've just learned?

C major scale guitar pattern 18

A pattern the uses some open strings:

C major scale guitar pattern 19

For more guitar scale diagrams, check my complete ebook Scales Over Chords.

Major Scale Notes in All The Keys

Below you find the notes in the major scale for all the keys, use this chart to check your music theory exercises.

1234567
CDEFGAB
GABCDEF#
DEF#GABC#
ABC#DEF#G#
EF#G#ABC#D#
BC#D#EF#G#A#
F#G#A#BC#D#E#
GbAbBbCbDbEbF
C#D#E#F#G#A#B#
DbEbFGbAbBbC
G#A#B#C#D#E#F##
AbBbCDbEbFG
D#E#F##G#A#B#C##
EbFGAbBbCD
A#B#C##D#E#F##G##
BbCDEbFGA
FGABbCDE

The C Major Scale on Guitar - Conclusions

I hope that this tutorial has shed some light on the most important scale to learn on your guitar.

As you hopefully understood, on the guitar we have multiple options for playing the same notes, and this could make things a little more complicated.

By learning these small one octave patterns we can break down the fretboard layout in little manageable steps and then interconnect them.

How To Play the Major Scale in a Different Key

In this tutorial, we have seen how to play the C major scale.

To play the major scale in another key, we have to move the patterns up or down the neck to the new root we want to use.

For example, to play the D major scale, we shift all these patterns 2 frets up (because from C and D there are 2 semitones).

Want to play the A major scale? Shift the patterns 3 frets below.

Once you have all these shapes under your belt, you can start experimenting with other fingering types, such as two notes per string.

Free Guitar Scales Pdf

To learn more about how to play scales on guitar, request your free access to the download area: on that page, you'll find an handy pdf with a lot of fretboard patterns for many types of scales.

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