Technique, Reading & Theory

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Building Major Scales

You might recognize the major scale from the song “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. Most Western music is based on the major scale. We will first learn all twelve major scales on single strings starting with the E major scale. Play on the first or six string at these frets:

major scale ascending frets

Going up in pitch is called ascending. Also play the scale descending, or going down.

major scale ascending frets

An interval is the distance between two notes. The first two intervals to learn are the half-step and the whole-step. On the guitar, a half step is one fret and a whole step is two frets. Analyzing the notes of the E major scale will reveal a pattern of half-steps and whole-steps.

major scale intervals

All major scales always contains all seven letters of the musical alphabet (A-G). These letters go in order and start on the same letter name as the major scale name. For example, the C major scale starts with the note C.

What notes are in the C major scale you just played?

1st fret- C 3rd fret- D 5th fret- E 6th fret- F 8th fret- G 10th fret- A 12th fret- B 13th fret- C

A key signature indicates which notes are sharp or flat in a particular key. The key of C major has only natural notes—no sharps or flats.

Start from any note and use W-W-H-W-W-W-H and all seven letters of the musical alphabet to find each key signature.

Single string major scales

c major scale

Sharp keys

sharp keys

Flat keys

flat keys Back: The chromatic scale Next: Circle of fourths/fifths