Building the Major Scale

How to build a Major scale.

Ultimate Guitar
Do you want to finally understand what you're actually playing as opposed to just memorizing scales on the neck? I'm here to help take some of the confusion out of scales and break it down in a simple manner. This lesson is aimed at those of you who are beginners in the area of music theory. Music theory seems to scare a lot of guitarists but it doesn't have to be intimidating. In this lesson I'll show you how to build a basic Major scale in a few different keys. Let's begin.

Major scales consists of 7 notes beginning on what is called a "root note." A "root note" is the first note of the scale. That "root note" determines what Key your scale is in. From there you add notes to the scale based on position from that beginning "root note". In music when you move from one note to the next it's like taking steps, those steps are called "tones" and "semi-tones." "Tones" are whole steps and "semi-tones" are half steps. When you build a Major scale there is a pattern to those positional steps that you should memorize. (Tone, Tone, Semi, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi). 

Before we go too far I need to mention that in traditional western world music there are a total of 12 notes you can use. There are (7) natural notes which are A, B, C, D, E, F, G and then (5) accidental notes and they are (A#/Bb), (C#/Db), (D#/Eb), (F#/Gb), (G#/Ab). I put these in ( ) because those two names are the exact same note. A# is the same note as Bb and C# is the same note as Db. As you can see there is no accidental note between B and C as well as E and F. If you look at the keys on a piano there is no black key between B and C and the same for E and F. So the black keys on the piano are the accidental notes and the white keys are the natural notes.

Now lets build our first Major scale. We'll start with the Key of C since there are no accidental (sharps-# or flats-b) in this scale. We'll start with the "root note" in the Key of C the root note is the C note. From there we take our first step which is a tone. A tone is 2 steps which is moving to the C# then D. So on a piano that would be 2 keys up and a guitar it would be 2 frets up. We end up on the D note. From there we move up another tone and now we're on the E note. After that we now move a semi-tone which is one step, that puts us on the F note since there is no accidental between E and F. From there we go a tone and now we're on the G note. Another tone and we're at the A note a final tone and we're at the B note and final tone and we arrive at our octave of C. An Octave is 12 semi-tones from the root note. Now we have all 7 notes of the C Major Scale and it's octave.

Key of C Major:
Tone, Tone, Semi, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi
Key of G Major:
Tone, Tone, Semi, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi
Key of A:
Tone, Tone, Semi, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi
Here's a link to my video that breaks this down in a simple form.

YouTube preview picture

Thanks for reading. Feel free to ask any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer them.
-Mike R.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    How do you know your root note? Is it based on the first chord of the progression?
    Your root note is the key. So, if your key is Gmajor, then your root note is G. Basically, pick your key and then construct your major scale. If I pick the key of Amajor, I know my major scale is going to be: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, & G#.Make sense?
    In the end of your description "Another tone and we're at the A note a final tone and we're at the B note and final tone and we arrive at our octave of C." Should the last change be a semi-tone rather than a full tone?