Are you new to guitar? Maybe you’ve just picked up your old guitar and want to get started on some theory. In this article, we’ll cover how to play a major scale on guitar, with some valuable tips and tricks to help you expand your knowledge of music theory.
Let’s get started!
|Can you read guitar tabs? 🎸|
|This lesson uses guitar tabs to teach you the major scale. If you don’t know how to use these then check out our guide on how to read guitar tabs.|
Why Are Scales Useful?
A scale is one of the building blocks of music.
It’s a pattern of notes that creates a mood or a feeling. 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 that a piece of music uses dictates what notes and chords will sound good with it.
Because of this, an understanding of scales allows you to compose music. But even if you’re not a composer, learning scales makes it easier to learn new guitar riffs, jam with other musicians or improvise solos.
What Is a Scale?
Most scales cover a full octave. This means that the first and last notes are the same note but played at different pitches.
For example, a C scale might begin with a low C and end in the next highest C.
Between these two notes there are 11 other notes.
When you play a scale you are essentially traveling across the octave using the notes in between as stepping stones.
These stones are known as steps. A scale is a set pattern of these steps which can be applied to any note.
Today, we’ll be discussing the major scale on guitar, the most common scale in western music.
What Is the Major Scale?
To understand the major scale on guitar, you need to understand semitones and whole tones.
A semitone is a single step from one note to the next—on the guitar, it’s the equivalent of going up one fret at a time.
If you fret your finger on the first fret of any of the strings and then move that finger up to the second fret of that same string, you’ve just moved one semitone.
A whole tone is double a semitone. On a guitar, it’s the difference between, for example, the first fret and the third fret.
Remember earlier in the article when we said that a scale is a pattern of steps? Here’s what the major scale’s pattern looks like for any note:
- Base note
- Whole tone
- Whole tone
- Whole tone
- Whole tone
- Whole tone
- Semitone (this note is one octave higher than the base note).
How to Play the Major Scale on Guitar
Although a scale can be played starting at any note, we will focus on the G major scale on guitar.
That’s because it is one of the most popular rock, pop, and folk music scales. Starting with G major, you can expand to other scales.
A G major scale on guitar consists of the following notes:
- G – Base note
- Move a whole tone to A
- Move a whole tone to B
- Move a semitone to C
- Move a whole tone to D
- Move a whole tone to E
- Move a whole tone to F#
- Move a semitone to G (one octave higher than the first G)
Let’s learn how to play it on guitar!
The image below is a blank guitar chord chart. Each string has a number. When holding the guitar, the string furthest away (and the thinnest) is the first string. The next closest is the second. The closest (and thickest) is the sixth.
The third string played open (unfretted) is a G – this is our base note. Here is the full G major scale played on the third (G) string:
- Open (G)
- 2nd fret (A)
- 4th fret (B)
- 5th fret (C) – note that this is a semitone, a jump of only one fret
- 7th fret (D)
- 9th fret (E)
- 11th fret (F#)
- 12th fret (G)
The G major scale laid out this way shows something valuable: the twelfth fret is always an octave higher than the string played open on the guitar.
Using Other Strings
The notes on guitar strings are relative. This means that while the twelfth fret of the third string is a G, the eighth fret of the second string and the third fret of the first string are the exact same G.
What does this mean for you? It means that you can play scales easily without traveling up the guitar’s neck.
Let’s look at the G major scale on guitar, starting with the third fret of the sixth string. This is the lowest G on the guitar. Below, I’ve detailed the string and the fret:
- Sixth string, third fret (G)
- Sixth string, fifth fret (A)
- Fifth string, second fret (B)
- Fifth string, third fret (C)
- Fifth string, fifth fret (D)
- Fourth string, second fret (E)
- Fourth string, fourth fret (F#)
- Fourth string, fifth fret (G)
As you can see, the guitar’s layout makes playing scales easy.
There is a G note on every string, so you can begin the G major scale on guitar in many places.
- Sixth string: third fret
- Fifth string: tenth fret
- Fourth string: fifth fret
- Third string: open string (unfretted)
- Second string: eighth fret
- First string: third fret
The Relationship Between Scales and Chords
Chords are made up of notes from within a scale. The G Major chord, for example, is based on the G major scale. It uses the first (base note), third, fifth, and eighth (one octave higher) notes of the G major scale.
A G Major chord consists of G, B, D, and G all played together.
Although it may seem daunting at first, learning the major scale on guitar is no big hurdle.
Many amateur guitarists don’t move beyond learning chords. Because of this, they never truly understand the theory behind what they are playing. This can inhibit their development.
By learning scales you begin to understand why chords are played the way they are and what notes will work well with them.
With some practice and dedication, you can even start incorporating your scales into your musical routine (with solos, for example).