The Major Scale

Greetings! If you’ve read my previous posts on the Chromatic Scale and Unlocking the Fretboard then you’re now ready to become acquainted with the Major Scale. This scale is probably the foundation of nearly every catchy song you know. The major scale is a sequence of notes from which we can build melodies, chords and even guitar solos. In Western music this scale is everywhere. You and major scales really need to get to know each other… Let me introduce you.

Scales Are Awesome!

Scales are extremely useful to us guitarists because…

  • They can help us learn the notes on the fretboard in a really musical way.
  • They’re a great way to build coordination and technique.
  • From scales we can learn to build Chords, Modes and Arpeggios
  • Scales can be used for improvising, which is heaps of fun!
  • Understanding scales help us to better interpret music and analyse it.
  • Build a stronger Musical Ear.
  • They’re a great starting point when writing your own music.

What Exactly Is A Scale???

A scale is a sequence of notes. This sequence of notes always has a starting note. This starting note is called the Tonic or Root note. After the Tonic note comes a string of other predetermined notes, which would end in the Tonic note again in a different octave. Confused? Have a look at this “C Chromatic” scale…

As you can see, the “C Chromatic” scale begins with the note C and after a string of notes, ends with another C. This means we have a one octave “C Chromatic” scale. The note C being the tonic.

Now, the distance between each note in the Chromatic scale is one semitone, therefore we could say that to construct any Chromatic scale all we need is a tonic note to build from and to follow this formula:

st st st st st st st st st st
*st = Semitone

Please note in the above image the example shows the C Chromatic scale with just sharp notes to make it look a little less cluttered.

Tones And Semitones

You may recall from my previous post on the Chromatic scale that in music there are Semitones, which are the smallest distance between each note in the Chromatic scale, and Tones, which are the distance of two Semitones.

Like this:

Major Scale Formula

Ok, now we’ve cleared up tones and semitones we can get into the good stuff! To build a Major scale we’ll need to use the following formula:

T T st T T T st
*T = Tone *st = Semitone

Let’s start off with the note C again. To build a C Major scale we begin with the note C as our tonic.
Now, Lets apply this formula to the C Chromatic scale and we’ll discover the notes needed to create a C Major scale.

Cool. Let’s get rid of everything we don’t need and all we’ll have left is the C Major scale.
Like So:

Ok, we’ve successfully created a C Major scale. This is a seven note scale. The eighth note is the same as the first.

Let’s try this process again with a different tonic note and see what happens… Let’s build a G Major scale. We’ll derive this from the G Chromatic scale.
By the way, hopefully you can see the value in really knowing the chromatic scale, you’ll need it all the time…

Here is our G Major scale.

That all looks good except for one little problem…what will we call the 7th note? Should it be F Sharp or G Flat?

The answer to that is F Sharp. Here’s why: because there’s already a G in this scale, to have a G Flat would be confusing for two reasons…

Firstly, it would be weird to have two different notes in the same scale with a very similar name. To write G and G Flat notes throughout a piece of music would look a little confusing. Whereas if we use the note F Sharp, it has a different position on the staff making it less confusing to play.

The other reason is the absence of an F note of some kind. All Major scales contain each letter name of the musical alphabet in some way. Either by showing a Sharp or a Flat, or as a naturally occurring note. In short, every Major scale must include the letters A B C D E F G in some way.

With all that being said, here is the G Major Scale:

Let’s construct another Major scale. Let’s build ourselves an F Major scale.

The result:

Like the G Major scale, the F major scale has a note with two names. What to do???
Because of the naturally occurring A note, we will name the fourth note in this scale as B Flat.

How Many Major Scales Are There?

Technically, there are twelve. This is because there are twelve notes in the Western Music System and we could build a Major scale from each one of them. This means that there’s such a thing as a B Flat Major scale and an F Sharp Major scale and a D Flat Major scale.

Major scales can have multiple Sharps or Flats, in order for the formula to work. Here are two examples…

Important: When constructing Major scales may use Sharps or Flats, but never both!

Your Turn…

Here’s a challenge for you. Can you work out the notes needed to make these following Major scales?

  • A Major
  • B Flat Major
  • E Major
  • A Flat Major

If you’re feeling determined you could try to work out all 12 Major scales. One for each note from A all the way through to G Sharp.

You could then organise them into groups of scales with Sharps, Flats and none. The next step is to try an play one on your guitar…I cover this in the Guitar Skills Level 3 Course if you want to click here.

Wrapping up…

You’re now acquainted with Major scales. Good job! This subject should be understood if you ever hope to learn things like:

  • What Key a song is in (Key Signatures)
  • Related Minor Scales
  • Pentatonic Scales (Scales with 5 notes)
  • Intervals
  • Improvising like a pro and sounding great
  • Chord construction
  • Modes
  • Arpeggios
  • Circle of 5th’s/4th’s
  • Mastering the fretboard
  • And heaps of other useful stuff!

Thanks for reading this! It would mean so much to me if you could share this with anyone you think might find it helpful. The more people read this stuff the more I excited I get to write and provide the world with helpful, musical, guitar flavoured posts.

About the author

I'm really excited to be teaching guitar. Not many people receive the joy that I feel when seeing the progress of each of my students. It's truly a privilege, and I'd love you to join me.  

As I'm sure you know, learning guitar is a long journey, so you must be committed to it. But, if you're willing to put in some hard work for some big rewards, come and join me! 

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