The major scale should be the first scale you learn, because when building chords or other scales, the major scale is the "starting point". You'll see what I mean as we progress.Major scale intervals and basics
So what makes it a "scale"? - one word - intervals
Intervals are the spaces/gaps between
each note in a scale, the separation of tones across a scale.
Hopefully, you've taken the guitar fretboard lessons on this site so you'll know how intervals work on the fretboard, but let's recap specifically for the major scale
The major scale starts with note number 1 (the root note
) and continues in intervals up to note 7. The intervals are as follows... 1 W 2 W 3 H 4 W 5 W 6 W 7 H 1
W = whole step (or 2 fret interval)
H = half step (or 1 fret interval)
So if you were to play the major scale starting on the open bottom E string
and played out the intervals on just that one string, this is how they would appear ("1" being the open, unfretted string)...
= the root note, and in this case the root note is "E".
Therefore this would be the E major scale
, since the root (1) note lies on the the note E.
Once we get to note 7, the next note is the octave
- the same as the root
or note 1, but higher. The scale cycle begins again.
It's that typical "do-re-mi" scale we're all familiar with and it's where chords and other scales are built in relation to
. So when we talk about a flat 5th
(symbolised as "b5")in a chord or scale, we really mean "the 5th tone of the major scale flattened one half step from its original position".
That's an important point actually - when we flatten
a note half a step (1 fret) the symbol to represent this is a b
(e.g. flatten the 9th and you get b9
If you sharpen
(move up one half step/fret) a note you get the #
symbol (e.g. sharpen the 5th and you get #5
Now, it's necessary to use more than one string most of the time. So you have to transfer these scale intervals across the 6 strings of your guitar.
The most commonly used (and seen) "boxed" scale pattern for the major scale is...
, the first note of the scale is the root note
, so if
you started the scale at fret 3 on the low E string, the 1st note would be G
so it would be the G major scale
You should learn
that major scale pattern above to start with and learn the visual relationships and intervals between the notes.
- the second occurrence (octave) of the root note appears on the D string two frets above the 1st root note
- the third occurrence (even higher octave) of the root note appears on the high E string on the same fret as the 1st root note!
- the second occurrence (octave) of the 5th appears on the B string two frets below the 1st occurrence of the 5th note.
- the 3rd appears one fret left of the lowest root note on the A string AND a higher 3rd (octave) appears one fret left of the root's octave on the G string.
See if there are any other visual relationships
you can pick out.
Once you've learned that boxed scale shape you should move on to learning other positions of the major scale - I call these ascending and descending
shapes depending on which direction the scale pattern travels on the fretboard.
Try to learn scale shapes
wherever chord shapes
may occur, as the two essentially draw from the same selection of notes.Other major scale shapes/positions
Remember: these are all exactly the same major scale as above, with exactly the same intervals, they just use different areas of your guitar's fretboard
and make use of different strings for different notes as a result.
They can be seen as formed around various chord shapes
(e.g. D shape barre, C shape barre etc.) 1
= root note for whatever key you're playing in (you can shift these shapes up and down the fretboard depending on the chord/key you're playing around.
So above we learned the E string root - "boxed" major scale...E string root - descending
Used to construct chords around the G shape. E string root - ascending
Used to construct chords around the E shape. A string root - boxed
Used to construct chords around A shape.
So this time, same scale, same intervals but starting with the root on the A string
. A string root - descending
Used to construct chords around the C shape. A string root - ascending
Used to construct chords around the A shape. D string root - boxed
Used to construct chords around the D shape.
Again, same scale and intervals but starting on the D string (where even higher voiced, 4 string chords can be built from)... D string root - descending
Can be used for constructing higher voiced, 4 string chords which have a D string root. Arrrgh! Making sense of it all!
At the beginning of this lesson I stated this wasn't only
about lead guitar, but rather the theory behind building chord harmonies
, which lead guitar does fall under. I want you to understand that chords and scales are pulled from the same pot of tones
When you build a chord from a scale, you get a chord shape
This is where the E, A, C, D and G chord shapes come from, and you can use the assigned scale shapes above to construct chords around these positions which in turn gives you several different chord voicings
to experiment with.
For now though, just make sure you learn these positions and shapes for the major scale. The same "shape" technique can be applied to other scales as and when you come to them.