The Major Scale

The major scale is the foundation of almost all western music. If we were to label one scale as the most important in music, it would be the major scale.

In this article, we’ll go over how the major scale is made, a few shapes that you can use to play it on the guitar, and how it relates to some of the other important guitar scales.

Before getting into learning these scales you’ll need to have the basic lead guitar techniques down. Learn them in this article: Lead Guitar Techniques For Beginners

The Major Scale Formula

The major scale is made up of a series of whole-steps (W) and half-steps (H). A whole-step on the guitar is a distance of two frets. A half-step is a distance of one fret. This is the order of whole-steps and half-steps that make up the major scale.

The Major Scale Formula

The Notes Of The C Major Scale

To find the notes of the scale, we apply the major scale formula to the musical alphabet. If we were making a G major scale, the note we’d start on would be G. If we were making a Bb major scale, we would start on a Bb. In this case, we’re going to be making a C major scale. So the first note will be a C. The rest of the notes are defined by applying the major scale formula.

The Notes Of The C Major Scale

The Degrees Of The C Major Scale

Now that we have the notes of our C major scale, it’s important to get into the habit of assigning numbers to the scale. Knowing the scale degrees helps us find the relationship between the major scale and other scales, and will be important for recognizing the relationship between notes within the scale as well.

The Degrees Of The Major Scale

Relative Major & Minor Scales

In music, every major scale has a relative minor scale. Inversely, every minor scale has a relative major scale. To find the relative minor scale, you’ll need to understand root notes. The root note of a scale or key is the 1st degree of the scale. In this case, the root note of a C major scale is a C note.

There are two ways to find the relative minor scale. The first way is to find the note a step and a half (3 semi-tones/frets) below our major root note. The note a step and a half below C is A. This means that the relative minor scale of C major is A minor.

Another way to find the relative minor scale is by locating the 6th scale degree of the major scale. The 6th scale degree of a C major scale is an A. Making A minor our relative minor scale.

Pro Tip: Every major and minor scale corresponds with a key of the same name. For example, the C major scale comes from the key of C major and the A minor scale comes from the key of A minor.

C Major & A Minor Scales

Here are the most commonly used shapes for the C major scale and the A minor scale. The black dots mark the root notes (the C notes in the C major scale and the A notes in the A minor scale) of each scale.

C Major & A Minor Scales

Extended C Major Scale

An important concept to grasp is that the major scale and the minor scale contain the exact same notes. The only real differences are that traditionally they are played in different positions on the fretboard and that the 1st scale degree/root note changes between the two scales. The C major scale contains the notes 1C 2D 3E 4F 5G 6A 7B, and the A minor scale contains the notes 1A 2B 3C 4D 5E 6F 7G.

Because of this, we can combine the standard major scale shape and the standard minor scale shape into one larger “extended” scale.

Extended C Major Scale

Note the black root note locations. These C notes can help you to navigate and understand this extended scale shape.

C Major & A Minor Extended Scales

You can see here that the combined versions of the C major and A minor scales are virtually identical. The only difference is the root note locations. In the C major shape, the C notes are our root notes. In the A minor shape, the A notes are our root notes.

C Major & A Minor Extended Scales

This scale shape is incredibly important to have under your fingers. It allows you to cover a ton of ground when you start learning your favorite guitar solos, writing your own solos, and when you’re improvising. Think of this shape as your “Home Base” when you’re playing lead guitar.

Extended Scale Horizontal View

To help you get a grasp of this shape here’s another way to look at this extended C major scale shape.

Major Scale Horizontal View

Using The Extended Major Scale Shape In Other Keys

If you want to use this scale shape in another key, the shapes themselves don’t change, they just move up or down the frets. Because of this, it’s always important to know your root note locations. To change keys, you just have to move the shape so that your root notes are the same root notes of whatever key you want to be in. If you wanted to play in the key of D major, you would move this shape so that your major scale root notes are D notes.

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