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 Major Scales 101
Jul 5 2007, 11:55 PM
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Major Scales 101

Introduction

In this lesson we are going to discuss what is probably the most important scale in Western music. The reason that it is so important, apart from the fact that it gets used in a huge proportion of modern songs, is that it is also the foundation of our musical system. We use it as a basis for describing intervals, building chords and specifying key signatures. In most cases, the Major scale is assumed as the norm from which other scales deviate. The only other scale that approaches the prominence of the Major scale is the Minor scale, which is itself derived from the Major scale - which we will look at in a later lesson.

With that in mind, lets have a look at it!

The Major Scale

The Major scale is a 7 note scale, built using the formula: 2 2 1 2 2 2 1

You should be familiar with scale formulae from the previous lessons. Lets have a look at how we would build a scale of G major. Obviously our root note is G, and building up from the formula we get the following notes:

G + 2 semitones = A
A + 2 semitones = B
B + 1 semitone = C
C + 2 semitones = D
D + 2 semitones = E
E + 2 semitones = F#
F# + 1 semitones = G

So there you have it - a scale of G major has the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F# G, and as usual you can apply this formula with any other root note to get the exact scale that you want.

On the Fretboard

How do we play this on the guitar? Well, sticking with our G Major scale, we can construct 7 different boxes - why 7? Well, if we start with our root note of G on the E string, we can play a scale by moving up that single string, and each place we land can be the basis of a new box. However, for Major scales, a couple of the boxes will only be separated by 1 semitone, so be convention we miss these out, leaving 5 boxes, separated by either 2 or 3 semitones.

Here they are:

And that in a nutshell is the Major scale!

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This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Oct 11 2007, 05:41 AM

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Jul 7 2007, 07:57 PM
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Hey Andrew

I am wondering in respect to soloing if the song is in the key of G and let's say the rhythm is just switching between chords like G, B, and then A for a quick example...

As the lead guitarist, should you move from the first box, to the third box, and back to the second to follow what the rhythm is doing or am I able to simply play all over the boxes regardless of what chord (as long as it is in G) the rhythm is playing?

Thanks.

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Jul 7 2007, 10:22 PM
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QUOTE (AIB234 @ Jul 7 2007, 08:57 PM)
Hey Andrew

I am wondering in respect to soloing if the song is in the key of G and let's say the rhythm is just switching between chords like G, B, and then A for a quick example...

As the lead guitarist, should you move from the first box, to the third box, and back to the second to follow what the rhythm is doing or am I able to simply play all over the boxes regardless of what chord (as long as it is in G) the rhythm is playing?

Thanks.

The boxes aren't related to each chord, they're simply ways to look at the notes of the G major scale. They're all built up of the same notes at different pitches. In the end, you can play in any box of a scale just as well as any other - you're still playing in the G major scale. Here's all the notes of the G major scale, up to the 18th fret (note that all the open strings are also part of the G major scale):

You can find all the boxes "hidden" inthere (and a few notes that fall outside). That's the material you can play in the G major scale (on those first 18 frets - could go on, but that would break the site layout even more ) But in the beginning, it's helpful to think in terms of boxes rather than memorizing the entire fretboard - besides, the box approach also allows you, in time, to learn to "listen" your way around the fretboard, rather than memorize.

On a sidenote, it's relatively uncommon to see a song that uses B and A chords in a G major song, though - more likely to see G Bm Am (and mostly D and C - the "important chords" of G major) - since those chords are built of the notes of the G major scale. That's only a guideline, though. As always, nothing is dictated, and it's certainly possible to use chords that include notes outside the scale of the key.

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This post has been edited by Kaneda: Jul 7 2007, 10:24 PM
Jul 7 2007, 10:57 PM
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I was about to say exactly the same things, but Kaneda scooped me I was trying to reply on my iPhone earlier but ended up losing my reply ...

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Jul 7 2007, 11:28 PM
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Thanks theory gurus.

Hey Andrew, do you take requests for next theory lessons that you work on? I vote 3 nps scales

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Jul 8 2007, 03:48 AM
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nice lesson andrew. i know that you could also think of semi-tones and half steps and tones and whole steps. so the formula would go whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

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Jul 8 2007, 02:12 PM
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QUOTE (ibanez rocker @ Jul 7 2007, 10:48 PM)
nice lesson andrew. i know that you could also think of semi-tones and half steps and tones and whole steps. so the formula would go whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

Yes, that's completely correct - you could write the major scale formula as:

WWHWWWH using Whole tones and Half tones,

or

TTSTTTS usinf Tone and Semi Tone,

but I prefer

2212221 as a way of writing scale formulae, because some scales for instance the Pentatonic have 3 semitone steps or more, and that becomes harder to write using T/S or W/H. All equally valid though.

