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Basics of the Major Scale on the Guitar

The major scale is a seven-step scale that’s built using a formula of whole and half steps. You can play a major scale on the guitar by starting on any pitch and moving up in the following specified steps (W = whole step; H = half step):


For example, if you start on the open 6th string, the 2nd note is a whole step (two frets) higher at the 2nd fret. From there, the next note is a whole step higher at the 4th fret. Here is how to play a complete major scale by starting on the open 6th string and following the preceding pattern of whole and half steps.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

In case you’re wondering, this is the E major scale because the first note is E.

You can follow this same formula to build major scales from other starting positions, too. Here, for example, you start on F at the 1st fret of the 6th string and then on G at the 3rd fret, creating F and G major scales, respectively.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You don’t have to play scales straight up one string as the previous examples do. On the guitar, you can play up a scale by shifting over to a higher pitched string at any point. Here are a handful of different ways to play through the G major scale.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Each way involves playing the notes in slightly different positions, but they’re the same notes in the same scale. The step formula is the same, too, although you may have a hard time seeing this when you shift strings. (You don’t need to memorize these patterns just yet. They’re just illustrating a point.)

In addition to playing major scale notes in different positions, you can play up into higher registers. Here are a few examples. (Again, don’t worry about memorizing these at the moment.)

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
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