How to Play the G Major Scale on Guitar

The G major scale is a good place to begin if you want to learn guitar theory or general music theory. 

There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Many popular pop and rock songs are in the key of G major. This means you can easily apply it or see it used in context. 
  2. The major scale is the best place to start when it comes to learning scales and theory. 

Learning to play scales like G major is relatively easy. But understanding the theory behind them can be tricky.

This article explains everything you need to know about the G major scale.

🎸Useful articles
The following guides explain techniques and concepts that might be useful to understand before reading this article.

Guitar fundamentals: Explains the names of strings and finger numbers.
How to read guitar tabs: Does what it says on the tin!
Guitar chord charts: Explains how to read guitar chord charts
– Beginner guitar chords: Teaches you some basic guitar chords

Or, If you’re new to playing guitar, check out our free beginner course.

G major scale notes

The seven notes used in the G major scale are:

G, A, B, C, D, E and F#

Here’s how the G major scale should sound

There are several ways to play G minor. They all use the same notes in the same order – we’ll explain why later in the article. 

Here’s the easiest way to play it:

A simplified version of the G major Scale. G (root note) - string 1, third fret
A - string 1, 5th fret
B - string 2, 2nd fret
C - string 2, 3rd fret 
D - string 2, 5th fret
E - string 3, 2nd fret
F# - string 3, 4th fret
G (root note, one octave higher) - string 3, 5th fret
G major scale easy version
  • G (root note) – string 6, third fret
  • A – string 6, 5th fret
  • B – string 5, 2nd fret
  • C – string 5, 3rd fret 
  • D – string 5, 5th fret
  • E – string 4, 2nd fret
  • F# – string 4, 4th fret
  • G (root note, one octave higher) – string 4, 5th fret

Why Learn the G Major Scale?

Learning to play scales is useful because: 

  • Scales are the fundamental building blocks of music. Scales help you recognise patterns in music more easily. This makes it easier to learn and transcribe songs. 
  • It allows you to improvise and jam with other musicians
  • A lot of western music is built on the major scale. The G major scale is therefore a great place to start if you are new to theory.
  • It helps improve your fingering of single-note patterns. This is useful for learning to play solos.

G major is a good place to start when learning chords. That’s because it works really well played over Em and G chords. These chords are used in a lot of popular rock and pop guitar riffs

What are scales?

Scales are one of the building blocks of music. 

They consist of patterns of notes and help to create a mood or a feeling in a tune. 

For example, the major scale on guitar has a happy sound and is often used in pop music. The minor scale, on the other hand, sounds unhappy. 

The scale a piece of music uses dictates what notes and chords will sound good with it.

So if you are using a G major chord, then the notes in the G major scale will sound good over it. If you are playing an A minor then notes from the A minor scale will sound good. 

How do major scales work?

The major scale has the same structure no matter where you play it on the fretboard. The main difference is the key you play it in. This is known as the root note.

So the G major scale is just the major scale played from a G root note. To play a C major scale, play the same pattern on the same string but start on a C note.

Relative minor scales

This is a bit confusing, but it’s worth knowing. The G major scale uses the same notes as the E minor scale. The main difference is that the root note is different. 

This one of the reasons why G major is so versatile – it sounds good played over a G major chord and an E minor chord.

A scale diagram showing the E minor relative scale
Relative E minor scale

What are the G Major Scale Positions?

When playing the G major scale, it’s usually best to start on a G, as this is the root note.

For example, you can play the G major scale just on the G string. The tab below shows you how to do this. Notice that it is the same notes listed above.

Tab showing how to play G major scale on one string
G major scale played on one string

There are several G notes across the fretboard. This means you can play the G major scale on different sections of the fretboard.

These are known as positions. The pattern used to play the scale is different in each position. 

Let’s look at a few examples. We’ve tried to simplify each one so they only show eight notes. Hopefully, this makes it a bit easier for beginner players to follow.

Usually, each position involves playing notes across the width of that section of the fretboard – this can be hard for beginners to follow.

Open position

As the name suggests, this is where you begin on the open G string. This one can be tough as you have to use all four fingers and open notes. It’s also easy to accidentally play the open B. 

We’ve added all the notes here, as you can start the scale from the sixth string or the third.

A scale diagram showing the G major scale in the open position.
G major scale – open position

First position

This is probably the most common way to play the G major scale. It’s called the first position because it uses the first two Gs you come to as you move up the fretboard (other than the open one, of course). 

A guitar scale digram showing the g major scale played in the first position
G major scale in the first position
Tab showing how to play the G major scale in part of the the first position
G major scale – first position tab

Second position

This position of the major scale starts on the G on the third string, fifth fret. You’ll notice that this note was the last note used in the previous position. Each position “borrows” its root note from the previous position. 

A guitar scale diagram showing the G major scale in the second position
G major scale in the second position
A scale diagram show how to play the g major scale in the second position
Tab of G major scale second position

Third position

A guitar scale diagram showing the g major scale played in the third position.
G major scale in the third position
Guitar tab showing G major scale played in the third position
Tab of G major scale played in the third position

Fourth position

This is essentially the same shape as that played from the sixth string in the first position. Like the third position, it is once again it is played from the 5th string, fret 10.

A guitar scale diagram showing the g major scale in the fourth position.
G major scale in the fourth position
Guitar tab showing the g major scale played in the fourth position
Tab of G major scale played in the fourth position

G major scale fretboard diagram

For completion, here is every note in the G major scale across the entire fretboard.

