The major scale is the foundation of most music theory. It is referred to quite frequently, so it’s a good idea to have an understanding of it.
Most pieces of music are in a key. This means a particular selection of notes has been chosen from the twelve available. The selected notes are usually those of a MAJOR SCALE. (There are other scales and we shall look at these later.) All elements of a piece of music from the bass line and chords to the melody and guitar solo will use only the notes of this scale.
Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. Notes not naturally found in the major scale can add interest to your music, but at the moment we shall just deal with the notes that naturally occur in this scale. These are called DIATONIC notes.
A major scale can be built by starting on any note and then following this series of intervals to find the other seven notes that make up the scale:
Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone.
To build a ‘G’ major scale’.
Start with the key or tonic note ‘G’.
Go up a tone from ‘G’. This gives you the second note in the scale ‘A’.
Next go up a tone from ‘A’. You’ll get to ‘B’.
Now go up a semitone from ‘B to ‘C’.
Go up a tone from ‘C’. This gives you the fifth note in the scale ‘D’.
Next go up a tone from ‘D’. This results in ‘E’.
Go up a tone from ‘E’ to ‘F#’.
Finally go up a semitone from ‘F#’. This takes you to ‘G’. This ‘G’ is one octave higher than the tonic note.
You may have noticed that when we went up a tone from ‘E’ the note we arrived at had two names, either ‘F#’ or ‘Gb’. When this happens use the one that follows on alphabetically from the previous note. ‘F’ follows alphabetically after ‘E’, so the seventh note in the key of ‘G’ major is ‘F#’ not ‘Gb’.
So, the notes of the ‘G’ major scale are: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.
The large ‘3’ next to the diagram indicates where on the fretboard to play the scale.
The numbers on each string indicate the order of notes going up the scale.
This scale pattern can be moved to different positions on the fretboard. Wherever it is played the quality of the scale, in this case ‘major’, remains the same.
The first note of the major scale is its TONIC or KEY NOTE.
This determines which major scale you are playing.
So, if this pattern is played with the tonic note at the third fret (‘G’) it is the ‘G’ Major scale.
When the pattern is played with the tonic note at the eight fret
it is the ‘C’ Major scale.
See more fingerboard pattern HERE.
Below is a list of all major scales.
T = Tone
S = Semitone
The table below shows which notes are sharpened or flattened in each major scale. Those notes that are sharp or flat are the key signature for that major scale.
For example, the key of ‘D’ major has two sharps, these are; ‘F#’ and ‘C#’.
All other notes in this scale are natural. A natural note is one that is neither sharp nor flat.
So, the key signature for ‘D’ major has two sharps ‘F#’ and ‘C#’.
© Carlos Thrale 2014