Introduction to Major Scales - Part 2

In the 2nd part of the lesson you're going keep practicing the same scales, but now we're going to learn the names of all the notes.

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Fretboard Knowledge: After you've been practiced Part 1 for a few days I hope you have a good idea of what a major scale sounds like. If not don't sweat it, it will come with time. The worst thing you can do is hold back your progress because you don't have things perfect. Perfection is a myth. Music is human expression, and humans by definition have flaws. That's why I have such a foul-mouth, but hey, this is about rock and roll. Name one rock artist that doesn't enjoy a good f-bomb now and then. You're going keep practicing the same scales, but now we're going to learn the names of all the notes. You already know the names of the first note of each scale, so we're going to work on the rest of them. In western music notes are named after letters of the alphabet A through G. If you're really smart you may remember that yesterday I said that music has twelve tones, and if you're really, really smart you'll realize that A-G only gets us seven names. So there are five tones out there that still need names. The other tones are made up for with the use of sharps (#) and flats (b). They actually overlap somewhat an F# is the same tone as a Gb which can make life a little confusing at first. However I only use sharps. I'll deal with the flat keys too but for right now I'm going to keep it straight forward. Since we need to start somewhere, we're going to start with the key of C. Remember the C major scale you've already practiced in Part 1? If not go back and play it a few times. We're starting with C major because it's the scale without any sharps or flats. All of the notes are natural. C D E F G A B C Notice how the scale has seven different tones (C is repeated at the top) and each letter is used. This is true for every single major and minor scale. BTW, any scale built off of seven tones is known as a diatonic scale. So just to reinforce this concept, practice the C major scale a few more times, but this time say the name of each note as you play it. Finished good. I want you to notice something else. Which notes came at the half steps? I.e. which notes had only one fret between them? Play it again and figure it out. You should have noticed that the half-steps come between E-F, and B-C. This is critical for the next exercise. What you'll need for this one is a guitar, a piece of paper or a notebook, and a pencil. For some reason musicians always write with pencil. It probably has something to do with ink lowering libido. If you don't believe me look at all those geeks with pocket-protectors. Do you want to sleep with them? I didn't think so over exposure to ink. What you need to do is write out the letter names for each of the major scales you practiced in Part 1. Go ahead and write them out in the order you played them: E-A-D-G-B-E Skip the final E. You already learned a C major scale so don't worry about that one. To help you out, I'll write out a chromatic scale below. In case you're wondering what the f--k that is; it's a twelve tone scale that hits each and every note possible. It's useful in theory but not very interesting musically since it all sounds the same. C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C If you started on the first fret of the B string and played up the string hitting every single fret you would play that chromatic scale. Don't worry you won't have to practice it now unless you really, really want to. Back to the exercise Each scale needs to include each letter. That part should be easy. Your job is to write in where the sharps go. Remember the pattern: Whole Step Whole Step Half Step Whole Step Whole Step Whole Step Half Step I'll walk you through the E scale but after that you're on your own. Start with E next note is a whole step, or two frets. Looking up at our chromatic scale two frets up would be an F#. Now two more frets G#. Half step or one fret A. Whole Step B. Whole Step C#. Whole Step D#. Finally our half step E. There we go, we started and ended with E used every letter, and included sharps at F, C, G, and D. Kick a-s! The letters of the scale are this: E F# G# A B C# D# E Now go through the same process for the other scales. I'll write out the letter names below and you have to fill in the sharps. A B C D E F G A D E F G A B C D G A B C D E F G B C D E F G A B You may, or may not have noticed that the sharps follow a definite pattern. F is sharped in all of the above scales. C is sharped in all but one of them. G is sharped in all but two. There's an order in which you add sharps, and I'll teach you a silly little poem to remember them. Fat - Cats - Go - Down - Alleys - Eating - Bowling Balls or F# C# G# D# A# E# B#. The scale always starts one half step up from the last sharp. So if you have one sharp, the only sharp is F#, and the key is G. Q - Wait a minute I thought that there were half steps between E-F and B-C? If you have an E# isn't that just an F? A Damn you're smart. Yeah it gets a little confusing when you have that many sharps. Fortunately nobody in their right mind writes anything in those keys so you shouldn't have to worry about it too much. What it does is allow us to maintain the primary rule that every scale has every letter name in it. Final exercise: Play your scales again, but this time say each letter name as you play it. (Don't sing them for this one, you only want to sing scale degrees, not the actual letter names***.) Pay particular attention to where the C's or C#'s fall as you'll need to know that in subsequent lessons. However, for your ear training, continue to sing the scale degrees for each tone, 1-8. If you need help here go back to my first lesson on major scales. A word on metronomes: I go back and forth on using a metronome. It has to do with the difference between learning something and practicing something. If you're learning you're still figuring it out, and it takes extra time to place your fingers properly. In this stage a metronome will actually distract you, and the only solution is to throw it across the room. Once you can recreate the exercise from memory though, it's time to practice. Now you can turn on the metronome, and practice the exercise in time. Kick up the tempo slowly, but always enough that it's a challenge. You want to sweat a little. At this stage of the game it may be too early to use a metronome, or it may not be. Use your best judgement. *** - make this distinction because singing letter names is about learning absolute pitch, which is both harder to learn and less useful. Singing scale degrees, i.e. the numbers 1-8, is for developing relative pitch. Relative pitch is important because it's the distance between the notes that defines the music, not their absolute value. The other nice thing is the numbers stay the same no matter what key you're in. So you learn one skill set and it applies to any key you're working with, which really kicks a-s. About The Author: Kevin Armagh has been playing the guitar for over 20 years, and has developed a revolutionary method of learning that combines theory, technique, and ear training in a single approach. His work can be found at

