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How to Practice the Major Scale on the Guitar

Playing up and down scale patterns on the guitar isn’t exactly the most enjoyable way to spend your time. Frankly, it can be tedious, and it may even feel pointless to you. Sure, eventually, you’ll be able to use the scale to play things that you enjoy, like melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos, and bass lines, but what can you do now while you’re still getting the patterns down?

Here are a few ideas in the following for how to add a little fun to your practice sessions. Enjoy!

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

How to play along with accompaniment

The five major scale patterns will absolutely come alive if you play them along to some accompaniment. Just put on some music that’s in the same key as the scale and let the music play as you run up and down the patterns.

So if you’re in the G major scale, pick music that’s also drawn from that scale. This can be any piece of music based on the following chords:

1-2-3-4-5-6-7
G-A-B-C-D-E-Fs
I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viif5
G-Am-Bm-C-D-Em-Fsmf5

If you’re having a hard time choosing a song that’s drawn from the G major scale, why not try one of the following classics?

“Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson
“Friend of the Devil” by Grateful Dead
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan
“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley
“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton

You don’t need to learn the guitar parts in these songs. Just use the recordings as backing tracks so that you have something to play along with as you play through the major scale patterns. The mixture of the scale and music creates harmony and gives you a tempo to follow. As a result, you’ll really feel and sound like you’re making music, which will make practicing much more enjoyable!

You can use any song with chords that fit into the key of G. Or you can make up your own tracks either by recording yourself strumming a chord progression or by using an audio program that features prerecorded tracks that you can transpose and paste together.

How to add minor notes and patterns

If you’re tired of working in G major but still haven’t quite mastered the five major scale patterns shown, you’re in luck! You can practice the same notes and patterns in a minor scale instead. The relative minor to the major scale is always the 6th degree, so in the G scale, the relative minor is the 6th, E.

The only difference between the G major and E minor scales is which note is functioning as the tonic and counted as 1; they both have the same notes and patterns. Here, the E notes count as 1 and everything is renumbered from there.

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

The E minor scale is broken up into the same five pieces used for the G major scale. So you play the very same patterns you see here, only with the focus now on E.

Some songs in E minor include “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.

Music can use other degrees of the scale as the tonic, too. When this happens, the music is in a mode.

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