A guitar fretboard diagram showing all notes in the G major scale across the fretboard.
All notes in the G major scale

Which fingers to use

When practising scales you should try to use your first finger for the lowest fret in the scale, your second for the second fret and so on – see the diagram below.

A diagram showing the names of a guitar players fingers. The pointer or index finger is the first finger, the middle finger is the second finger, the ring finger is the third finger and the pinkie is the fourth finger.
Guitar finger numbers

This will allow you to move faster across the fretboard because your fingers are less likely to get in each other’s way. 

G Major Scale Chords

Every scale has chords that can be played over it. They are a mixture of major and minor chords that relate to the notes in the scale.

In G minor, most of these are open chords. 

🎸What are open chords?
Open chords are those that include open notes. They are usually played within the first three frets of the guitar. 

They are some of the easiest chords to play and are great for beginners to learn.

This means they are easy to play, which is another reason the G major scale is perfect for beginners. 

G major chords are:

  • G major chord
  • A minor chord
  • B Minor chord
  • C major chord
  • D major chord
  • E minor chord
  • F# diminished chord (this one’s complicated!)
Chord box showing F# diminished chord
F# diminished chord

How to Practice the G Major Scale

Practicing guitar scales helps you to remember where the different notes are in the scale. 

This means that your fingers will know where to go when it comes to using the scale in practice.

It also helps you to recognize the tone of the G major scale so you are more likely to hear it when playing. 

Here are some useful practice techniques.

Use a metronome

It’s a good idea for beginners to drill scales. This improves your fingering technique and improves muscle memory for the scale.

A good way to do this is to play along to a metronome. Start slow, perhaps at 80 bpm (or whatever works for you) and play up and down the scale, hitting one note per beat. 

Once you can do this several times without making mistakes, increase the bpm by 10.

You can also start switching to a different position after each run.

You can keep doing this as long as you like. You can even try playing two notes per beat to make it harder.

Don’t keep doing this exercise once you have memorized all of the basic scales. If you do, you could end up just running through scales every time you want to play a solo!

Use alternate picking

As the name suggests, alternate picking is when you alternate the direction that the pick hits the strings when playing. 

When playing one string you should practice hitting one note up then the next one down, one note up and the next one down – and so on. 

That’s because alternate picking helps you hit the notes in a more comfortable and controlled manner. This will be heard in your playing.

When soloing or playing lead parts it can be good to hit the string in the direction that you plan to move to. 

Play with someone else

A man and his son playing guitar together.
Playing guitar together

The best way to learn the G major scale is to jam with someone else. Ask them to play a G major chord and then play the scale over it. After a few minutes ask them to to introduce the E minor chord. You can then add other G major chords. 

Don’t just drill the scale – try mixing up the notes and rhythm. This will allow you to create your own melodies. 

This will be your first foray into improvising, playing lead guitar and soloing – so it’s a really important thing to do. 

If you don’t know anyone who plays guitar then you can download jam tracks online that you can play along to.

Listen to songs that use the G major scale

Listening to songs that use the G major scale will help your ear to detect it. You could also learn to play them.

Some examples of popular songs that use the G major scale include:

Practice regularly

You should be practicing guitar every day for at least 20 minutes (ideally an hour). If you are, add the scale exercises above to your practice regime. 

G Major Degrees

This is where we get to the really technical theory stuff. The information in this section is useful for understanding G major in the context of scales, but you don’t need to know it to learn and apply it. 

The notes in a scale are known as degrees. There are usually eight of them. So the first note of a scale is always called the first degree, no matter which scale you are playing. 

This is used to help musicians talk about and navigate scales. 

Here’s what they are called:

1st degreeTonic
2nd degreeSupertonic 
3rd degreeMediant
4th degreeSubdominant
5th degreeDominant
6th degreeSubmediant
7th degreeLeading note/leading tone
8th degreeTonic (+one octave)

The 8th degree is always the same as the first degree but one octave higher. Technically it is the first degree of the scale played at a higher pitch.

🎸What is an octave?
This is hard to explain in a way that really makes sense, but here it goes:

There are 12 musical notes on a guitar: A, B♭, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#.

After that, the notes repeat but at a higher pitch. An octave is the distance between a note and the next highest or lowest pitch. 

The distance is called an octave because you usually get from one to the other using a scale and a scale usually has eight notes (or degrees) in it.

Think of degrees as stepping stones between pitches. 

An important thing to memorize for each scale is the number of steps between each interval. In other words, how many notes you move up to get there. 

This is one of the main things that makes scales different to eachother. For the major scale the steps are:

  • Whole
  • Whole
  • Half
  • Whole
  • Whole
  • Whole
  • Half
The steps of the major scale on guitar
Guitar major scale steps

Let’s put this in the context of G major:

  • You begin on G and the next note is A. Looking on the fretboard, A is two frets up – which is a whole tone.
  • The next note is B, which is another two frets up – or a whole tone. 
  • The next note is C, but as there is no B# this is only a half step. 
  • Then it’s two frets to D, which is a whole tone
  • And so on…

If you were to play a minor scale, the steps are different. 

They are:

  • Whole
  • Half
  • Whole
  • Whole
  • Half
  • Whole
  • Whole

Obviously, this gives it a completely different character, but you are still covering the same distance in pitch as you would with a major scale.

Learn Theory With Guitarist 101

If you found this article useful then check out some of our other music theory articles. Our guide to the major scale can help you understand it more generally. Or if you want to learn more about rhythm, you can read our piece on time signatures

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