Building Major Scales on Guitar

Introduction: Building Major Scales on Guitar

Prerequisite Knowledge:

There are 12 notes *possible* in western music:

---C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

---Notice that E and B do not have sharps (#)



Step 1: Whole Steps and Half Steps

Don't be intimidated, the idea of whole steps and half steps is simple.

A whole step (tone) is a distance of two notes.


C -> D or C# -> D#

A half step (semitone) is a distance of one note.


C -> C# or E -> F (remember E doesn't have a sharp)

We can denote a whole step by a (w) and a half step by an (h).

Step 2: Building a Scale From Whole and Half Steps

The major scale is built out of a specific order of whole and half steps.

Depending on which note you start out on, you will build a scale of a different key.

For example: if the first note in your scale is A, you will build the scale of A major.

A would be the *root note* you can think of this as the home base of the scale.

The root note is simply the tone that the scale is built from. Which holds an important key to the sound

The order of whole and half steps to build a major scale goes as follows:

w, w, h, w, w, w, h.

We will apply this technique in the image, to build the scale C major.

Step 3: One More Scale Build, for Practice

Lets apply this technique to another note.

In the example I will use E to build another scale, but you should pick a different note.

Remember: the order of whole and half steps we discussed in the previous step.

Step 4: A Little Technique Before Application

On the fretboard of a guitar, each fret is a *half step* away from the next.

That means, to travel a whole step on the fretboard, we must skip a fret.

When we play the major scale on the guitar, we will generally use 3 notes per string.

This gives us 3 different *fingerings* to use (see image) when we play a scale.

Each fretting finger (the hand that is on the neck of the guitar) is numbered for simplicity.

index finger: 1

middle finger: 2

ring finger: 3

pinky finger: 4

Step 5: How to Find Notes on Guitar

Note that the tuning of the strings (from thick to thin) is E,A,D,G,B,e.

To find the position of a note on the fretboard, you should start at the open string, and count up fret by fret.

For example, we know that the 6th (thickest) string is an E. So that means the first fret on the 6th string is a F (because E and B have no sharps) , the second would be an F#, and so on.

Review in the video for this step.

Step 6: Building a Scale on the Fretboard

For this exercise, we will learn how to play a scale over a single string.

Usually scales are played *positionally* (over multiple strings at one place) but for display purposes we will play them on a single string.

Lets use the key of A for this exercise.

Go build the A major scale using the whole and half step method, then find the A on the 6th string and begin the video.

Notice that this method works when starting at any "A" note on the fretboard.

Step 7: Building a Scale on the Guitar in One Position

Now that we know how to find the notes on the fretboard, let's apply our knowledge and build a scale.

For this step, we will be building the scale of A major, so the first step is to find an A on the 6th string, using the techniques discussed in the last step.

Remember: we generally play scales with 3 notes per string on guitar.

Our next step is to recall the order of whole and half steps, to find the next note.

So on the first string we play A, B, C#

the next is D, E, F#

and the next is G#, then A again.

Step 8: Scale Patterns Over Entire Positions

Position is a new term in our tutorial, which simply means a certain hand position (at a fret) on the fretboard.

Since there are 6 strings on a guitar, and it only takes 3 strings to play one scale, that means we will have multiple scales at each given position

Notice that there were 2 "A" notes played in the last video. The higher pitched one is referred to as the *octave* (like octagon), because it is 8 notes higher than the last "A."

This "octave A" is the start of the next scale at the position.

Using this method we can play our A scale across all six strings at a given position.

Step 9: Continuing Theory: Intro to Modes

Modes are the next step of your scale experience.

To begin learning about modes, we must think what the word 'mode' means.

There are 7 modes and each has a name, but for now we will just think of them as the 7 modes.

It is no coincidence that there are 7 modes and there are 7 notes in the major scale, in fact the major scale is the first mode.

To play in a mode, you simply change the first note (root note, where home base is) to the note in the major scale that corresponds to the number of the mode.

This may seem confusing, but with some examples you will get it.

For example we will work in C major, which is made from the notes: (C,D,E,F,G,A,B)

so if we want to play in the 2nd mode, we will just rearrange it to this (D,E,F,G,A,B,C)

and the 3rd mode would look like this: (E,F,G,A,B,C,D)

and so on.

Step 10: Continuing Theory: Chord Triads

A chord triad is a set of 3 notes that make up a basic chord.

We will talk about how to build a major chord triad, which is actually pretty simple.

To create a chord triad, we will play, in unison, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a major scale.

For example an A major triad will be made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the A major scale.

(A, C# and E)

Another example would be for C, where the triad is

(C, D, G)

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    1 year ago

    Thanks for this helpful music theory lesson!