For all intents and purposes, western music's notes, scales, and harmonies are all based on the major scale. What exactly IS the major scale? It is a particular series of pitches (notes) that occur in music. Remember "do, re, mi, fa, so, la ,ti, do?" The SOUND of that series of notes is the major scale. Simple.
What makes the major scale so special? There are a couple reasons. The first is, of course, the way it sounds. It is incredibly easy to identify. We know this because of the "do, re, mi..." thing. But you don't even need to hear those syllables to be able to identify that particular series of pitches.
We know now that a scale is a series of pitches. But a MAJOR scale is a series of pitches that is constructed a PARTICULAR WAY. It can be built off of any note. Does the SOUND of the series change? NO. A major scale is ALWAYS major regardless of what note it is built off of.
Here is the second reason the major scale is special: Its particular series of notes is constructed using a particular series of intervals.
What is an interval? An interval is simply the step measurement between TWO NOTES. ONE NOTE is NEVER an interval! You MUST have two notes to be able to judge the distance (or interval) between them.
Translated to guitar:
ONE FRET DIFFERENCE = 1/2 step.
TWO FRETS DIFFERENCE = 1 whole step (and so forth).
So let's say you are on the E string and you are playing a note on the 3rd fret. This, of course, is a G. The G itself is NOT an interval. But let's say that after you played the G, you played the note on the 4th fret. That note would be a G#, and it would be 1/2 step from G. Those two notes are said to be 1/2 step apart. THAT is the interval.
Now that you know what an interval is, let's "build" a major scale.
(Just to be safe, start low on your neck for this)
Firstly, pick a note - any note that isn't open and play it.
Secondly, go up two frets and play that note.
Again, go up two more frets and play that note.
Now, when you go up, only go up ONE fret and play the note.
After that, go up 2 frets and play the note.
Now, play two more notes, each going up by 2 frets.
Finally, on your last note, only go up by a half step (or 1 fret)
You should have played a major scale. And if played correctly, you should have ended 12 frets above where you started.
Now, to refer back to what I said before, the major scale has a particular series of intervals. If you noted the intervals and played them correctly, you should have gotten: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. This is your blueprint for how to build every major scale.
There you have it. Without reading a single note or piece of TAB, you built YOUR OWN major scale. Practice this and remember it. And in my next article, I will start to show you WHY it is the way it is.
Thanks for reading.