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I have a problem, i can play these scales, i can determine all the sharps and flats, with no problem, but what can i do with it now that i found out all the sharps in E,A,D,G and B scale? I mean, should i take that concept, and apply it to my soloing, or should i wait for the next lesson? Im not even sure what i've learned.
    I'm going to try to help you! These scales are key signatures. Every song / piece(unless we're talking about atonal music) has a specific key that it is in. Every key has a home note. When you hear the home note while in the key, you will feel "at home". The home note is always the letter associated with the key i.e: in C major the home note is C. There are certain notes that will feel like they're pulling towards the home note(in the key of C, try playing a G and a B and see how they feel). You can apply this to soloing, composition, or just normal improvising.
    Definitely take the concept and use it in your soloing. Start out with a backing track - there are plenty of them out there, and use each scale for the corresponding key. Single string scales can be very powerful when used tastefully. For an example, listen to "Seek and Destroy" by Metallica. Kirk Hammet blazes through a single string scale as the solo gets going. It's around 4:10 in this video:
    What you've learned is a very basic concept for making music. Everything, and I mean everything else is some variation of this major scale. In my upcoming "Six Months of Speed" course, I lead the student through many variations of the major scale rhythmically and melodically, at the same time building up chops and developing your ear. Another thing you learn in this lesson is where the notes fall on the fret board. It's very useful as you progress to know where each note falls no matter where you are. This is how great guitarists solo over the entire instrument and don't get locked into a single box pattern. This is why I have you say each note as you play it. The exercises here are meant to be a learning tool, to help you learn your instrument better and appreciate the building blocks of music. Practice them over and over again until they become second nature. At the same time, don't be so wed to the scale when you're soloing. The scale will tell you which notes sound right in a given key. But your goal is to make some music. Skip notes, bend notes, hang on to some tension and resolve it, and most importantly, have fun doing it. Good luck and shred away! Kevin Armagh
    Weird... I didn't know that the pattern i always notice/follow when improvising solos were actually of scales... Finally i know the reason behind the significance/persistence of such patterns in the fret board... Thanks...
    please please please do a lesson like this but for minor scales I really need help as a young guitarist and I need to find the fretting out for them like with the major such as 2,2,1,2,2,2,1 what is it for minor thanks!!
    thanks for the lesson....but can u point out something about the verse to chorus transition.....i mean,i wrote a verse of a song in c major,f major and g major in the key of C in 1-4-5 do i start the chorus?????
    Only you can answer that. There are no rules. You are the composer of the song so try coming up with some kind of melody and find chords that would fit it. Remember that you want the melody in chorus to be catchy. You could also start with the instrumental part and later add melody over it if it's easier that way. But what you could do is maybe start the chorus with A minor or F major chord. That's pretty usual. But really, just experiment with different sounds. Try finding melodies that you hear in your head with your guitar. Try to think first and then play and not the other way around. Some songs use one chord progression throughout the song and sometimes it works really well. Do what feels good to you. Remember that there's no right or wrong when it comes to songwriting. You can use whatever song structure and whatever chords. Write something that sounds good to you.
    thanks..i will keep this in mind....analysis of chord progressions of some songs might be helpful...i mean,some examples of the subtle variations from normal patterns which makes a song sound just that extra bit better.... if someone just explains the patterns used in songs like "smoke on the water" or "hotel california"....
    Chords used in Smoke on the Water? The intro is G, Bb, C and Db power chords. Verse is Gm and F major (in G minor i-bVII). The part where they sing "Smoke on the water..." is C-Ab-Gm (IV-bII-i). Hotel California is Bm-F#-A-E-G-D-Em-F# (in B minor i-V-bVII-IV-bVI-bIII-iv-V). Note that I use b in front of the numeral if it's a chord build on a scale degree a minor interval away from tonic. Some people don't use this way but I find it the most logical. Lower case letters are minor chords and capitals are major. And if there's no b in front of the numeral, it's a chord built on a scale degree a major or a perfect interval away from the tonic.
    thanks ....thank u very much... but if i take it that "smoke on the water" is in the KEY of are the using the Ab note in the chorus????? the Ab note doesnt appear in the G major or minor scale...
    Yeah, the Ab is a thing called accidental (ie an "off-key note"). Though the bII chord is usually called the "Neapolitan chord". It's used a lot in classical music. The Db power chord doesn't belong to the minor scale either. It's also an "off-key" chord. But you are allowed to use them. You are allowed to use all 12 notes over any chords and any key. The main point in a key is where everything resolves to. That's the key center. In Smoke on the Water it's G minor so the key is G minor. The other chords don't really matter as long as the key center is G minor. Of course if you start playing lots of non-diatonic chords, it doesn't feel like G minor any more. But in this case the Ab doesn't change the key. The resolution is all about sound. You need to listen to the song to tell the key because same chords can be in many keys. For example a chord progression using just C, F and G chords can be in C major: C-F-G-C (I-IV-V-I) but it can also be in G major: G-F-C-G (I-bVII-IV-I - used a lot in rock music) and in F major: F-G-C-F (I-V/V-V-I). Remember that if the chords are in this order it doesn't necessarily mean that the key is F major or C major or G major. Also what is played before and after the chords matters and an F-G-C-F might really feel like C major. I think you can make all these chord progressions sound like other key if you play something before them. They were just examples.
    there are hardly an articles which discuss these aspect of composing....most of the articles are repetitive in nature....old wine in a new bottle..... i thank u again "MaggaraMarine" for coming up with concise replies....may u share the stage with ur idol/guitar god
    You may, or may not have noticed that the sharps follow a definite pattern. F is sharped in all of the above scales. C is sharped in all but one of them. G is sharped in all but two. There's an order in which you add sharps, and I'll teach you a silly little poem to remember them. Can you explain this please