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Jul 12 2007, 01:44 AM
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OK....dork Q #1

Even tho you have it exampled as a Gmaj scale...does this pattern apply to say A or C as well....I guess what Im asking is...does the major scale stay in the same pattern if I were to use a C as a root note?

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This post has been edited by Travelin' Man: Jul 12 2007, 01:47 AM
Jul 12 2007, 01:50 AM
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QUOTE (Travelin' Man @ Jul 11 2007, 08:44 PM)
OK....dork Q #1

Even tho you have it exampled as a Gmaj scale...does this pattern apply to say A or C as well....I guess what Im asking is...does the major scale stay in the same pattern if I were to use a C as a root note?

Yes it does You just need to move the whole pattern up or down paying attention to what the root notes become. So in the G Major example, 2 frets up from G (the root note) is A - so move any of those patterns up 23 frets and you have a scale of A major - I'll let you work out the rest fot he scales for yourself

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Jul 12 2007, 01:55 AM
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I thought I would give my brain a break with the theories, and let my fingers do some walkin

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Jul 12 2007, 02:04 AM
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good item andrew. i only memorized two of the major boxes, will do so with all 5 now.

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Jul 17 2007, 05:41 PM
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OK… so the whole pattern is not simply and only the Gmajor scale, but is in fact the Major scale pattern and works for every note no matter if tone o semi. Is it?
In that sense if I play a C note as first and then go on, I'll be playing a C major scale.

What I'm not sure about is the role of patterns from 2 to the last, basically 'cause they don't start with a G...
What I am supposed to do when I finish the first pattern? The most easy exercise is to play it back from lowest note to the highest.
But maybe the idea is that I have to link it with the second playing all the notes available in the major scale formula?
If so how? I start from the A at the 7 fret, 4 string and then again looking for the next G?

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Jul 17 2007, 06:03 PM
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QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 17 2007, 12:41 PM)
OK… so the whole pattern is not simply and only the Gmajor scale, but is in fact the Major scale pattern and works for every note no matter if tone o semi. Is it?
In that sense if I play a C note as first and then go on, I'll be playing a C major scale.

Exactly!

QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 17 2007, 12:41 PM)
What I'm not sure about is the role of patterns from 2 to the last, basically 'cause they don't start with a G...
What I am supposed to do when I finish the first pattern? The most easy exercise is to play it back from lowest note to the highest.

You need to understand about root notes - they are the key to this. There is some info on that in my introduction to scales, here.

Basically, they are all valid notes for playing, but the root note is what allows you to string the boxes together. Practice each box from the root note, but be aware that when playing you can use any note from any of the boxes and still be using the same scale.

QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 17 2007, 12:41 PM)
But maybe the idea is that I have to link it with the second playing all the notes available in the major scale formula?
If so how? I start from the A at the 7 fret, 4 string and then again looking for the next G?

Again, the root notes help you here - the root note is always the first note of the scale, and in all the boxes it is marked to help you out.

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Jul 17 2007, 06:25 PM
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Can someone clarify a nagging bit of confusion? I'm under the impression that when you play a scale not starting on the root, you are actually playing a mode. As an example C major starting from A, is actually an A minor (Aeolian mode). I know they share the same key signatures, but A minor sounds very different then C major. Looking at the scale chart for the G major above, most of the boxes don't start on the G. Is it correct to still call it a G major scale. I'm constantly confused on this issue. More importantly, is it okay to substitute modes for different scales?

Thanks,
Boris

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Jul 17 2007, 06:25 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 17 2007, 07:03 PM)
Basically, they are all valid notes for playing, but the root note is what allows you to string the boxes together. Practice each box from the root note, but be aware that when playing you can use any note from any of the boxes and still be using the same scale.
Again, the root notes help you here - the root note is always the first note of the scale, and in all the boxes it is marked to help you out.

Ok, so if I go on playing the whole stuff I'm anyway playing a G major scale because is the only one that, if analized, turns out to follow the major scale formula for the G note? I mean even if I start with an F, the steps that I follow are TTSTTTS correct only if we analize them for G note and would be wrong for all the others. Is it?

If the root is the first note, that means that the first pattern is a shorter exercise than the first, fine? I mean I just have an octave from the first G to the last, while I have 2 in the first pattern. That if I play a pattern at a time.
And if I play them together I'll pass from 3 fret 1 string to 5 fret 4 string? Basically playing the second octave of the first pattern two times, one for first pattern and one for the second? mmmh...

