Major Scales Explained

author: The_Strat_Man date: 01/19/2005 category: guitar scales and modes
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Introduction. Well, here is my next installment of the Explained series on Music Theory. In this installation you will learn how to construct a major scale, apply it into music, how to construct a natural minor scale by using the major scale, and how to apply the natural minor scale into music. For now, I hope all of you beginners into the field of music theory understand this semi-lesson on one of the first things you need to know to begin your study of the art. Constructing The Major Scale. I'm pretty sure most of you have seen the posts in this forum about the WWHWWWH or TTSTTTS stuff. Well, let me explain that to you. In the WWHWWWH example, W means whole, or whole step (2 frets distance on guitar/bass). The H means half, or half step (1 fret distance on guitar/bass). So, the WWHWWWH example basically means 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret, 2 frets, 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret. Remember, all of this 2 frets/1 frets information means that you move down the fretboard towards the bridge 2 frets or 1 fret. Now for the TTSTTTS example. The T means tone, or one whole step, or 2 frets distance on guitar. The S means semitone, or half step, or 1 fret distance on guitar. So, it's basically the same thing, but with a different wording. Most people have varying ways on how to present the major scale using the WWHWWWH/TTSTTTS example. But for this lesson, I'll be using WWHWWWH (because I was taught that way).
Fig. 1-1

G major scale on one string (low E)
The notes are above, whole/half below. 

 G A B C D E F# G
   W W H W W W H
This box is just a starting point, it's not to be used all of the time. There are more ways then one to play a major scale, and I chose this pattern here to show you.
Fig. 1-2

G major scale box, 6 string root. 
Red notes are G, the root of this example. 

In figure 1-1 I explained the major scale on one string. The major scale on one string is probably the easiest way to envision it. But, that won't help you're playing much at all, so, I also included the major scale on 6 strings, in a box position in Figure 1-2. So, for better soloing technique and playability, use the figure 1-2 when you're messing around, not Figure 1-1. Applying The Major Scale. Without actually applying theory to your music, knowing it is useless, so, now you know what's going to be explained in this part. Hopefully those of you that are reading this know how to play the major pentatonic and atleast one of its positions. Well, the major pentatonic is just the same as a major diatonic (a diatonic scale is a seven note scale) except the pentatonic does not include the 4th and the 7th of the major sclae. Because the major pentatonic is the same as the major diatonic - minus those notes - you can play the major scale anytime that you can play a major pentatonic. So, if a chord progression is in the key of C, you can play the C major scale to give your solo, lead, or riff a little bit more color. Now, when you are making your lead or solo or riff just remember that simply going up and down the major scale is not cool, so don't do that. Going up and down the scale just removes the tastefulness and makes it sound very uncreative. To get the major scale to sound good you have to have a melody and the notes have to be juggled. To juggle the notes around, simply don't play them in order. Constructing The Natural Minor Scale. Like the major scale, there are two ways you can think about when constructing the natural minor scale. The first of which involves the W's and H's and the second looks at thinking of the natural minor scale as an altered major scale by using scale degrees. Okay, here is the first method I mentioned. To make the natural minor scale use this: WHWWHWW; instead of this: WWHWWWH. Notice that the natural minor scale W's and H's start on the sixth note of the W's and H's of the major scale. Here I'll present them in a way in which you can tell the difference.
So, to construct the natural minor scale take that pattern and apply it along one string. You should be able to hear the difference between a major scale on one string, and that of a natural minor on one string. Any minor, musical melody (try saying that three times fast) will sound sad, while a major, musical melody will sound joyous and happy. Here is the second in which the natural minor scale can be presented: not everything in music can be related back to one scale of one key. Therefore when we go from the key of A to G, you don't have to go back to your scale charts to figure out the G major scale or the A major scale. You can think of it as in degrees. Doing it this way is so much easier for you to switch music to another key, or to help in your solos. So, here is a little example of the degrees of a G major scale.
G A B C D E F#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Every major scale has those same degrees, no matter what key it is in. But, to create the natural minor scale, we're going to have to alter some of those degrees. Any minor melody sounds lower than its major counterpart of the same note, so, one can only guess how we're going to alter these notes (flatten=lower, sharpen=higher). So, we take the scale degrees of the major scale and we're going to flatten the third, sixth, and seventh one half step, or one fret distance. Here is the G natural minor scale and then the G natural minor scale compared to the G major scale.
Major: G A B C D E F#
Minor: G A Bb C D Eb F
So, to convert to the Minor pentatonic (the most overused scale ever) just take every note except the second and sixth of the natural minor scale. Applying The Natural Minor Scale. Just as the major scale can be substituted for the major pentatonic, the natural minor scale can be substituted for the minor pentatonic. Like I mentioned earlier, the minor pentatonic is heavily used in rock music, blues music, and just about any type of music today. While it isn't the only one used, it is used more than 3/4 of the time when soloing. So, when you want to use the minor pentatonic, rethink that idea, and try the natural minor scale. The natural minor scale includes the notes that add flavor and interest to the audience's ears. The notes excluded from the minor pentatonic (2nd and 6th) are farther on in the tonal strenghts of a chord. So, playing them over the chord would add something that intrigues the listeners leaving them in shock and awe, while the notes in the pentatonic sound so dull because they're overused. Note: while the natural minor scale can be used in substitution over the minor pentatonic, there are other minor scales you might want to try as well. You have the melodic minor and harmonic minor you can use to help venture further into the depths of music. Outro. Well, you made it this far already, and there's probably no going back. So, use this information as much as you possibly can while playing. Be a sponge to music theory, soak it all up. So, after reading this semi-lesson, I want you to pull out your guitar and practice your minor and major scales (unless you know them down pat). While this is one of the easier lessons in music theory, this is the beginning to a road that doesn't lead down, but only goes up. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my ramblings on these scale, and thanks for any replies I get in advance (unless they're bad, and then I won't thank you).
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