All About Scales. Part 2 - Building The Major Scale

In part 2 of this series, I will discuss how to build the major scale.

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Hello and welcome part two of my lesson series, All About Scales! In the next few lessons of this series I will take you from the very basics of the major scale all the way to generating chords and building chord progressions. I will also talk about the various modes of the Major scale and how to use them. For part two, I will show you how to build a major scale in any key. Sound good? I thought so. Before we get too much further, though, we need to review a few things. As we learned in part one of this series, a scale is simply a sequence of musical notes arranged in a specific order, both ascending and descending (up and down, if you will). The notes of each type of scale are arranged in a very specific way. For example, the notes of the Major scale are arranged differently than the notes of a Harmonic Minor scale. This is very important, and we will discuss it more in just a moment. A scale starts and ends on the same note. For example C Major is C D E F G A B C, and as you can see it starts on C and ends on C. Next, we need to talk about something called "steps". As I mentioned above, scales are arranged in very specific patterns of steps. A step is just the distance between adjacent notes of a scale. This is also known as an "interval", but I will talk about that more later on in the series. Since we are focusing on the Major Scale, we only need to talk about two kinds of steps: whole steps and half steps. We already talked about half steps in my previous lesson. For those of you who haven't read it yet, I will do a quick review. On a piano, a half step is from one key to the one right next to it in either direction. On a guitar it is from one fret to the one right next to it, also in either direction. From the 1st fret to the 2nd fret is a half step. From the 6th fret to the 5th fret is also a half step. Now we need to talk about whole steps. A whole step just two half steps, or two frets (1st fret to 3rd fret is a whole step, 2nd fret to 4th fret is a whole step, etc.) Let's apply what we've learned to the chromatic scale. We will use the C Chromatic scale below. C C# - D D# - E F F# - G G# - A A# - B C If we apply the concept of steps to the musical notes in the chromatic scale above, we get the same result. A to A# is a half step. B to C is a half step. C to C# is a half step. They are half steps because they are right next to each other on your fingerboard and right next to each other on the chromatic scale. Now let's apply whole steps to musical notes. F to G is a whole step. G to A is a whole step. F# to G# is a whole step. They are whole steps because they are two frets apart on your fingerboard as well as two notes apart on the chromatic scale. For now, we will mark a whole step with a capital W and a half step with a capital H. Now that we have the terminology out of the way, we can get on with our lesson. Let's take our half and whole steps and build the formula for a Major scale. Here it is: W W H W W W H So what does this mean? Let's start by building the ascending (going up) C Major scale (C D E F G A B C) on one string. The first note of our scale will be C (surprise)! To demonstrate this with steps, we will start on our A string at the 3rd fret, which is C. This is the starting point of our scale. A whole step (or two frets) from C brings is to the 5th fret, which is D. Another whole step (two frets) from D will take us to the 7th fret, which is E. Finally, a half step (one fret) will bring us to the 8th fret, which is F. To make this a better visual, here is the C Major scale on one string as it would look on your guitar:
e|-------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------|
G|-------------------------------------|
D|-------------------------------------|
A|--3-W-5-W-7-H-8-W-10-W-12-W-14-H-15--|
E|-------------------------------------|
    C   D   E   F   G     A    B    C
As you can see, I notated the whole and half steps between each note. Look Familiar? It should, because the formula for a Major scale is W W H W W W H. That was easy, right? Now let's learn how to build any Major scale we wish using the chromatic scale. To do this, we need to pick a note. We will use G. Now we have to employ our scale formula (as a reminder: W W H W W W W H). Here is the chromatic scale again to help us out: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C So we start with G. What is a whole step from G? If you guessed A, you are correct and are on the right track. Here is the G Major scale using whole and half steps made from the chromatic scale above:
  W   W   H   W   W   W    H
 / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \  / \
G   A   B   C   D   E   F#   G
Let's do another one. How about F Major?
W   W   H    W    W   W   H
 / \ / \ / \  / \  / \ / \ / \
F   G   A   A#   C#   D   E   F
Let's do one more. E Major:
  W    W    H   W   W    W    H
 / \  / \  / \ / \ / \  / \  / \ 
E   F#   G#   A   B   C#   D#   E
Hopefully this was easy enough to follow. In my next installment I am going to talk about scales that use flats instead of sharps. For now, feel free to ask me any questions you may have. Thanks for your time, and please rate and comment! Your feedback helps me make my lessons easier to understand. Also, if you have any lessons you want but cannot find, send me a message and I will try and make one for you. Thanks and enjoy!

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    krypticguitar87
    Now lets learn how to build any Major scale we wish
    using the chromatic scale. To do this, we need to pick a note. We will use G. Now we have to employ our scale formula (as a reminder: W W H W W W W H). Here is the chromatic scale again to help us out:
    jus wanted to point out that you added one too many whole steps here.... also wanted to point out that you F major scale is wrong, it shoulndnt be F G A A# C# D E F it should be F G A Bb(A#) C D E F final critisism is that you should also teach that each note should be used once, the reasoning is that reading and writing sheet music is easier and not as sloppy this way.... overall I think this is a pretty solid lesson
    Craverr
    Where do you find the C and F notes??? I'm just starting to play seriously. I've always played guitar just for fun and learned tabs to do my favorite songs. But now I'm trying to learn scales and cords and everything so that I can actually make art out of it. I was pretty comfortable with EADGBE (got that down) but I don't understand where F or C comes from... I know that if you tune your guitar C its pretty much just a lower version of 'DADGBE' tuning, and F is another half step lower. But I don't understand how that works; shouldn't it just roll over to an even lower G?? Basically, could anyone enlighten me on what C and F?
    sqrrloncrack
    depending on where you press down on the strings, it makes a different note. the open A string is an A note. if you free down the A string on the third fret you get C if you press down the E string on the first fret you get F.
    Craverr
    wow. That just ****ed up my entire world O.o I've been envisioning the guitar without F and C this whole time (a freaking while!) thanks
    DJHazzer
    Cheers this was a really helpful lesson (along with the first) and is really helping my understanding of how the guitar and music in general works.Hopefully you'll make another one soon
    DragonAvenger7
    As a beginner, I only knew the A pentatonic scale pattern. THANK YOU for sharing chromatics with us! This will help me navigate riffs and licks easier.
    Zoomer428
    so what would a scale be called if i made it with like a c.would it be called c major or c cromatic.
    Ad0sTheMan
    very important stuff for guitar players. Important to know the notes on the your fretboard, so you can map out the major scale and its modes.
    sqrrloncrack
    thanks for letting me know. sometimes i don't catch all my mistakes. is there a way to edit this to correct it?
    nab9411
    krypticguitar87 said: jus wanted to point out that you added one too many whole steps here.... also wanted to point out that you F major scale is wrong, it shoulndnt be F G A A# C# D E F it should be F G A Bb(A#) C D E F final critisism is that you should also teach that each note should be used once, the reasoning is that reading and writing sheet music is easier and not as sloppy this way.... overall I think this is a pretty solid lesson
    He only added the extra W on the second time he wrote it, the first time was fine