Major Scale – The starting Point

The major diatonic scale is the starting point for anyone interested in learning practical music theory.  It is the foundation that we use to understand concepts such as Harmonies, Chords, Chord Progression, Solos, Music composition, etc. Ever wonder what was being meant by I-IV-V Chord progression or the concept of a third, fifth or a perfect eight? Well now you will find out.

It all comes down to roots and intervals.  You should start by make it a routine to think about the harmonic relationships in music or in more general terms always know what key the music you are playing is in and what interval you are playing from that key-center.

The “key” is the root note of a song. All other notes, used in the song, will have a theoretical or a mathematical relationship to the root note. This relationship is always derived from the Major Scale seen above. Other scale concepts will be defined by their differences to the Major Scale. As an example we can look at another scale widely used which is the natural minor scale.

The Minor scale is always presented as a derivative of the Major Scale. All scale formulas, no matter which ones, are based on the Major Scale Pattern.  A case in point could be the formula for the Minor Scale which is: 1 – 2 – ♭3 – 4 – 5 – ♭6 – ♭7     The  symbol “a flat note” means that you move the note down(lower the pitch by) one fret/semi-tone.  The difference is obvious. The notes that have a flat sign have all moved one fret to the left (-1) or as I like to say down one fret.

In Music Theory the Major Scale serves as the base sort of like a zero in a xy coordinate system. Where any position in the system is relative to the zero point. All concepts in music are going to be defined by their Δ-delta to the Major Scale. Delta is a mathematical way to say the difference between two things.

Now back to the Major Scale the focus of this article.

I don’t know about you but when i was in grade school we had music on our curriculum. One or two hours a week we were taught about music. The only thing that I remember from those lessons is the major scale but at the time i didn’t know or understand what exactly I was learning about. We sang the following:

Do – Re – Mi – Fa – So– La – Ti – Do.

This is the Major Scale our Holy Grail so to speak.  If you can recognize and sing this harmonic relationship then you already know the Major Scale by heart.  Do is the root note, the starting point of the scale and tells you what key you are playing/singing in. Re is the second degree or interval from the root. Mi the third interval from the root and so forth finishing again on Do which is the same note that you started on just an octave above. This brings us to the concept of an Octave. The word octave of course coming from the number 8 or the idea that you count seven notes in the scale arriving at the eight one which is the same note you started on the first and last depending how you look at it. To reiterate  A perfect 8th interval is the 8th degree of the scale which is an octave higher then the root. An eight above is the same note with double the frequency which in turn makes it higher pitched. In turn an eight below is the same note with half the frequency of the original making it lower pitched. I recommend watching ViHart’s video about frequency and sound for a better more in depth explanation.

Remember when we are thinking about the Major Scale we are essentially thinking about how the interval (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc..)  relates to the Root note (1).  Now for the fun stuff it’s quite hard to understand what the Major scale is if you have never played it before so I recommend that you now go forth and learn the scale on the guitar then you can return and reread.

Three Notes Per String pattern

The video below shows the Major Scale in G using the Three notes per string Pattern. I prefer this way of playing the scale over the normal vertical pattern because this approach is more symmetrical (repeating in nature), and thus easier to remember visually (also helpful when looking at further concepts such as chord progressions).

The same “three notes per string” pattern showing the same scale in a different key. This time it’s C Major. 

Vertical Pattern (typical)

This Video contains the same major scale in G but played with the Vertical pattern or the most common approach to teaching the Scale. Like I said before I recommend the former videos using the three notes per string pattern it’s more useful in the long run.

Now we change the Key from G to C. The video below covers the C Major Scale using the vertical pattern.

It’s important here to have some sense of what notes are where on the fretboard of the guitar. Start by learning all of the notes cromatically on the first two strings, the low E and A string. That’s enough to be able to use the root and keycenter approach to be able to use the theory in action. Of course it should be your long term goal to learn all of the notes on the guitar. It gets easier though if you know the E and A string by heart then you can use the patterns to defer where the perfect eighth resides and thus see on the lower strings what notes are there based on the top strings.

Learning scales is about use value. There are two main reasons for learning scales. One is to learn the harmony theory such as how songs and melodies are constructed and the other is pure visual recognition and muscle memory of the scale patterns that can be used as a template to improvise from or compose. Anyone that is composing music without knowing music theory is still working within the theory he just doesn’t know in theoretical terms what he is doing. Even the dark sounding metal riffs are all more or less based on recognized scales and theory such as diminished, melodic minor and harmonic minor. The third video on this page is all about learning the Scale as a template covering the whole neck so you can dance around the fretboard of the guitar seamlessly. It breaks the scale down into 7 positions one positions for each note in the scale starting with the G note on the E-string. You should start by learning the first position of the Scale by heart and practice it for a while. When you are comfortable with the first position start with the second and learn that one as well. Then slowly but surely learn all of the positions of the scale covering the whole fretboard and I guarantee that If you have patience and practice all of the positions regularly you will learn the whole fretboard in the end and be fluid playing between positions.

The Major Scale covering the fretboard

First we have the G-Major Scale covering the fretboard in 7 positions. Each positions for the scale is as well the respective mode of the scale. Click here to read more about Modes.

 Now we can do the same thing for the C-Major Scale split it into 7 positions covering the fretboard. Notice how the patterns and ordering there of stays the same. The only difference is that we have shifted the positions up 5 frets/semitones. Starting the first position on the C Root on eight fret Low E-string.

These videos are not for one time viewing but is rather study guides that you can return to. I would like to mention that if you practice scales you are practicing your ear and interval recognition skills at the same time. With time you should as well be able to move these patterns around on the guitar neck to arrive at other key signatures. Remember to pause on relevant positions read the text panel of the video and memorize the pattern visually by playing it on your guitar. Use the Pause button!

It‘s a good idea to pick one key to learn the theory in and the visual patterns of the scale and then when you‘ve learned by heart the pattern you can just move the scale around the guitar neck to switch between keys. Strictly its about starting from the right root so if you want to play A-Major you start from the A note instead of the G or C note which will be the one used by bigpictureguitar.com as the key of choice.

I’m in the process of creating a 7 position/mode video for every key signature covering every conceivable position in all of the 12 keys. Key Signatures with active Youtube links are ready.

A Major – http://youtu.be/hRJ0ZQ2coJg
A#/Bb – http://youtu.be/mmgnbcSYf4s
B Major – http://youtu.be/PE5xJ1EgU3U
C Major – https://youtu.be/xjBtE-Rl9Bs
C#/Db – https://youtu.be/v1zjdxTHf9o
D Major – http://youtu.be/DE3ObDdkIgY
D#/Eb – https://youtu.be/wLo-cjgNLfM
E Major – https://youtu.be/kn3IHnbuVf4
F Major – http://youtu.be/6eQJjJysUmU
F#/Gb – http://youtu.be/1dxiFv3BhTY
G Major – http://youtu.be/0sdCJIW5RBc
G#/Ab – http://youtu.be/Rv_bz7FjpFI