Lesson 1
Major Scales

Half-steps and Whole-steps

Half-steps and whole-steps are the basic building blocks of our musical system. On a guitar, a half-step is equal to one fret and whole-step is two frets. We will be combining these two types of steps to make everything that we play (scales, intervals and chords). For example, let’s look at a C Major Scale and how it is played on piano (see fig. 1-A).

On a piano there are two locations that white keys are not separated by black keys. In these two places the notes are separated by only a half-step (marked with a ^ symbol). All of the other white keys have a black key between them. This makes, for example, c and d, two half-steps apart . First, we must memorize the location of these half-steps. Half-steps occur naturally between e-f and b -c.1 The sooner that you commit this to memory the better.

Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is the simplest of all scales. It is made up completely of half-steps. This requires that we use all of the “in-between” notes. These notes can be notated with either sharps or flats. See Figure 1-B for examples. For now I recommend that you be consistent and use either all sharps or all flats. It is important to understand this scale because it will be useful to us soon.

Exercise 1-1 Write out chromatic scales beginning on the following notes

Major Scale

The Major Scale is very important for us to understand because we will use it as the basic element in understanding all scales, intervals and chords. All scales have one element in common, a tonic (or root) note. This tonic note is the “center” of the scale. Thus, the tonic is the strongest note to which all other notes in the scale play a subordinate role. To make it simple, this note is where the scale gets its name. The tonic in D Major is d, F Minor f, and so on.

The construction of a major scale pattern is simple. The one requirement is that we must strictly follow the pattern of half-steps and whole-steps. If we change any of the locations of half-steps, the scale is no longer major. The construction of a major scale is illustrated in Fig. 1-C. The simplest way to memorize this pattern is to think of all the steps as whole steps except those between 3-4 and 7-8. These two locations contain half-steps.

How does this work? We must use accidentals, meaning sharps (#) and flats (b). A sharp raises the note a half-step while a flat lowers a note by a half-step. It is possible to sharp or flat a note twice.We call these accidentals double-sharps (x) and double-flats (bb). Sometimes we also use a natural (!) in order to indicate that a note has no accidental attached to it. We use accidentals to alter the notes such that we follow the pattern in Fig 1-C.

Figure 1-D is two examples of a scale using sharps and a scale using flats. In creating these scales, we begin by simply writing the note names down in order, beginning with the tonic note. The half-steps are still located in their original positions (between e-f and b-c.) We then begin with the tonic note and start checking each of the intervals, one by one as we move to the right. In creating the A Major Scale, examine the first step a-b. The interval 1-2 is supposed to be a whole-step, so we leave it alone. We then check the notes b and c. Since the interval 2-3 should be a whole-step and b-c is only a half-step, we must raise the c note a half-step. The result is a c#. The next interval, 3-4, should only be a half-step. Since we already moved c to c#, the interval c#-d is already a half-step, so we leave it alone. As we continue up the scale, we see that no changes are necessary until we reach the f. Since e and f are only a half-step apart and the interval 5-6 must be a whole-step, we must change the f to f#. Now that we have changed f to f#, the g must also be raised to g# in order to keep the interval 6-7 a whole-step. The interval 7-8 is our other half-step. Since we already raised g to g#, and g#-a is already a half-step, no other changes are necessary.

The second example shows you how a key is created using flats instead of sharps. Note: Within any single major scale, use either all sharps or all flats. Do not mix the two. If you find yourself doing this, check your work, because it is incorrect.

Exercise 1-2 Add the appropriate accidentals to create the major scales given below.

Exercise 1-3 Look closely at the scales you have just written. First of all, there are three kinds of major scales (also called major keys.) Some of the keys contain sharps and others contain flats. Only one key, C Major, has no sharps or flats. We will now begin referring to these scale groups as flat keys or sharp keys, except for C Major, which is neither. Each key is unique within each of the groups because no two keys contain the same number of accidentals. In the space below, write out the key that has the given number of accidentals, followed by the notes which contain those accidentals.

Do you see a pattern developing? Notice how each new key simply adds a new accidental to the key above it. This is one way of looking at scales that can make them much easier to memorize.

Here are two examples of how we can take these scales and apply them to the guitar.

Exercise 1-4 Complete the following major scales. Use the chart above if needed. There are two examples to the right to use for guidance.

Using the Major Scales

You now know how to spell all twelve keys and also how to apply them to the guitar. Our next step is to begin learning and using them across the entire fretboard. This may seem difficult at first, but as you continue working on the following exercises you will begin to see repeating patterns. This is important to your development. Learning to see how these patterns relate to each other is important to your ability to navigate the fretboard with ease.

Exercise 1-5 Examine the top fretboard chart. Notice how we transform the scale into five different patterns.

I have given a number to each of the five patterns. You should memorize each of the five patterns. You need to start memorizing them immediately. It can take several months before you become comfortable with playing them.

For the following charts, write out the given scales in the fretboard charts. After writing them down, make sure that they are organized into one of the five scale patterns and then put the pattern number in the box at the lower left corner of the fretboard diagram. Be sure to circle the tonic notes for easy identification.

Exercise 1-6 Play all of the above scale patterns. Begin memorizing them by relating each pattern to its root note.

Exercise 1-7 Write out all of the following scale patterns without ever going above the 8th fret or below the 3rd fret.

Write out the following scale patterns without going above the 11th fret or below the 6th fret.

Exercise 1-8 Practice playing through the above scale patterns sequentially. Start with the first pattern, 1, and play through the last pattern and then start over. Continue working on this until you can do it completely from memory. Eventually try it in different areas of the neck until you master the entire fretboard.