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Jul 17 2007, 07:54 PM
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QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 17 2007, 01:25 PM)
Ok, so if I go on playing the whole stuff I'm anyway playing a G major scale because is the only one that, if analized, turns out to follow the major scale formula for the G note? I mean even if I start with an F, the steps that I follow are TTSTTTS correct only if we analize them for G note and would be wrong for all the others. Is it?

Once you have your root (G) and play up the scale using TTSTTTS you will generate a scale of G major, always.

If you change the root to F and use the same formula you will always generate a scale of F major. The key is to start at the root you want and apply the formula step by step. That gives you a population of notes to use in the scale, then you can figure out various patterns on the fretboard to get you those notes (hich is what boxes are).

QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 17 2007, 01:25 PM)
If the root is the first note, that means that the first pattern is a shorter exercise than the first, fine? I mean I just have an octave from the first G to the last, while I have 2 in the first pattern. That if I play a pattern at a time.
And if I play them together I'll pass from 3 fret 1 string to 5 fret 4 string? Basically playing the second octave of the first pattern two times, one for first pattern and one for the second? mmmh...

This is correct - because of the way the guitar is organises, different patterns we can think of to reproduce the scale will have different start and end points, its no big deal. When practicing always start and end on root notes to train your ear. When playing, any of the notes in any off the patterns is useable.

QUOTE (ch00ch00man @ Jul 17 2007, 01:25 PM)
Can someone clarify a nagging bit of confusion? I'm under the impression that when you play a scale not starting on the root, you are actually playing a mode. As an example C major starting from A, is actually an A minor (Aeolian mode). I know they share the same key signatures, but A minor sounds very different then C major. Looking at the scale chart for the G major above, most of the boxes don't start on the G. Is it correct to still call it a G major scale. I'm constantly confused on this issue. More importantly, is it okay to substitute modes for different scales?

Thanks,
Boris

Sure ...

You are correct about modes (but wrong about your naming), but they can be confusing. The key here is root notes.

If you play a G major pattern starting on a G it is G major.

If you play that same pattern starting with a root note of A, you will be playing a scale of A Dorian (not A Aeolian).

If you play that same pattern starting on A but know in your head that it is a G major scale, it will still be G major to your ears (especially if it is played over a chord of G - a G major scale that you are staring on the second note.

If this sounds confusing, its because it is - some of it is perception. Part of the problem is the way modes are usually taught. Learning that shifting through the pattern gets you the modes is a very confusing way to initially understand modes. They are really altered scales. Check out my modes alternative view lesson here for more explanation.

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This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Jul 17 2007, 07:55 PM

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Jul 29 2007, 01:48 PM
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I haven't really studied the scales for very long but i have learnd the minor pentatonic scale i know the boxese and i can play them kind of fast and now i have moved on to the major scale. one thing i don't really get is how you change the scale from a G to a c for example do you start the pattern on another place on the neck or do you rearange the boxes so you start with the second box?

I don't really get the thing with the root notes either i have read the introduction but i don't get it.

i am very confused by the scales and i don't know what to do.

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This post has been edited by meandmyguitar: Jul 29 2007, 01:50 PM
Jul 29 2007, 02:01 PM
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QUOTE (meandmyguitar @ Jul 29 2007, 08:48 AM)
I haven't really studied the scales for very long but i have learnd the minor pentatonic scale i know the boxese and i can play them kind of fast and now i have moved on to the major scale. one thing i don't really get is how you change the scale from a G to a c for example do you start the pattern on another place on the neck or do you rearange the boxes so you start with the second box?

I don't really get the thing with the root notes either i have read the introduction but i don't get it.

i am very confused by the scales and i don't know what to do.

Agin, its all about the root notes. What you are basically doing is moving all the patterns up or down the neck so that the ROOT note is located on a fret that makes it the scalke that you want.

In your example, starting with all the patterns for G ... well there are 5 semitones (or frets) between G and C, so if you move all the patterns up 5 frets, your root notes will change from G to C,m and all of the other notes will change to the correct corresponding notes in the scale

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Jul 29 2007, 02:15 PM
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aaahh now i get it!

thanks a lot, you are really good at explaining things!

it's nice to know someone can explain the stuff you don't get ^^

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Jul 29 2007, 02:26 PM
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QUOTE (meandmyguitar @ Jul 29 2007, 09:15 AM)
aaahh now i get it!

thanks a lot, you are really good at explaining things!

it's nice to know someone can explain the stuff you don't get ^^

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